Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Vegetables

English Cucumbers Don’t Like Company

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English cukes seem to say “I vant to be left alone”.

Those long narrow cucumbers you see wrapped in plastic in supermarkets, the ones with thin skins you don’t have to peel, no seeds, and a bitter-free, burpless taste, are often called English cucumbers, greenhouse cucumbers, or seedless cucumbers. They are much more expensive than the traditional cucumber… and that can encourage gardeners try growing them in their home gardens. But the results are often disappointing.

This kind of cucumber is parthenocarpic, that is to say it produces fruit without having been fecundated (that’s why its seeds never fully develop). Moreover, it produces only female flowers, eliminating the risk of accidental self-pollination. A a result, English cucumbers are almost always grown commercially inside a greenhouse. This prevents any insects from pollinating them, as that would result in misshapen fruit.

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Fruit deformed by pollination

Home gardeners aren’t always aware of this important detail and sow theirs not only outdoors, but close to regular cucumbers, that is ones that are bisexual and produce both male and female flowers. As a result bees and other pollinators carry pollen from the male flowers of regular cucumbers to the female flowers of the English cucumbers, resulting in lumpy, irregular fruit with seeds, not at all like the select vegetable sold in the supermarket. What a disappointment!

Grow Them On Their Own

If you want to grow English cucumbers outdoors and get acceptable results, make sure there are no regular cucumbers within 115 feet (35 m). That means you can forget growing them in a community garden, because there will certainly be other gardeners growing regular cucumbers, but you can often get good results in a backyard veggie bed… as long as you forgo ordinary cukes for the season. And as long as your immediate neighbors are not gardeners too!

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You pretty much have to grow English cucumbers well above the ground.

Note too that to produce long straight fruit, developing English cucumbers must not touch the ground, otherwise they will curve. Therefore you pretty much have to grow them on some sort of trellis so the long fruits will be suspended in the air.

Not Yet Time to Sow

If I write this in March is that it’s so you’ll have time to order the right cucumber seeds for your needs, but obviously it is still far too early to sow them indoors in most climates. Cucumbers need only a 3- to 4-week head start on the outdoor growing season, if that. So most gardeners won’t need to sow them indoors before the month of May. Indeed, you can sow cucumbers directly outdoors in most climates, once the soil has warmed up of course, and still get great harvests!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “English Cucumbers Don’t Like Company

  1. Do store bought (English) cucumbers produce seeds that are viable for planting? Can you go through the traditional, soak in water, dry and use method? And if all that is yes, I have made an attempt at fermenting and the gel does not dissolve all that easily! Plus the seeds appear to be about the size of an atom, how do you handle them? Last but not least, will they grow and will they produce cucumbers (regardless of shape or quality). If all are female, how do they pollinate?

    • First, the seeds in store-bought cucumbers of any kind will never be mature. You’d have to let a fruit mature on the plant if you want viable seed. Secondly, the seeds of English (greenhouse) cucumbers were never fecundated and are only what’s left of an embryo: just little spots where the seed should have been. So you can’t germinate them either.

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