A close relative to other vining crops such as zucchini, melons and squash, the cucumber (Cucumis sativus) grows as an annual vine that does not survive frost. Its prickly stems clamber across the warm soil surface, producing yellow flowers that later become the familiar elongated fruits. Cucumbers are harvested when immature and small. Ripe cucumbers are large and plump with yellow skin, watery flesh and a bitter flavor. Plant cucumbers in a sunny garden plot two weeks after the last spring frost.
Cucumber plants spread and take up at least 25 square feet in the vegetable garden. Regular cucumbers often produce vines as long as 8 to 10 feet. Look at the seed packet or seedling label to learn the size of a mature plant. Bush cucumbers genetically develop much shorter stems and a compact overall plant size. Bush types make exceptional choices for small-sized gardens or for growing in containers. Either type may be grown on a trellis of an appropriate height to meet the mature length of the cucumber variety's stems.
Cucumbers may be grown in rows or hills. Row planting requires a long furrow that is 1/2 to 1 inch deep. Place seeds in the furrow spaced 12 inches apart. If you know the cucumber variety is very large growing, increase the spacing in the furrow to 18 to 36 inches apart. Another planting option for cucumber planting is sowing in hills. Make a wide basin about 10 inches wide and 1 inch deep. Place four or five seeds in the hill, each spaced 2 to 3 inches apart across the basin.
Space additional straight rows of cucumbers at least 36 inches apart. Space hills 36 inches apart as well. Increase the distance among rows or hills up to 5 feet if the cucumber variety is known to grow large. Planting cucumbers too closely together causes leaves and vines to compete with each other for sunlight and reduces air circulation, which can encourage diseases. A dense matrix of cucumber vines also is difficult to navigate later when you walk through the patch to harvest fruits.
Vegetable Garden Planning
Cucumbers do not cross-pollinate other vining crops in the garden, contrary to a common American garden myth. While you don't want crops growing into each other to create a tangle of vines, misshapen or poorly tasting cucumbers because of the pollen from nearby melons, squashes or zucchini plants. Only other cucumber varieties cross-pollinate -- all are the same botanical species. Cross-pollination does not affect cucumber fruit features or qualities, but it does yield hybridized seeds.