By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
What is a lemon cucumber? Although this round, yellow veggie is often grown as a novelty, it is appreciated for its mild, sweet flavor and cool, crispy texture. (By the way, lemon cucumbers don’t taste like citrus!) As an added benefit, lemon cucumber plants continue to produce later in the season than most other varieties. Read on to learn how to grow a lemon cucumber in your garden.
So you want to know more about lemon cucumber planting. Well to start with, growing lemon cucumbers isn’t difficult. However, lemon cucumber plants require full sunlight and rich well-drained soil – much like any other cucumber variety. A scoop of compost or well-rotted manure gets lemon cucumber plantings off to a good start.
Plant lemon cucumber seeds in rows or hills after the soil has warmed to 55 F. (12 C.), usually mid- to late-May in most climates. Allow 36 to 60 inches (91-152 cm.) between each plant; lemon cucumbers may be the size of tennis balls, but they still need plenty of room to spread out.
Water lemon cucumber plants regularly and keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy; about an inch (2.5 cm.) per week is enough in most climates. Water at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry, as wet leaves are more susceptible to powdery mildew and other diseases. A drip irrigation system or soaker hose is the most effective way to water lemon cucumber plants.
Lemon cucumber plants benefit from a thin layer of mulch to keep the soil cool, but don’t mulch until the soil has warmed. Limit mulch to 3 inches (7.5 cm.), especially if slugs are a problem.
Fertilize lemon cucumber plants every two weeks using a general-purpose liquid fertilizer. Alternatively, use a dry fertilizer according to label directions.
Watch for pests, such as aphids and spider mites, which are usually easily controlled with an insecticidal soap spray. Hand pick any squash beetles that might crop up. Avoid pesticides, which kill beneficial insects that work hard to keep pests in check.
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Read more about Cucumbers
Cucumbers need a lot of sunlight to produce a bumper crop. Cucumbers rely heavily on photosynthesis to build strong, sturdy and productive vines. A process that is centered around the sun entirely.
Locate your crop in an area that receives a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight each day. And if at all possible, make sure your plants receive early morning sunlight.
Early morning sunlight helps to dry off vines and foliage from early morning dew. Dew that if left to linger, can create the perfect conditions for mildew and blight.
Whether planted in the ground or in containers, cucumbers need rich, fertile soil to grow strong and thrive. In addition, that soil needs to be light and airy to allow for good drainage.
When planting, add in 6 to 8 cups (a few shovels) of compost to each planting hole. Compost adds vital nutrients that can easily be absorbed by the cucumber plants. But even more, it also loosens the soil to create excellent drainage.
Cucumbers thrive in loose, fertile soil that drains well. By adding compost at planting time, you can help to build soil with those exact qualities.
Want to build even more power? Add in a quarter cup of worm castings to the compost. The worm castings / compost combo can make a huge difference in the health and productivity of plants.
When planting directly in the soil, plant your crop in slightly tapered hills. In containers, make sure the primary stem is planted above the surrounding soil as well.
Cucumber plants are highly susceptible to rot. But a bit of “raised planting” helps keep the main plant stem out of sitting water during heavy rains or watering.
Plant cucumbers in slightly tapered mounds to keep stems from rotting in wet soil.
Create tapered mounds approximately 18″ in diameter, that are 3″ to 4″ high in the middle. And remember – add in that compost!
Although cucumbers can be grown easily by direct seeding, we prefer starting our seeds early and transplanting. The added growth and strength of a transplant gives the plant a better chance to avoid and fight dreaded cucumber beetle attacks.
Transplants can help give you a better chance against cucumber beetles than direct seeding.
When planting, plant two transplants per cucumber mound. If seeding, plant 3 seeds and thin to the 2 strongest after a few weeks. By growing multiple vines per mound, they intertwine for added strength.
What you plant around your cucumbers will play an important role in their productivity. One thing to avoid for sure is growing cucumbers near potatoes.
