There’s nothing like a fresh cucumber salad to cool down on a balmy afternoon. For many of us, crispy homemade pickles paired with potato salad or a plump hotdog with relish conjure up nostalgia for the carefree days of our youth. Some people even add cucumber slices to lemonade for a refreshing summer drink.
Unfortunately, however, cucumbers can be real space hogs when grown traditionally. With the exception of bush varieties, most cucumber plants need 10-20 square feet when grown along the ground.
Vertical growing reduces the necessary area to around two square feet, as you’ll only need enough room for the roots in your small garden. The vines, leaves, and fruits will climb the trellis.
But even if you’re blessed with plenty of room to grow, there are many other reasons you might want to cultivate your cucumbers vertically.
Why Grow Cucumbers Vertically
If you have a sizable garden, you may be asking yourself, “Why should I bother growing cucumbers vertically?”
For starters, cucumbers thrive in tropical environments and require at least six hours of full sun per day. Vertical gardening significantly increases sunlight exposure, so your cucumber plants will be able to soak up plenty of sun, producing lush foliage and delicious fruits.
Additionally, when you grow cucumbers vertically you improve airflow and allow the leaves to dry quickly after being exposed to humidity in the form of rain, fog, or morning dew, helping to prevent fungal diseases. Vertical cultivation helps keep the fruit from rotting, which often happens when cucumbers grow along the ground.
Another advantage of vertical cucumber growing is that the fruit will grow straighter instead of bending around obstacles on the ground. Your vertically grown cukes will also have a more uniform color because you’ll avoid the light spots that develop where they touch the ground.
Plus, it will be easier to harvest your cucumbers as they won’t be hiding under leaves. And you won’t need to manage back or thigh pain as you squat or bend over to find ripe cukes.
Types of Trellises for Growing Cucumbers
It’s easier to sow cucumber seeds or plant seedlings after you’ve placed and secured your trellis. Cucumbers grow quickly, and you could find yourself scrambling to support the vines if you wait to install your framework. Place the lower edge of the trellis six inches or so above the soil level to facilitate watering, fertilizing, and weeding. Secure the corners of the trellis with either wood or metal stakes.
Gardeners should select a support structure that’s at least five feet tall. But other than the size requirement, you can grow cucumbers vertically on a wide range of trellises, including:
- A-frame trellis– These types of structures allow vines to grow up one side and down the other.
- Tomato or cucumber cages– These units work well but can be expensive. If you go this route, make sure the cages are sturdy enough to support heavy cucumbers.
- 4 x 16-foot cattle panels– Cattle panels are excellent options because you can reuse them for years.
- Homemade trellis– You can also rig a cucumber trellis with U-shaped rebar or wood frames with twine, which can make for a more economical option. Or you can get fancy with arches and trellises made from upcycled items. Use your creativity, but make sure that the end result is sturdy.
Growing Cucumbers from Seed
The first thing you’ll need to decide is what kind of cucumbers you’ll grow. Some types are more suited for slicing and others for pickling. Kirbys, Regals, and Gherkins are among the best cucumber varieties for making pickles.
Hothouse or English cucumbers can grow to two feet long and are better suited for slicing. Armenian cucumbers, aka Snake Melon, turn yellow and are fantastic for slicing as well. Suhyo Long, Diva, and Marketmore 76 cucumbers are also ideal choices for slicing for sandwiches and salads.
Japanese Kyuri cucumbers and Lemon cucumbers can be eaten whole and raw or pickled. You can also find variety packs that allow you to try out a few different types. However, bush varieties won’t climb trellises and aren’t suited for vertical gardening.
You can sow cucumber seeds in pots or directly in the garden. If you’ll be doing container gardening, make sure your pots are at least 12 inches all around. Over 18 inches is even better and will produce a greater yield.
Cucumbers like rich yet loose and well-drained soil. You’ll need to add high-quality compost or animal manure because cucumbers need plenty of nutrients to thrive. Keep the soil at a neutral pH, around 6-7.
Cucumbers do best in warm climates, so gardeners will need to wait until soil temperatures reach around 65° F. You’ll want to sow your seeds in the sunniest spot in your garden, especially if you live in a cooler climate. Cucumbers love environments with temperatures that can reach up to 95° F. You’ll want to protect your cucumber plants if temperatures reach under 60 degrees. You’ll also need to protect the plants from too much wind.
Plant around 3-4 seeds in raised hills at depths of around one-inch deep. After the seedlings get to be approximately 3 inches tall, thin out the weaker specimens to reach a distance of about 6 inches between each plant. For companion planting, cucumbers pair well with tomatoes, broccoli, corn, sunflowers, peas, cabbage, and leafy greens.
Caring for Cucumber Plants
Cucumbers need plantly of consistent, deep watering, especially during the fruiting stage. Gardeners should avoid splashing the leaves, or fungal problems may result. Because cucumbers require consistent water levels, mulching is essential. Adding mulch will also reduce the weed growth around your plants and prevent them from competing for nutrients.
When the plants start flowering, they’ll need more nutrients. You can accomplish this by adding a side-dressing of manure, compost tea, or a balanced liquid fertilizer. Foliar feeding with a heavily diluted fertilizer every two weeks or so is also an excellent way to ensure that your cucumbers get enough nutrients. A monthly dose of liquid kelp also works well. However, you’ll need to be careful not to overfeed your cucumbers. Too much fertilizer can lead to plants with beautiful leaves but very little fruit.
You’ll need to carefully guide the cucumber vines up the trellis at the start. Simply attach the first foot or so to the trellising with loose cloth strips. Heavy twine or ties can damage cucumber vines. After you get them started, the plants will send out tendrils and attach to the trellis automatically. You may need to use a mesh bag or nylon stocking to support hanging fruits as they grow larger.
Dealing with Cucumber Pests and Diseases
Cucumber plants are especially susceptible to diseases like leaf spot, anthracnose, and several types of mildew. Common garden pests like whiteflies, aphids, spider mites, and beetles can also be nuisances. Gardners should check the undersides of leaves frequently for pest problems.
Fortunately, vertical gardening itself will go a long way to preventing most cucumber pests and diseases. Pruning the bottom leaves once the vines start branching will help discourage pests and diseases.
Propagating and Harvesting Cucumbers
Although most gardeners grow cucumbers from seeds, you can increase your yield by propagating them. It’s best to take cuttings in the early morning hours while they’re still full of moisture.
Aim for a cutting that’s around 3-5 inches long taken from the end of the vine. Make sure the cutting has one set of leaves and place it in water or dip the tip in rooting hormone and plant it directly in a small container with soil. Mist the cutting daily, and your new cucumber plant will be ready to place in your garden in around three weeks.
Most cucumbers will be ready to harvest in around 60-90 days, depending upon the variety. To harvest your cukes, simply clip them off at the stem.
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