A single cucumber plant can spread out over 12 to 20 square feet when grown in traditional rows or hills. But one way to make better use of space and maximize yields is to grow cucumbers vertically â€“ that is, to let the vines expand upward instead of outward, by supporting them on a raised structure. This is a perfect space-saving solution for anyone growing cukes in containers, raised beds, or other small plots of land (like a narrow side yard).
There are other benefits to growing cucumbers vertically as well. When plants are raised off the ground, leaves are less susceptible to slugs. Since foliage dries off faster after a rain, fungal problems are reduced. And, vertically-grown plants may have more leaf surface area exposed to the sun, resulting in better growth.
The most important way to ensure success with vertical growing is this: Know the difference between vining and bush types of cucumbers â€“ and choose your seeds or seedlings carefully so you donâ€™t end up with a bush variety!
Bush varieties of cukes have been bred to take up less space when grown flat in the garden. While theyâ€™re still sprawling plants, theyâ€™re not climbers. Instead, they put out vines that radiate only three feet out from the plantâ€™s center â€“ meaning they require only nine square feet of horizontal space, about a third of what a vining cucumber takes up on the ground. But when you grow a true vining cucumber variety vertically, you can grow one or two plants in just one square foot of ground space.
Many people successfully grow cucumbers on long, low supports â€“ three feet high by five feet long, for example. But when youâ€™re really short on ground space, nothing beats growing them nearly straight up, on a tall support of five feet or more. Always start out with your growing structure in place, and then transplant seedlings around it â€“ youâ€™re less likely to damage roots this way.
If youâ€™re growing in containers, use a pot of 21 inches or more, to allow for root room. You can grow four to six cucumber vines this way, with at least a five-foot trellis in or behind the pot.
Cucumbers climb via tendrils â€“ specialized, touch-sensitive leaves that wrap tightly around objects they contact. If your vines seem reluctant to climb, your latticework may be too far apart or the individual bars may be too wide for the tendrils to grasp. Try stapling chicken wire or netting to your structure, to give the vines a toe-hold.
As you experiment with vertical growing, you can create your own plant supports from materials you have on hand.
What other tips do you have for growing cucumbers?