Potatoes release a substance in the soil that greatly hinders the growth of cucumbers. And planting them nearby can have devastating effects on your cucumber crop.
Planting radish seeds around your cucumber plants an help stave off beetle attacks.
But there are some crops that are highly beneficial, like radishes. When grown nearby or with cucumbers, radishes help to repel harmful insects like cucumber beetles and aphids that attack tender cucumber plants.
When planting cucumbers, simply seed 5 to 10 radish seeds on the edges of your mounds. The seeds germinate fast, and will help stave away the beetles. (See: Companion Planting 101)
Cucumbers, much like tomatoes and peppers, can easily develop soil borne disease when planted in the same space year after year.
Rotate your crop each season to help keep plants healthy and strong.
Rotate your crop to a new location in the garden each season. This allows the soil to recover, minimizes disease, and reduces the possibility for long-term infestation.
For best results, wait at least three years before rotating back to plant cucumbers in the same location.
Once cucumber plants begin to grow and produce, they need to be picked on a regular basis to continue to produce.
When overloaded with a harvest, plants will instead put their energy towards making existing fruit larger, and not into producing new blooms.
Harvest regularly to keep the energy of plants concentrated on producing new blooms.
In addition, cucumbers left on the vine too long will become woody, full of seeds, and bitter. Check plants daily, cukes can go from 2″ inches to 12″ in just a day or two!
A bit of slow and steady fertilizing can help to keep plants producing as well. Apply a light dose of compost tea or organic fertilizer ever 2 weeks until plants begin to form their first cucumbers. Once they begin to fruit, fertilizing can cease. Product Link : Dr. Earth’s Organic Fertilizer
There you have it, seven huge secrets for growing cucumbers successfully. Now get out there and grow your best crop ever!
Add compost along with phosphorus -- which you can purchase at a garden supply center -- to the soil prior to planting lemon cucumbers outside. Or mix in a commercial 5-10-10 fertilizer (5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent potassium and 10 percent phosphorus), following the manufacturer's directions to prepare the soil. Apply a fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen a week after blossoms appear, and within 3 to 4 weeks later. Fertilize the soil on the side of the plants, and not the plants directly, to avoid "burning" from the nitrogen. Over-fertilizing will cause the vines to grow rapidly, expending energy on plant growth instead of producing fruit.
Cucumber growing requires warm temperatures of at least 70°F (21ºC).
Slicing cucumbers and pickling cucumbers: that’s how cucumbers are divided. It is said that the ancient Roman Emperor Tiberius demanded cucumbers on his table every day of the year. The story does not say if they were slicing or pickling cucumbers maybe both.
“Cool as a cucumber” means you are about 20 degrees cooler than the outside air on a warm day, that is if you are a cucumber. That is said to be a scientific fact. For the kitchen gardener, “cool as a cucumber” may simply mean keeping cool in the face of a lot of cucumbers at harvest time.Slicing cucumbers are usually eaten raw on sandwiches or salads but may be cooked—prepared like squash. Cucumbers can replace squash in most recipes.
Here are cucumber growing basics for your kitchen garden:
Site. Cucumbers grow best in full sun but will grow with just 5 hours of sun a day. Cucumbers are very tender vegetables they need temperatures of 70°F (21ºC) or warmer to grow well. They grow best in growing zones 4–12. If you allow cucumber vines to sprawl on the ground you will need about 9 square feet (2.7 sq m) per plant. You can grow cucumbers vertically place them next to a fence or a trellis.
Container Growing Cucumbers. Cucumbers will grow in containers: choose a container at least 8 inches (20 cm) wide and 12 inches (30 cm) deep. Use a trellis or support the vine to increase yields.
Soil. Cucumbers prefer well-drained sandy loam supplemented with compost or well-rotted manure.
