There is so much to love about raised bed gardening. It makes the act of growing your own food more simple and approachable, especially for new gardeners. One of the best crops to grow in your raised beds is the cucumber.
Cucumbers are in the same family as squash, watermelon, and pumpkin. They have a rapid growth rate and can be harvested in a very short window (sometimes just 50 days from seed to harvest!).
So, if you want to grow your own cukes, you’re in the right place. In this article, I’ll share our entire process of growing cucumbers in raised beds!
1. Preparing Raised Beds
First and foremost, let’s talk about properly preparing your raised beds for planting. Cucumbers require well-drained, evenly moist, highly fertile soil to grow at their best. Early spring is the best time to prep your garden.
Prepping the soil
To ensure our garden soil is nutrient-rich, I always amend with an organic, all-purpose fertilizer. This slowly releases as it is broken down, providing consistent nutrients to your cucumbers all year long.
Alternatively, you can add an organic material like compost or rotted manure. Both of these are fantastic for raised beds, as they not only add nutrients, but also improve the soil’s structure and drainage.
Note: Be careful where you buy your compost or manure, as they can contain traces of herbicides, which can harm your garden plants. Do your best to make sure they are pesticide and herbicide free.
If your soil is compacted (stiff and hard to dig into), you can try forking the soil to help aerate. I like to use a pitchfork and dig straight down, wiggling back and forth to loosen the soil.
I prefer this over a full tilling, as tilling can negatively impact beneficial bacteria and fungal networks in the soil. After loosening, always rake out the soil so that the surface is level, which promotes even drainage.
Cucumber plants also need consistent watering throughout the season to produce well. So, early spring is a great time to consider an automatic watering system such as drip irrigation or a soaker hose.
First off, if you plan to be in your garden regularly, then hand-watering works great. Raised beds do not dry out all that quickly, especially when properly mulched. We currently use a soaker hose wand and hand-water all of our raised beds when necessary.
Drip irrigation is the ideal watering system of raised beds, as it delivers water exactly where it is needed, an nowhere else. However, it is a bit complicated to set up, and is overkill for smaller garden beds.
A soaker hose is a sort of in-between option. These hoses can be laid out around your plants, and when it is turned on, water leaks out from the entire hose. This tends to waste some water between plants, but is still easier than hand watering.
Both drip irrigation and soaker hoses can be attached to a hose timer for regular watering. If you live in a place where there is little rainfall, then an automated watering system can be a plant saver!
2. Planting Cucumber Seeds
With the soil and watering prep work done, it is time to plant your cucumber seeds. I recommend to direct-sow cucumber seeds (plant directly in the ground rather than transplant). This is because cucumber root systems can be delicate and prefer not to be disturbed.
Timing and temperature
Before planting, make sure you are planting at the right time. Temperature is the most important factor to consider before planting. Ideally, both soil and air temperatures should be around 70°F or warmer.
Cucumber plants are extremely sensitive to cold weather. In general, cucumbers are best planted about 3-4 weeks after the last frost date to avoid potential cold exposure.
Tip: Help the soil warm up earlier by covering your raised beds with plastic sheeting or floating row cover. This greatly increases germination rate, growth rate, and overall plant vigor.
Location and spacing
Cucumbers are most often planted as a climbing crop. We’ll talk more about how to make a cucumber trellis in the next section, but for now let’s discuss location and spacing.
First, you’ll want to plant your cucumber plants along the Northern side of your garden. This way, the taller cucumber plants will not shade out smaller crops on the South side. If you are not planning on trellising the plants, then this is less important, as the plants will not be very tall.
For spacing, most cucumbers should be planted 18″ apart. Again, this is my recommendation for climbing plants, not for ground sprawling cucumbers. If you don’t plan on trellising, the plants will need much more space, at least 30″ or so (depending on the variety).
How to plant cucumber seeds
When you’re ready to plant your seeds, plant 2-3 seeds about 1/2″ deep, covering loosely with soil. Gently water the seeds in and keep the soil moist until germination.
Seeds will not germinate well if they are allowed to dry out. So, come back every day or two to make sure your seeds are kept well-watered until they sprout.
Most cucumber seeds sprout within 7 days (and often less) under ideal conditions. If your are having trouble with germination, it may be that the soil is not warm enough, or that the seeds dried out before sprouting.
