Did you see the price of cucumbers lately?! What about the price of those small snacking cukes that kids love? Don’t pay it; grow cucumbers – hundreds of them! Here’s how you can grow an impressive cucumber crop, no matter where you live, simply by understanding a cucumber plant’s growing stages.
Planning your garden, when and how you will grow, and the varieties of cucumbers you choose are all key to maximizing your cucumber harvest. Let’s look at these considerations individually, and then we’ll connect these points with cucumber plant growth stages and their importance.
Growing Cucumbers: Time to Maturity
So, the time to maturity for cucumbers is the number of days from planting directly into the garden or being transplanted into the garden until the first fruits. Typically this is 50-70 days, depending on the variety.
Your climate and first and last frost dates will dictate your cucumber growing season. Cucumbers will not tolerate frost; they like warm and sunny weather, but their growth may stall if it gets too hot. You can protect cucumbers and extend your growing season a little by growing cucumbers in a greenhouse, polytunnel, or by using row covers and similar methods.
Let’s say your growing season is 162 days. So you have 162 days between your last frost in spring and your first frost in fall. That’s plenty of time to grow a lot of cucumbers!
Cucumber Types and Varieties
There are around five main types of cucumbers, depending on how you look at the classifications. There are slicing cucumbers, Persian cucumbers, English cucumbers, picking cucumbers (or gherkins!), and Armenian cucumbers. The latter is technically a melon. There are then hundreds of varieties of cucumbers to choose from, including Earliest Mincu, Straight Eight, Long English, Crystal Apple, Lemon Cucumber, National Pickling, and Pickle Bush.
TOP TIP: Find a cucumber variety that suits your plans for eating, your garden, and your climate.
We’re not going to get into specific varieties here other than to tell you to research and choose the best variety for your growing environment, your taste, your plans for eating or preserving (like pickles!), and any challenges your garden throws at you.
For example, look for bush or compact varieties if you are short on space. You might want to look at spineless choices if you need those yummy snacking cucumbers. For preserving or pickling: you’ll be looking for pickling varieties and high-yielders. Or, perhaps determinate varieties that will have a higher yield across a shorter harvesting period.
There are also cold-tolerant, disease-resistant, and fast-maturing varieties as well as fun and tasty options like lemon cucumbers and cucamelons!
Understanding cucumber plant stages, varieties, and their time to maturity will help you choose your favorites and plan your planting so you can harvest the amount you need at the right time.
When and How to Grow Cucumbers
Choose your cucumber variety and understand its time to maturity. Now for when to plant, you have a few options. Cucumbers can be started inside or in a greenhouse to get an early start on your growing season. It’s generally recommended you do this five to six weeks before your last frost date in spring, and your seeds will germinate in as little as three days. You do want to be careful you can provide enough light and warmth, so they thrive.
If you start cucumbers inside you can plant them outside in the ground, in raised beds, or in large pots once all danger of frost has passed.
TOP TIP: You don’t have to start cucumbers inside, they like to race in warm weather!
Cucumbers do grow quickly when planted directly in the garden from seed. Early cucumber plant stages will pass soon, even for the most impatient gardener. Some gardeners will argue that once the weather warms up, directly planted cucumbers will catch up to those transplanted as seedlings. Depending on the space you have, you can try both methods to hedge your bets a little because the weather in a growing season can vary immensely.
As for where to plant cucumbers, the plants grow large, but they are versatile. They will thrive in raised beds or pots but need at least five gallons of soil per plant, and you may need to fertilize more frequently. There are some prolific compact or bush cucumber varieties that take up less space and will vine on tomato cages; these are a good choice for patios and balconies. You could try patio snacker for a full-size cucumber or Pickle Bush for a pickling type. If you have the space and the equipment, cucumbers will trellis well.
We’ll get onto cucumber plant stages, or stages of growth, and their relevance shortly. But, here’s a hint; understanding cucumbers well means that you can stagger new plantings across the growing season. Staggering cucumber planting (and sneaking them in all over your garden!) will maximize your cucumber yield.
Cucumber Plant Stages – In Days
Seed Germination – 0-10 Days
If you plant your cucumber seeds around 1-1.5 inches deep in good soil or compost and keep them warm, you should see tiny shoots in as little as three days. In slightly cooler soil, they could take up to 10 days. Planted in soil below 50°F (10°C), your seeds won’t germinate.
When your cucumbers break through the soil, their first two leaves are called cotyledons. These shoots will be quickly followed by photosynthesizing true leaves.
Seedling to Healthy Green Growth – 3-35 Days
Once your seedlings are in their permanent position for the season, they’ll grow fast and, depending on the variety, start to vine. Bush-type cucumbers will need some support, like a fence or tomato cage. You can either let vining-type cucumbers sprawl on the ground or provide them with a fence, trellis, or other support.
If you plan to trellis, you’ll need to begin this during these first cucumber plant stages. Your cucumber will grow tiny tendrils that will latch on to the support you provide, and you can train these tendrils where you want them as soon as they grow.
If you are growing cucumbers in the ground without support, they’ll need to be between three and five feet apart.
Flowering to First Fruits – 35+ Days
At around 35 days, you’ll see the first male flowers appear on your cucumber plant. These will begin to entice pollinators, and the female flowers, with tiny cucumber starts, will appear next.
If all is well, the female flowers will be pollinated quickly, and the tiny cukes will grow fast. If you see many flowers or the female flowers wither and die, and no cucumbers form, you may need to pollinate your plants manually. You can either take a male flower to the female flowers or take a cotton bud, collect pollen from the male flowers, and deliver it to the female flowers. We’ll cover assisting with pollination in another article.