Cucumber Planting. You can direct sow cucumber seed in spring after all danger of frost has passed and soil has warmed to 70°F (21°C). Seed will not germinate at a soil temperature below 50°F (10°C). Sow seed ¾–1 inch (1.9–3.8 cm) deep, thinned to 36 inch (90 cm) apart. Cucumbers require 55–65 frost-free days to mature.
To get a head start on the season, sow cucumbers in peat pots 3–5 weeks before planting out. Transplant cucumbers out into the garden after the soil has warmed and the weather settled. For successive crops, plant cucumbers every 2 weeks until midsummer.
Watering Cucumbers. Cucumbers require moderate water before flowering. Heavy watering from flowering to harvest will result in a larger crop. Avoid overhead watering.
Feeding Cucumbers. Cucumbers are heavy feeders. They prefer ample amounts of phosphorus and potassium and a moderate amount of nitrogen. Add compost and phosphorus to the soil before planting.
Spray cucumbers with fish emulsion or compost tea 1–2 times per month during the growing season. Fertilize with blood meal during the period before blooming.
Cucumber Companions. Cucumbers grow well with bush beans, broccoli, cabbage family, corn, dill, eggplant, kale, lettuce, melon, nasturtium, peas, pumpkins, radish, squash, sunflower, and tomatoes. Avoid plating cucumbers with potatoes and herbs.
Cucumber Pests. Aphids, cucumber beetles and other beetles and insects can attack cucumbers. Floating row covers will protect young plants before they bloom. After blooming, pinch out infested vegetation or hose off aphids or cucumber beetles, and hand pick cutworms, slugs, snails, and squash bugs.
Cucumber Diseases. Several plant viruses and fungi can plague cucumbers. Plant disease resistant varieties, and remove and destroy infected plants. Do not grow cucumbers or their relatives, such as squash and melons, in the same spot more often than once every 3 years.
Cucumber Harvest. Cucumbers are ready for harvest usually from midsummer onwards. Harvest cucumbers 3–4 times per week as fruit matures this allows the setting of new flowers and fruit. Harvest when the fruit is elongated and the seeds are still succulent.
Cucumber Varieties. Choose from these slicing cucumbers: ‘Marketmore’, ‘General Lee’, ‘Bush Champion’, ‘Salad Bush’, ‘Sweet Success’. Choose from these picklers: ‘Pickalot’, ‘Pioneer’, ‘Little Leaf’, ‘Northern Pickling’. Others cucumber types include: ‘Suyo Long” an Asian slicing ‘Lemon’ is lemon shaped, and ‘Armenian’. For containers, choose ‘Pot Luck’, ‘Bush Champion’, ‘Spacemaster’, ‘Patio Pik’, ‘Salad Bush’.
Cucumber Cucamelon Mexican Gherkin COURTESY BONNIE PLANTS
Cucumber Artist Hybrid JUNG SEED
Cucumber Itachi. JOHNNY'S SELECTED SEEDS
Cucumber Salad Bush COURTESY ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS
Cucumber Gateway SEMINIS HOME GARDEN
Cucumber Cucamelon Mexican Gherkin COURTESY BONNIE PLANTS
Cucumber Artist Hybrid JUNG SEED
Cucumber Itachi. JOHNNY'S SELECTED SEEDS
Cucumber Salad Bush COURTESY ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS
Cucumber Gateway SEMINIS HOME GARDEN
If you read last week’s column you’ve probably realized that cucumbers are not a cool-season crop. You should also know that there is more than one type of cucumber. And if you’ve had trouble growing cukes, you’ll probably find out why shortly. What I do hope you’ll come away with, though, is that this seemingly simple vegetable that can be up to 96 percent water is pretty complicated.
Let’s start by backtracking a little. Last week, I said there were two types of cucumbers. Well, yes, there are the slicers and the picklers. But one seed catalog adds a third group, the cocktail or snack cucumber, while yet another catalog adds an amorphous group they refer to as “Specialty” and into this group they throw the Asian and lemon types. Bottom line? Two types: slicing (which includes salads) and pickling.