After your seedlings are 2-3″ tall and they have developed their first true leaf, thin your cucumbers to 1 plant per 18″. Keep the soil well-watered, making sure to water at the base of the plants rather than over the tops of the leaves.
3. Providing Support (Optional)
Cucumbers are natural climbing plants. They grow tendrils that naturally latch onto nearby objects, and will grow upwards wherever possible.
There are many great reasons to grow cucumbers vertically:
- Save space in the raised bed
- Less disease
- Better airflow
- Less rotten fruits laying in the soil
- Easier harvesting
- Higher yields
If these reasons aren’t enough to convince you, then you can grow cucumbers without a support system. However, you can expect a messy, sprawling plant that takes up a lot of your garden.
There are many support options:
- Tomato cage. While not ideal for cucumbers, a tomato cage can work for keeping your plants upright. The plants will naturally grow up the metal braces and fruits will be supported. However, cucumbers have a tendency to grow away from the tomato cages unless they are helped in the right direction and pruned.
- Cucumber trellis. Since cucumbers are so popular, you can buy a purpose-built cucumber trellis. This is essentially an A-frame mesh trellis that is perfect for climbing plants. You can also make your own A-frame trellis using basic tools (wood or cow panels).
- Overhead support. If you want to try the professional method, you can build a simple overhead support system. A sturdy horizontal beam is suspended above the plants (usually about 8′ high) and strings hang down to the soil. Then, the cucumbers are trellised up the strings until they reach the top. This is the best option for space-savings, but requires more regular pruning for the best results.
For most home gardeners, a basic cucumber trellis or angled panel is the preferred support system. There are also countless other designs, such as the table-top design which can provide shade to heat-sensitive crops below.
4. Growing Tips And Harvesting
Once your cucumbers begin to take off, you’ll be shocked at how quickly they can grow. Most varieties will begin producing crops within 2 months after planting, and can continue to yield for many more weeks!
Here are some pointers during the growth stage:
- Remove early flowers. While your plants are young (2-4 weeks old), they will begin to produce flowers. I recommend removing the first few flowers to force your plants to focus on developing a strong root system before trying to set fruits. This helps increase yield.
- Train your plants. Don’t be afraid to move your plants in the direction you want them to grow. Cucumbers can quickly get out of hand, often taking over other nearby plants.
- Prune as needed. Cucumbers, like tomatoes, grow side-shoots that are sometimes called suckers. These side shoots can take away energy from the main stem, and can lead to messy plants. Snip them off if you think they will cause poor aeration. I also remove the lower 2-3 leaves to prevent soil splashing, and remove any diseased foliage as soon I notice it.
When your plants begin to produce their first cucumbers, it is important to pick them at the right time. Allowing even a single cucumber to begin to ripen can cause your vines to stop producing!
The best time to harvest a cucumber is when it has just reached a mature size. It is better to harvest a cucumber too early than too late. Younger cucumbers are crunchier, have smaller seeds, and a sweeter, more pleasant flavor.
It is just as important to harvest your cucumbers often. Once your plants are on a roll, check in on them every day or two to check for new fruits. As an added bonus, by taking cucumbers off of the plants, you encourage them to produce more cucumbers!
There are many issues that can plague your cucumber plants. Disease is a common problem, but also pests like the cucumber beetle, or poor productivity.
Here are some common issues you may face, and how to deal with them:
- Disease. Downy mildew, powdery mildew, anthracnose, and more diseases can impact your cucumber plants. The best way of dealing with this problem is by planting disease-resistant varieties. There are so many great hybrid cucumbers available to help avoid disease all together. Try varieties like Excelsior and Marketmore.
- Poor pollination. Some cucumbers require pollinators to carry pollen from male to female flowers. Others only produce female flowers (gynoecious), meaning that another plant that has male flowers is necessary for it to produce fruits. Look for parthenocarpic varieties (cucumbers that do not require pollination) to avoid this issue entirely!
- Cucumber beetles. The cucumber beetle is an important pest that targets cucumber plant roots and sometimes the fruits. These are yellow striped or spotted beetles that can devastate your cucumbers (and other cucurbits like melons and squash). Protect your young cucumber seedlings by covering with insect netting, or spraying with a protective clay.
Cucumbers are a perfect crop for growing in raised beds. I hope this article helps you grow a successful cucumber crop in your own backyard!