Remember, in these later stages of a cucumber plant’s growth, you’ll need to water them often. If they don’t get rain, cucumbers will need watering every day. Once the fruits start to form, cucumber plants will also benefit from some extra fertilizer.
A healthy cucumber plant will continue to produce new flowers and fruits for much of the growing season, if it’s an indeterminate type and if you continually pick the ripe cucumbers. Determinate cucumber varieties will set fruit all at once, and you’ll have a single harvest across a small window of time.
Harvesting – 50 Days+
By 50 days, if you have an early variety, you should be able to harvest a full-size cucumber and then continue to harvest for the rest of the season. Once a female flower is pollinated, you will have a mature cucumber after eight to ten days.
With many varieties, the more you harvest the growing cucumbers, the more they will grow. And the great thing about cucumbers is you can harvest them small if you’re impatient or just like them that way. Smaller cucumbers are often tastier.
It’s important to harvest all ripe cucumbers quickly. Leaving a ripe cucumber on a vine tells the plant the season is over, and they’ll begin to slow down. Instead of putting effort into the ripe cucumber, your plant will put effort into the unpicked cucumber’s growth and the seeds inside it.
That’s a quick step-by-step for cucumber growth, and it’ll help in planning your garden to maximize your cucumber yield. Lemon cucumber plant stages, Armenian cucumbers, and most types and varieties follow similar growth patterns.
Staggering Seed Planting – Maximize Cucumber Yield
You have an overview now of cucumber plant stages and an idea of varieties and time to maturity. Next, you can use this information to plan how many plants you want to grow and when, as well as when you will be harvesting.
Growing Cucumbers to Eat Through Summer and Fall
Indeterminate cucumber varieties will continue to produce fruit all summer and into fall. They will slow down as they age, though, and if it’s very hot. To ensure you have healthy cucumbers right into the fall months, you can plant new seeds every few weeks.
If you look at the cucumber plant growing stages we outlined, a good time to plant new seeds would be when your first batch reaches between 20 and 35 days of growth. Planting every 30 days in a 162-day growing season would give you maturing cucumbers at around 50 days, then 80 days, then 110 days, and then 150 days, for example. Doing this with indeterminate varieties, you would have a steady harvest from day 50 of your growing season to the end. Harvesting at day 50 works on early cucumber growing stages. For other varieties, your number of days to maturity might be 60 or even 70.
Each healthy cucumber plant should produce around ten large cucumbers or fifteen small ones. Once again, this may depend on the variety you are growing. Hybrid varieties are bred to be more productive, so you’ll have a greater cucumber yield. Yields may be lower with heirloom varieties, but you can collect the seeds for planting your next crop. What’s more, many growers argue the taste and nutritional value are much better with heirlooms.
Growing Cucumbers for Pickling
If you plan to make pickles with your cucumbers, you probably want a large harvest all at once. To achieve this, you can choose a determinate pickling cucumber variety. Determinate plants will flower all at once, then (following normal cucumber plant stages) will have mature fruits between 8 and 15 days later, somewhere between the 50 and 70 day time to maturity mark.
For a bumper harvest of pickling cucumbers in early August, you could stagger your planting of determinate pickles just 5-10 days apart from June onwards. Be careful of your climate; if your summer gets very hot, your plants might slow or stall. It can be advisable to plan big harvests to occur just before it gets too hot or when it cools somewhat.
Ideally, you don’t want the flowering and fruiting stages of cucumber growth to coincide with your hottest days. Looking back at cucumber plant stages and the history of the weather in your region might help you plan your early or late planting to avoid the heat. That’s, of course, if you want to make your gardening this complex! It doesn’t have to be.
Cucumber Growing for Beginners
Cucumber plant stages are good to know. If you’re just getting started with growing cucumbers, you don’t have to approach cucumber growing in a complicated way.
Growing cucumbers is as simple as planting your seeds in a suitable spot in your garden in good soil. Then, if they have warm sunlight and plenty of water, you will be harvesting your first cucumbers in 50-70 days.
Cucumbers are forgiving (much easier than broccoli), don’t be afraid to give growing them a try!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long does it take cucumber plants to produce?
Cucumbers usually reach maturity (and produce good-sized cucumbers) between 50 and 70 days from planting seed, or transplants, into the garden or greenhouse. Early cucumber varieties like Earliest Mincu, Early Pride, and Spacemaster will be around the 50-60 day mark, and Bushy Cucumber promises to be as early as 45 days!
How long does it take for cucumbers to grow after flowering?
In the early cucumber plant stages, flowers appear at around 35 days. Baby cucumbers will take roughly eight to ten days to mature once a female flower has been pollinated. Once your first cucumbers start to mature and you pick them, it will often seem like new full-size cucumbers appear within days!
How do cucumbers look when they first start growing?
The female flower on a cucumber plant will produce the fruit. If you look closely at cucumber flowers, you’ll find the female flowers will be attached to a tiny, skinny, spiky green cucumber. It’s this that will fatten and grow into your crunchy hydrating garden treat.
During which cucumber plant growth stage should you fertilize?
During early cucumber plant stages, your seeds and seedlings will take advantage of the nutrients in the soil or compost you have used. After a few weeks, around the time your cucumber plants start to flower, you can feed them with a balanced fertilizer or a rich organic compost tea once a week.
How often do you water cucumber plants?
Cucumbers are easy to grow if they get plenty of warmth, sunlight, and water. During early cucumber plant stages and in the cool of spring, watering every other day might suffice as long as you ensure the plant’s soil stays moist.
Once cucumber plants reach the later stages of growth, they need at least an inch of water every week. If they are in a greenhouse, or outside during summer without rain, you’ll need to water them just about every day to get the best yield. Cucumbers planted in the ground might be okay with a little less watering. However, cucumbers in raised beds or containers will certainly dry out on most hot summer days.