The majority of cukes fall into the slicing category. These are eaten fresh from the garden. The fruits are generally green, elongated and slightly tapered on the ends and they range from 4 to 12 inches in length. Within the slicers is a sub-type that was developed in Israel, and it differs in that it is smoother, has a thinner skin and it is said to be burpless. This type was developed at an early kibbutz and is referred to as the Beit alpha type.
The next slicer group is referred to as oriental and has roots in Asia. These tend to be crispy, sweet tasting and thin-skinned, with only a few spines. They grow 10 to 12 inches long and, in order to keep them straight and high in quality, they should be grown on trellises. The third group in the slicers are the greenhouse cucumbers that were developed in Europe. These can be grown in home gardens but are mostly grown for market and not home garden use.
The pickling class of cukes is used for preserving as pickles and relish. The group is versatile in that they can be harvested at various stages of growth: short, for jars like the Ba-Tampte brand, or as long spears, like you might find in the Vlasic brand.
Gherkins are usually immature pickling cucumbers that are generally only an inch or two long with a warty skin with spines. Dill, sour, sweet, bread and butter, or half sour don’t refer to the cucumber but the way in which it’s pickled or preserved.
Other types include lemon and Armenian (yard long). The lemon is a round cuke about the size of a lemon with a cream to yellow colored skin. When immature, they can be used for pickling, while the mature fruit can be sliced and eaten fresh. The Armenian cuke is actually an elongated cantaloupe that’s best if cooked like a summer squash or eaten fresh when immature. It produces ribbed, pale green fruit that, if left on the vine, can get 3 feet long. Mostly a novelty, it’s best for eating when only a foot long.
Now, what’s this about burping and cucumbers? Most cucumbers contain cucurbitacin, which is a natural biochemical that is said to be a repellent against herbivores. So, if correct, those cukes higher in cucurbitacin will be least likely to be eaten by a passing animal like a rabbit. But the compound also makes some folks burp. The newer varieties of cukes, however, have reduced cucurbitacin and, especially the Asian varieties, are now “burpless” as well as much less bitter or even “bitter free.”
Now we get to the good part, sex. However, cucumber sex. Some plants produce two different kinds of flowers on the same plant — male and female. This is the case for this whole family, including squash, gourds, cukes and watermelons. The sex of the flower is important because only the female flower produces a fruit while most of the males produce pollen. A cucumber may be flowering like crazy and yet not setting any fruit. That’s because all the flowers are males. You have a choice of the male/female flowers on cucumbers you wish to grow. The choices (noted on the seed packet or tag) are monoecious or gynoecious.
Monoecious cucumbers produce male and female flowers on the same plant. All open-pollinated (heirlooms, especially) are monoecious, but so are some of the hybrids. The advantage is that the pollen and the fruit producing flowers are on the same vine. You can just sit back and let the bees do their work. If you have any bees. The disadvantage is that these varieties are usually later and the production of fruit is slower.
Gynoecious cucumbers produce all female flowers. All the flowers have the potential to produce fruit, but note the word “potential.” The advantage is a higher and more concentrated yield. The disadvantage, however, is that there must be a cucumber plant nearby, which produces males flowers that can pollinate the females. The good news is that when you purchase seeds for a gynoecious cuke the packet will contain pollinator seeds. The pollinator plants produce the pollen for the all-female plants. Sounds like risky sex to me, but in most cases it works.
Another solution is to plant gynoecious cucumbers that are parthenogenetic. A parthenogenetic cucumber produces only female flowers that do not need pollen to set fruit. The result is usually seen in higher and more reliable yields, but your varietal choices may be somewhat limited. There is also another big plus to this group. Since the flowers don’t need insects to cross-pollinate them, you can use row covers over the plants to keep most of the cucumber insects away from them. That’s a big deal. If you put row covers over the other varieties, you need to have an alternate method of ensuring pollination. The disadvantage, though, is that if the female flowers are pollinated from a different plant you can end up with a lumpy or curved cuke instead of a straight one. The easiest way to eliminate cross-pollination is to grow only parthenogenetic plants. Some of the parthenogenetic varieties are Baby Persian, Green Fingers, Chelsea Prize, Garden Oasis, Sweet Success, Monika, Diva, Tyria, Suyo Long and Socrates.
