Cucumbers can be massive, sprawling plants that take up a large section of the garden, but they also do surprisingly well in containers. By choosing the right pots and right variety, you can easily get an abundant harvest from just a small amount of space.
Here’s more on how to grow cucumbers in containers, including important care tips that will keep your plants thriving and producing.
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Cucumbers in Containers: Small Space, Big Harvest
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are vining plants related to zucchini and winter squash. They are relatively easy to grow and thrive in hot, sunny weather.
Though you might not think of them as a typical container plant, cucumbers do well when grown in the right size pot. You can make use of a trellis or netting to grow the plants vertically, or choose a compact cultivar and let it trail over the sides.
As a bonus, the soil in containers heats up more quickly than garden soil, which is something cucumber plants enjoy, particularly when they are grown in a cooler region.
That being said, container cucumbers do require some specific care and growing requirements to make sure they thrive.
Choosing Your Containers
The first step of how to grow cucumbers in containers is choosing the right pots.
In general, the larger the container, the better your plants will grow. At minimum, a pot should hold at least 5 gallons of soil and have dimensions no smaller than 12” across and 16” deep. Using 6 – or 7 – gallon containers is even better. I have also used a large Earth Box container for cucumbers.
- Large capacity: 10 pack-7 gallon. Get the best planting bags at the lowest price and buy them at once to meet all your needs.
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Another important tip is to always choose containers that have drainage holes in the bottom, if you’re not using a grow bag. This prevents water from accumulating and rotting the roots of your cucumbers. If your pots do not have drainage holes, you can drill your own before planting. You do not need to add holes to a grow bag because the material breathes. Do not add rocks to the bottom of your pot. This does not improve draining and can actually lead to soggy roots.
Container material is up to you. Ceramic, plastic, and even fabric pots are all good choices. The only material you may want to stay away from is clay because it tends to wick moisture away from the soil. Large clay pots are also heavy and can break if you need to move your plant.
The pictures in this post feature an experiment I conducted by planting multiple Spacemaster cukes in one tier of a GreenStalk Grower. They were crowded and the container was too small for all of them, but they managed to produce plenty of cucumbers. Do not let a lack of space or ideal growing conditions stop you from growing your own cucumbers. If you keep them watered and give them plenty of sun and they will produce.
Choosing the Right Cultivar of Cucumber for Containers
Any variety of cucumber can be grown in containers if you are willing to put in the work, but the easiest ones to grow are compact, bush cultivars.
Though all cucumber plants form vines, bush varieties usually top out at 2-3’ long and don’t typically require a trellis. They are not a “bush” like a blueberry busy, but they are more compact than vining cukes. Vining varieties that can grow up to 8’ long. Within the larger bush category, there are several compact cultivars that are perfect for containers.
If you really have your heart set on a specific vining cultivar, you can put a sturdy trellis in your pots or place them against a support system so that the vines can be trained upwards.
Here are some varieties to consider by category.
Bush Cucumber Varieties for Containers
These "bush" cucumbers are well suited to container growing. They do not grow into an upright bush like a boxwood or even a blueberry, but they are more compact than vining cukes and do not require trellising.
Spacemaster 80 Bush Cucumber
Spacemaster is the type of cucumber I typically grow in containers. It produces well and is good for fresh eating.
Adam Gherkin Organic Cucumber Seeds
Gherkin type pickles are smaller pickle and classic for pickling. This is a European variety and a longtime favorite.
Salad Bush F1 Hybrid Cucumber Seeds
These compact plants produce cukes that are perfect for slicing and eating fresh. The cucumbers are full sized, even though the plant is small.
Bush Crop Seeds heirloom
Bush Crop is ideally suited to container growing and produces 6-8" fruits that are great for slicing and making cool summer salad boats (chicken salad, tuna salad, etc.).
Vining Cucumbers for Containers
These cucumbers will need support, but can still be grown in containers.
Diva F1 Cucumber Seeds | Etsy
Cucumber Pioneer Hybrid Heirloom Seeds
Southern Seed Exchange is one of my favorite companies to buy seed from. They always ship promptly and include growing instructions on each package.
