How to grow cucumbers in a container garden
Types of cucumbers to grow in containers
There are so many unique and delicious cucumbers you can grow. I feature many of them in my award-winning book, Veggie Garden Remix, but basically, cucumber varieties fall into two main categories: bush or vining. Bush cucumbers form short vines, just two to three feet long and don’t require a trellis. They are perfect for pots, cascading over the side of a container or hanging basket, or you can support them with a tomato cage.
Vining cucumbers produce more fruits per plant but they’re also larger plants, growing up to eight feet long depending on the variety. They can be grown in pots but choose large containers, at least eighteen inches in diameter to ensure adequate root room. You’ll also need to provide a trellis or other support for the vigorous plants unless you want them wandering all over your deck or patio.
The best containers for growing cucumbers
Picking the right container to grow cucumbers is the first step to a successful harvest. The container should hold at least five to seven gallons of potting mix and have good drainage. Bigger is better as a larger volume of soil holds more water but is also heavier and less prone to tipping over.
Common materials for containers include plastic, fabric, wood, and metal. You can buy pots or up-cycle items like five gallon buckets, half-barrels, or wine boxes. If your choosen container doesn’t have any drainage holes, be sure to add some to the bottom with a drill. Fabric planters are free-draining and don’t need drainage holes. Bush-type cucumbers can also be grown in hanging baskets, but again, opt for a large-sized basket that is at least a twelve to fourteen inches in diameter.
Best soil for container cucumbers
Cucumber vines are heavy feeders and grow best when planted in a growing medium that is lightweight but rich in organic matter. Avoid using garden soil which is very heavy. I combine a high quality potting mix, often called potting soil, with compost, in a 50-50 ratio for my container cucumbers. I also add slow-release fertilizer to the soil mix before I plant.
When to plant cucumbers in containers
Cucumbers are heat-loving vegetables and shouldn’t be planted outdoors until the soil temperature is at least 60 F (15 C). This is usually one to two weeks after the last spring frost. Don’t try and rush cucumbers into containers too early as they’ll be prone to cold or frost damage.
How to grow cucumbers in a container garden – seeds or transplants?
I’m often asked if cucumber seeds should be direct sown outdoors or whether they need to be started inside to give the plants a head start on the season. Cucumbers generally don’t like root disturbance and can be difficult to transplant. For that reason, they are frequently direct sown in containers as well as garden beds.
To sow cucumber seeds in a container, plant three seeds per pot, pushing them about a half inch deep. Water well and keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds germinate. Depending on the cucumber variety and the size of the container, you will likely need to remove all but one plant once they are growing well.
If you want to start your cucumber seeds indoors, be sure to sow them at the right time, which is just three to four weeks before you intend to move them to their pots. Planting inside too early results in overgrown plants that may try to flower and fruit while still indoors. These will be difficult to transplant and never live up to their production potential. When you’re ready to plant your well-timed cucumber seedlings into their prepared outdoor containers, carefully slip them from their pots and tuck them into the potting mix without disturbing the rootball. Water well.
Growing cucumbers in containers vertically
There are many benefits to growing cucumbers vertically, even in containers. Plants grown up have better air flow around the leaves, reducing many common disease issues. If grown on a deck or patio, growing them on a support takes up less space and keeps your outdoor living area more tidy. It also makes it easier to harvest the fruits. Plus the cucumbers of long-fruited types, like English or Asian varieties grow straighter.
Most types of cucumbers, even bush varieties benefit from support. For shorter growing bush cucumbers, I use tomato cages. For vining varieties that can grow seven feet or more, I use trellises, netting, or strings.
Trellises – there are many types of trellises that can be used to grow cucumbers vertically. They are frequently made from wire or wood, and can be purchased or DIY’d.
Strings – In my polytunnel I grow cucumbers in fabric planters or plastic pots training them vertically up strings. It’s a very efficient and simple way to grow container cucumbers and results in healthy plants and a large harvest.
Netting – Pea and bean netting is another popular material for supporting vining cucumbers. If growing in planters or containers on a deck, balcony, or patio, the netting can be hung from a railing, wall or other structure. Be sure to choose a netting material with large holes at least four inches square. One inch square mesh netting is also available but not recommended for cucumbers as the fruits can get wedged in the netting as they grow.