So, those are the pluses and minuses. After reading the few paragraphs above, you may be slightly confused, but you may also have found an answer to why you may have had summers with few to no cukes. Remember, these plants all like to bask in the sun. The soil should be light and well drained but high in organics. How much space you need depends on if you’ll be using the old mound method (plants 4 to 6 feet apart), trellised types or bush types, which can be grown in pots or in as little as 2 square feet of garden space.
Sow seeds when the soil has warmed up to nearly 70 degrees or start the plants in peat pots and then plant in the garden when the soil is near 70. When planting hills, the mound should be about a foot in diameter with 4 to 6 seeds per hill thinning to three plants per hill.
There are three rules to harvesting. Pick, pick and pick. If mature fruit are left on the vine, that plant “thinks” its work is done, and production will stop. Most varieties will mature in 50 to 65 days. Harvest in the morning, and they will keep best at 55 to 60 degrees.
Go online and become familiar with what the insects that like cucumbers look like. The cucumber beetle is easily removed by hand. Search for the larvae at the base of the plant — they feed on the underground roots. The adults feed on the stems and may be a striped variety or spotted. Squash bugs are found on stems and unripe fruit, and they suck the plants’ juices. They can be picked off when noted.
The squash vine borer attacks cukes, and the larvae are about 1 inch long with dark heads. They develop from eggs laid by a moth at the base of the plant early in the season. Once inside the stem, they are very difficult to control. Alternating your planting dates can be helpful as can row covers.
There are a few diseases and some can overwinter in your soil. So if you grow cukes year after year, don’t repeat them in the same spot. Aphids are a prime culprit in the transmission of several diseases so keep them under control. And when buying seeds and plants, search those out that are disease resistant.
Lots to think about, and you should do a bit more reading. Seed catalogs are ripe with helpful hints and growing guides as well as many, many varieties to choose from. The Sweet Success hybrid is parthenogenetic as well as highly disease resistant, but there are others. Do your homework, do some planning, hold off on planting until it’s warm in May and, of course, keep growing.
Harvesting cucumbers will vary depending on which variety you choose.
Cucumbers are always harvested young before the fruit and seeds have fully matured. The same is true for zucchini.
Harvest time will be about 8 -12 weeks (2-3 months) from the day you planted the seeds.
Use the following guidelines on when to harvest various cucumber varieties:
Harvest cucumbers with garden shears or scissors cutting where the cucumber stem meets the main branch. See video above. Cutting at this point triggers the plant to grow more cucumbers.
Shaped like lemons and almost as juicy, lemon cucumbers harvested at the right time have tender skins and sweeter, milder flesh than their green relatives. Let a lemon cuke ripen completely on the vine, however, and you’ll bite into tough skin and hard-shelled seeds. To learn when the best time to pick these delightful heirloom cukes is, keep reading.
Depending on their growing conditions, lemon cukes vines need from 60 and 75 days to reach the harvestable stage. To decide if they’re ready to pick, it’s better to rely on the appearance of their fruit instead of your calendar. For the best taste and texture, look for egg-sized cukes that are mostly green, with just a touch of yellow.
Expert gardeners tips:
Pick lemon cukes just as you’d pick any of their relatives:
Expert gardener’s tip: Lemon cukes picked green have fuzzy prickles like those on kiwi fruits. Rub them off with a soft towel or veggie brush, or just peel the skin before eating or pickling.
Store the cukes at room temperature if you expect to eat or pickle them in one or two days. They won’t hold up well at temperatures below 50°F (10°C). If the fridge is your only option, wrap them in dry paper towels, seal them in plastic bags, store them near the front on a middle or upper shelf and use them within three days.