Small, sweet, and mild, lemon cucumbers are a delicious 19th century heirloom that adds a splash of color to your garden.
Cucumber White Wonder
This heirloom dates to the late 19th century. White wonder cucumbers are prolific producers of tender pickles that are gerat for fresh eating or pickling.
How to Grow Cucumbers in Containers: Getting Started
Filling Up Your Pots
Cucumbers are heavy feeders, so it’s important to supply them with a nutrient-rich soil. For containers, you’ll want to look for a high quality potting soil rather than using soil from your garden because garden soil will be too heavy and will prevent good drainage.
Combine the potting soil with compost in a roughly 50-50 mixture. If your potting soil doesn’t already have fertilizer in it, you can also add an organic slow-release fertilizer to the soil mix at the rate listed on the bag.
Before filling up your containers, you can use a small square of old fabric to cover any large drainage holes in the bottom of the pots. This allows water to still drain but will keep the soil from washing out through the holes.
Starting Cucumbers from Seed
Cucumbers are easy to start from seed but don’t always transplant well. If your season allows for it, plant the seeds directly in your containers several weeks after your last spring frost date when the temperature is consistently 65°F or warmer.
To help your seeds germinate, mix enough water into your potting soil to get it damp before planting. Then, plant 1-3 seeds per pot about 1” deep. I also mix mycorrhizal fungi inoculant into my soil. I’ve had great luck with Myco Bliss. Mycorrhizal fungi help your plant produce greater yields while using less water. (Yes, really!)
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Keep the soil in the containers consistently moist until germination. When your seedlings get a few inches tall, thin them to only one per pot, keeping the healthiest looking one and snipping the others off at soil level.
If you need to get a head start on the cucumber-growing season, you can start your seeds indoors about 3-4 weeks before you intend to transplant them outside. Use small biodegradable pots to minimize disturbance to the roots when you do transplant.
Remember to harden your seedlings off about a week before you plant them outside, and be gentle with the root system. Discover how to prepare seedlings for transplanting in this post.
Cucumber Growing Conditions
Cucumbers are heat-loving plants, so don’t be in a rush to get them outside. Only plant your containers once the weather is warm and settled with temperatures consistently in the upper 60s or 70s.
Apart from planting in good quality potting soil mixed with compost, the best thing you can do for your plants is to place your containers in a location that gets full sun. Cucumbers will not produce in shady areas. You can get a small harvest with 6-8 hours of sunlight, but cukes thrive with 8+ hours of sun a day. This means full, direct sun, not dappled shade. The great thing about container gardening is that you can move your cucumber plants, if needed, to a location with better light.
If you don’t have a trusted local source for compost, you can find organic certified compost on Etsy. Finding clean compost has become increasingly difficult because so much hay is sprayed with herbicides that go on to contaminate manure and can kill your crops. You can read more about this problem in David the Good’s guide Compost Everything.
- The Good, David (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 166 Pages - 07/08/2021 (Publication Date) - Good Books (Publisher)
If you are growing a vining type of cucumber that needs support, be sure to put in a trellis or something similar at planting time. I have used simple coated stakes with clip on trellis pieces, like you can see in the photo below. It was definitely not ideal, but it got the job done. Done is better than perfect!
How to Grow Cucumbers in Containers: Plant Care
The main thing to keep in mind when growing cucumbers in containers is that plants in pots need to be watered more frequently than plants in the ground because the soil dries out more quickly. In the heat of summer, this can mean watering twice a day, especially in a smaller container. Dry cucumber plants produce bitter cucumbers, so keep your plants well watered. I typically water with my favorite hose end watering wand. Discover the best hose watering wands in this post.
To check the soil moisture, stick your finger into the top few inches of soil. If it feels dry, give the container a deep watering. If it feels moist at the tip of your finger, you don’t need to water yet. If your plants looked wilted, water them ASAP!