How to grow cucumbers in a container garden
The best cucumber harvest comes from healthy plants. To encourage healthy growth, place your containers where they will receive plenty of sunlight (at least eight hours a day) and provide regular moisture.
Watering container cucumbers – Cucumbers need a consistent supply of water to produce the highest quality fruits. If plants are water stressed and allowed to wilt in between waterings, the fruits can turn bitter. Container grown vegetables need to be watered more often than in-ground plants so keep a close eye on moisture levels and water when the soil feels dry to the touch. In summer, this may be every day, depending on the weather and the size of the container.
Fertilizing container cucumbers – Because cucumbers are heavy feeders, I add a slow release organic fertilizer to the potting mix at planting time. This provides a steady feed throughout the growing season. To supplement this, I also use a diluted liquid kelp fertilizer or compost tea every three to four weeks.
Monitor for pests and diseases – Cucumbers can fall prey to pests like cucumber beetles, aphids, squash bugs, and slugs, and diseases like powdery mildew and bacterial wilt. It helps to grow resistant varieties, but keeping an eye out for potential problems also allows you to take action before they get out of hand. A soapy water spray can be used for many types of insect pests. For detailed information on cucumber plant problems, be sure to check out this excellent article by Jessica.
How to harvest cucumbers in containers
Cucumbers are best harvested when the fruits are slightly immature and at the peak of quality. Once pollination has occurred it takes 5 to 10 days, depending on the variety, for the female flower to become a fruit. Fruit size varies from variety to variety with some ready to pick when just two inches in length and others when they’re a foot long, so read the seed packet for specific harvest information. Don’t allow over-ripe fruits to remain on the plant. This reduces new flower and fruit production.
Never pick fruits by tugging or pulling them from the plants. You can damage the plant or the fruit. Instead, use a pair of snips or pruners to clip the fruits from the vine.
The best varieties of cucumbers to grow in pots
When learning how to grow cucumbers in a container garden it’s important to consider variety selection. Many heirlooms are prolific and offer a large harvest of crispy fruits, but newer hybrids often have better disease resistance.
Bush cucumber varieties:
Pick a Bushel – This All-America Selections award-winning cucumber is ideal for pots. The compact plants grow just two-feet long and can be planted with other vegetables and herbs in a large container or on their own in medium-sized pots. It’s very early to produce and the fruits are great for fresh eating or making into pickles. Harvest when the cucumbers are three to five inches long.
Salad Bush – For over thirty years, Salad Bush has been a standard cucumber variety for small gardens and containers. The plants grow two-feet long and yield full-sized slicing cucumbers. Harvest when they are eight inches long.
Parisian Gherkin – A semi-vining cucumber, the plants of Parisian Gherkin grow two to three feet long and produce dozens of mini cucumbers that are delicious fresh or pickled. The fruits have small black spines and a crisp, lightly sweet flavor.
Spacemaster – This popular cucumber starts pumping out six to eight inch long fruits less than two months from seeding. This is a great variety for pots as well as hanging baskets as the plants grow only two to three feet long.
Vining cucumber varieties:
Lemon – Lemon cucumber is a popular heirloom variety with unusual roundish, pale green to light yellow fruits. The vines can grow eight feet long and produce dozens of cucumbers per plant. They’re best harvested when still pale green to light yellow. Once they turn bright yellow, they’re overmature and seedy.
Diva – An All-America Selections winner, Diva is reliable and productive and perfect for pots or garden beds. The vines grow five to six feet long so provide support. They’re also parthenocarpic which means they don’t need to be pollinated to produce a crop. This is especially useful if you’re growing the plants in pots in a greenhouse or polytunnel. For optimal flavor, harvest when the fruits are five to seven inches long.
Picolino – Picolino is a cocktail-type cucumber with compact vines that grow just four to five feet long and boast excellent disease resistance. The fruits are smooth and deep green and best harvested when four to five inches long. I grow Picolino in pots in my garden and polytunnel for a generous crop of delicious mini cucumbers all summer long.
Suyo Long – This is a traditional variety from Asia that yields long, slender cucumbers – up to fifteen inches long! It’s always a popular cucumber in our garden as everyone loves the mild, almost sweet flavor of Suyo Long. The vines grow seven feet or more so provide support.