Cucumbers hail from India, so it should come as no surprise that they crave warmth. In fact, they need it at every step of the growth cycle, from germination to fruiting.
- Cucumbers mature quickly, so gardeners in most parts of the country can grow cukes successfully. In USDA zone 4 and north, though, you'll need to choose short-season varieties and keep low temperatures at bay with cloches or cold frames.
- For container growing, choose a small bush variety such as 'Spacemaster? or 'Salad Bush'. Use compost-enriched potting soil and a pot at least 12 inches deep and 8 inches wide, with good drainage. Water often and fertilize every two weeks with manure tea or fish emulsion.
- Unless you live in the far north and you're desperate for homegrown cukes, don't bother starting seeds indoors - it's more trouble than it's worth.
- Vining cucumbers perform better when growing on trellises than they do sprawling across the ground. They get better air circulation and thus fall prey to fewer disease and insect problems, and they produce more - and straighter - fruits.
- Choose a site with all-day sun, except in hot, dry regions, where cucumbers like some afternoon shade. Soil should have a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
- Dig deeply and enrich the soil with plenty of compost and well-rotted manure.
- Sow cucumber seeds directly into the ground at least two weeks after the last frost and when both soil and air temperatures average at least 65 degrees F. Expect germination in 3 to 10 days, depending on soil temperature. (The higher the temperature, the faster the seeds will sprout.) Set vining varieties 2 to 3 feet apart; bush types, 18 inches apart.
- Spray the plants with fish emulsion fertilizer about four weeks after germination, or side-dress with compost.
- Mulch the soil once the plants are established to control weeds and conserve moisture.
- Provide at least an inch of water each week, especially when the plants are flowering and fruiting.
- Pick cucumbers when they're still moderate-sized - between 3 and 4 inches for pickling varieties and 6 to 8 inches for slicers - otherwise they'll become seedy and bitter. Cukes mature at the speed of light, so check your plants daily.