Using a liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season is another way to help your plants thrive. You can use something like compost tea or a diluted kelp fertilizer every 3-4 weeks, making sure to water deeply when you fertilize so that it gets down to the roots. I like to use Neptune’s Harvest and I also feed my plants and soil with EM-1. EM-1 costs a fair amount per ounce, but the company gives instructions for using it to make more of your own so you can buy once and make “EM extension” using just EM, water, and molasses.
The one other important care task you’ll have is keeping your plants trained and supported.
If you planted a compact bush cultivar, you won’t need to provide any support, although some gardeners like to put a tomato cage around each cucumber plant to help them stay upright. Vining varieties can be trained up a trellis, netting, mesh frame, etc.
Of course, you can also let your plants simply trail over the sides of the containers, but growing them vertically allows for better airflow and healthier plants.
Cucumber Pests and Problems
Cucumbers in containers aren’t usually affected by fungal diseases like powdery mildew unless you crowd the pots together or have an extremely wet summer. Good airflow is essential for preventing disease, so keep this in mind as you arrange your container garden.
That having been said, I have experienced downy mildew on container cucumbers, but when they were packed in closely with too many in one container. According to soil and plant health experts Matt Powers and John Kempf, incomplete lipid synthesis causes susceptibility to mildew. Complete lipid synthesis can only be achieved through robust microbiology, which is more difficult to achieve in a container. You can help your plants by inoculating them with mycorrhizal fungi and using EM-1. If you didn’t inoculate your plants when you started them from seed, you can use a water-in inoculant like Big Foot.
- Have an established plant and still want to inoculate with mycorrhizae? Use a water soluble concentrate
- Build the soil food web
- Increase nutrient and water uptake
Cucumber beetles and squash bugs are the two most likely pests to attack cucumbers. In the home garden, you can typically control them by handpicking the insects and dropping them in soapy water. Healthy plants are better able to withstand insects, so use fertilizers like Neptune’s Gold that contain micronutrients and feel your soil with things like compost tea and EM-1. This is a cucumber beetle:
Harvesting Your Cucumbers
Now that you know the most important steps of how to grow cucumbers in containers, you’ll be able to start harvesting the fruits in mid to late summer.
Depending on which variety you chose to grow, your first cucumbers will be ready anywhere from 45 days to 2 months after planting. A few of the larger varieties may take a little longer. You will probably see male blossoms first. Most cucurbit plants produce male flowers before female flowers to ensure pollination can take place. You’ll know as soon as you get female flowers because they’ll have a tiny cucumber at the base of the flower:
If you get cucumbers that are weirdly thin or shriveled on one end, they may have experienced incomplete polination. Help your local pollinators out by manually transferring pollen from the male flower to the female. The picture below shows a different cucurbit family member, but cucumber flowers will be similar (just a lot smaller).
Cucumbers are best harvested when they are slightly under full size and still tender. This could be anywhere from 2” long to a foot long, depending on the cultivar, so be sure to read the seed packet to know when yours are ready to pick. Keep a close eye on your cukes – sometimes a small cucumber spotted one morning will be gigantic and tough by the next morning!
Harvest individual cucumbers by using a pair of hand pruners or sharp scissors to snip them off the vine. Once your plants get going, you’ll probably want to harvest every one or two days to make sure no fruit gets overripe. I have sensitive skin that is bothered by the spines on cucumber plants, so I harvest wearing long sleeves and my favorite cut resistant garden gloves. Discover more about cut resistant garden gloves, including picks with smaller sizes for women’s hands.
The good news is that the more cucumbers you harvest from your plants the more they will produce!
If your plants last until the fall, be sure to pick any remaining fruit before a cold snap comes through. Enjoy the wonderful flavor of freshly picked cucumbers, and freeze any extras or turn them into pickles to preserve their texture.
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Natasha Garcia-Lopez is an avoid home-gardener and proud owner of 88 acres of land in rural West Virginia. She was a member of the Association for Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums for many years and is currently enrolled in the Oregon State University Master Gardner Short Course program so she can better assist you with your gardening questions.She holds a certificate in natural skincare from the School of Natural Skincare.
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