Growing Cucumbers for Maximum Yield

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Boothby's Blonde Cucumber Variety

Depending on who you ask, a healthy cucumber plant can be expected to produce 10 large cukes or 15 small ones within a harvest period of about three weeks. These optimistic averages are based on large, field-size plantings managed by pros, but gardeners can match or better these numbers by using cultural methods that maximise the productivity of cucumber plants.

Trellising Cucumbers

More than 30 years ago, American horticulturalist H. Y. Hanna observed higher productivity when growing cucumbers on a trellis. Hanna proposed that when the vines are trained upward, so that the leaves form a mound or hedge of layered foliage, cucumbers benefit from improved overall photosynthetic capacity and make more energy from the sun. Since then, field trials in several locations have shown that when properly managed, trellised cucumbers can produce two to three times more cucumbers than plants allowed to run over the ground.

A partial explanation is that trellised cucumbers are easier to harvest because you can see them more easily, and you are less likely to miss big overripe fruits. In addition, it is easier to prevent and control problems with pests and diseases when growing cucumbers vertically. This morning in my garden, for example, a gentle tap to several open flowers sent a half dozen cucumber beetles to a drowning death in a bowl of soapy water – a maneuver that would have been impossible with vines running on the ground.

Cucumbers growing up a trellis with fencing

The top yield figures have been obtained by training cucumbers up a sturdy wire fence, 6 feet (2 m) high, but there are endless ways to support your crop. Keep in mind that the vines cling with curling tendrils, so they often need help finding their way. Also avoid using fencing or netting that cannot be reached through with a hand holding a cucumber!

Once a cucumber vine is trained to waist height, the plants’ secondary stems emerge and the formerly restrained vine explodes into a wall of foliage, flowers and fruits. At this point additional support from stakes or string is usually needed around the outside of the planting if the vines and fruits are to continue to set fruit above the ground.

How Cucumbers Set Fruit

Open-pollinated heirloom varieties like ‘Boothby’s Blonde’, shown above, are called monoecious types because they produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. Male flowers usually appear first, presumably to attract the attention of pollinators, followed by a profusion of male and female flowers all at once.

Cucumber growing on plant with blossom

The majority of disease-resistant hybrid cucumber varieties produce mostly female flowers, which means they are gynoecious cucumbers. In strongly gynoecious varieties, a few seeds of a monoecious variety are included in the packet to boost fertilization.

To make things more confusing, there are parthenocarpic cucumber varieties, which set fruit without pollination, and in fact produce the best quality, seedless fruits when grown in greenhouses or high tunnels from which pollinating insects are excluded. Note that many “greenhouse” varieties are often poor performers in the open garden compared to sturdy hybrids and established heirlooms from around the world.

Cucumber trellised vertically hanging fruit

If your eyes are glazing over from all the tech talk, don’t worry. Regardless of how their flower-producing genes have been lined up by vegetable breeders, cucumber plants regulate how many fruits they will produce. If the first two or three flowers that appear on small plants are nicely fertilized, plant growth will slow as the plant assumes that its job is done – seeds have been set for the next generation. But if the first female flowers shrivel naturally, or are pinched off (baby cuke and all), the message surges through the plant that more flowers and fruits are needed. New growth ramps up. It is therefore ideal to pinch off the first few fruits that form in the interest of productivity. After that, the plants know what to do.

Keeping Cucumbers Healthy

Cucumbers that are planted in fertile soil are often ready for a supplemental feeding when the plants suddenly grow large and begin to run. A balanced organic fertilizer that contains a buffet of nutrients is ideal. Whether you scratch a granular fertilizer into the soil around plants or drench them well with a water-soluble plant food, do not skip this important step. Adequately fed cucumber plants have far fewer problems with disease, which in turn helps them produce beautiful fruits for a longer time – hopefully more than a dozen.

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Show Comments


"I grow Richmond green apple cucumbers up a trellis. Very prolific and I save my own seeds so they are more adapted to my soil each year. Mulching the soil at the roots helps immensely to increase production too. Older ones need peeling, but flesh stays sweet. Also grow the Armenian cucumber, but it's actually a melon. My garden would be an unhappy place without them both. "
Shannon robinson on Tuesday 11 April 2017
"Growing cucumbers vertically is truly the best way round grow them. Last year I planted giant sunflowers at the same time as the cukes. It was a match made in heaven and produced a huge harvest. The sunflowers makes great "trellises ""
Paula Ashby on Monday 25 March 2019
"I planted 2 cucumber plants for my brother in law who loves them! I do not like them at all. SO far from the 2 plants we have harvested over 300 cucumbers. All he and his wife, their grand children and friends can eat fresh and others have made over 4 gallons of pickles! Based on the information here that is a LOT! And they are still producing like crazy! "
Dee on Saturday 6 July 2019
"When do you know your cucumbers are ready to be picked please? This is the first time I’ve grown them and I have cucumbers on my plant but I don’t know if they are ready or not, please can you help me?"
Violet on Friday 3 July 2020
"If you have cucumbers on your plant and the date is July 3rd, then by today July 6th, they are probably huge and over ripe. Over ripe ones are starting to yellow and they will have a tasteless or even bitter taste. So, no good. Pick them early. Do you still have your seed packet as it will say the length. I would say between 6 and 10 inches. Cut one open and if the seeds are starting to get hard, i.e. when you eat them, then pick them earlier than that."
mike vest on Tuesday 7 July 2020
"Please explain what you mean by pinching the plants. "
Jerome Lambie on Thursday 7 January 2021
"I can grow a massive cucumber. "
Darren smerald on Thursday 27 May 2021

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