When I grew cucumbers for the first time, I had no understanding of the different stages of its life cycle. Because I didn’t know the growth stages, I had no idea how to recognize if there was an issue with my growing technique. I also had a lot of anxiety and impatience as I waited for my seedling to start vining and flowering.
As I’ve raised multiple different cucumber plants from germination to harvesting, I’ve seen them grow from one stage to another.
Regardless of which type of cucumber you are growing, it goes through a very specific and predictable life cycle. Understanding these different growth stages that it goes through will help you identify any problems as it is developing.
When it comes to growing cucumber plants (Cucumis sativus), it’s best to wait until days warm in spring after your last spring frost before planting cucumber seeds or transplants outside into the garden. They are warm-season plants that fail to thrive in cold weather. Make sure to also consider growing them with companion plants to maximize growth.
How Do They Grow?
Cucumbers go through several growth stages before they are fully grown and ready for harvest. Each stage is essential for the proper development and health of the plant.
The very first is the germination stage. This is when the seed produces its first shoot and roots, breaking through the seed’s outer coat and germinates. Depending on outdoor temperatures, seeds germinate in three to 10 days. However, germination usually occurs in three days when temperatures are 80℉ and above. Cooler temperatures result in slower germination. Seeds won’t germinate in temperatures colder than 60℉.
The next stage in growth is the seedling stage. This is when the first set of immature leaves, called cotyledon, start to appear. Next, the true leaves develop and the plant starts depending on photosynthesis for its nutrients.
Soon thereafter, the vegetable develops more leaves and vines grow longer. If you are growing cucumbers vertically, now is the time to loosely attach each vine to a structure like a trellis or a fence. Wait until the vines grow about 1 foot long and attach to the structure using loose ties that won’t cut into the tender vines.
Flowering and Fruiting Stage
The majority of cucumbers produce both male and female flowers, also known as staminate and pistillate. Male flowers typically bloom several weeks before the female flowers, eventually dropping from the vine. The center of male flowers contain a sticky tube covered in pollen. Whereas female flowers contain the center ovary. If pollinated, these will develop into cucumber fruits. There are usually 10 male flowers to every one female flower. It’s crucial during the fruit’s development to water regularly and fertilize appropriately.
Depending on the varieties you are growing, most types are ready to be harvested around 50 days to 70 days. Unless growing a yellow skin cultivar, it’s best to harvest while the outer skin is still green and has not yet changed to yellow. Overly ripe cucumbers produce a bitter taste and have a tough texture. To prevent damage to the vines, harvest by snipping them from the vine and not tearing them off.
Vining vs Bush Types
All varieties of cucumbers either grow by producing long vines or have a bushier habit of growth, producing short vines. Which type that you choose to grow depends on how much space you have in your garden. To prevent disease problems, your plants will require room to spread with adequate air circulation.
Seed companies make it easy to distinguish a particular variety’s habit of growth by checking the back of the seed package. Besides noting other important characteristics of the variety, it also states the vines’ typical size and whether it has a vining or bush habit of growth.
Depending on the cultivar, vining cucumbers are usually large, sprawling vegetables that require a large area to spread for proper growth. Some varieties can produce vines up to 10 feet long, although the growth of 5 to 6 feet long vines are typical. Vining types work well growing vertically on a structure like a trellis or a fence. When planting multiple vining types, space seeds or hills about 5 feet apart.
On the other hand, bush types don’t produce the long vines that vining types do making them good choices for potted growth. Bush varieties are suitable choices for those lacking garden space or want something smaller and easier to care for. Bush varieties also produce fruits earlier than vining types. You can space them about 2 feet apart.
How Long Do They Take to Grow?
The length of time from sowing the seeds until you harvest the fruit depends on several things. Seed planted when temperatures are cooler can take up to 10 days to germinate and won’t germinate at all when temperatures are cooler than 60℉. However, seeds germinate the quickest when temperatures are 80℉ or warmer. Soil temperatures should be at least 65℉ before you plant seeds or transplants in the garden.
Additionally, what specific cultivar you are growing also affects how long it will take to grow before the fruit is ready to harvest. Some varieties can take around 50 days to fully grow and other varieties can take around 70 days before they are ready to harvest. The back of the seed packet will give you the expected days to harvest for that particular cultivar and the fruit’s expected size.
How Deep Do They Grow?
Cucumbers belong in the Cucurbitaceae family, which is the same family as melons, squash and gourds. Plants in this family do not like their roots disturbed. Therefore, if starting plants early, it’s best to plant seeds in peat pots. When it comes time to transplant it to your garden, you can bury the entire peat pot without disturbing the root system.
The plant’s root system contains one main taproot that can eventually grow 2 to 3 feet into the ground. However, there is an entire network of primary roots that reside close to the soil’s surface, taking in moisture and nutrients for the plant to grow and thrive. In addition, the network of primary roots are weak and easily damaged, so use care when weeding or working around your cucumbers.
Do Cucumbers Grow on Vines?
Regardless of whether labeled a bush or vining type, all varieties of cucumbers grow on vines. The primary difference between vining and bush types are the size of the vines.
Bush varieties produce shorter vines that average around 24 inches long, depending on the cultivar. This makes them good choices for growing in containers or for those who don’t have enough garden space for growing larger vining varieties.
On the other hand, vining types can produce vines up to 10 feet long. However, most cultivars have vines averaging around 5 to 6 feet long and require a larger space to spread out. They can still be grown in containers but will definitely need a structure to climb upon like a trellis, arbor or fence.