Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques
Growing Cukes in Containers (page 2 of 3)
by Charlie Nardozzi
Choose Pots and Soil Mix Carefully
The type of pot you choose is critical to a successful crop of cukes. "I use wooden or plastic containers that are 12 deep and about the same diameter for each two to three plants," says Linda Yang, author of The City & Town Gardener: A Handbook for Planting Small Spaces and Containers (Random House, 1990) and a lifelong container gardener in New York City. Clay pots tend to dry out too quickly. Cucumbers love water so much that on sunny days you'll be watering twice a day just to keep up, she says.
Make sure the container has at least four drainage holes on the sides at the base of the pot. Holes on the bottom tend to clog. And don't bother putting a layer of stones in the bottom of the container for better drainage. The best drainage is the right soil mix. "You can use a soilless mix, especially if weight is a consideration," says Yang. A good example of a soilless blend is two parts peat, two parts vermiculite or perlite and one part fine sand. A mix with sand is heavier but holds water and fertilizer longer. "I also mulch with bark chips for moisture retention," Yang adds. "To insure enough nutrients for good growth, mix a time-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, in the soil before planting," recommends Sam Cotner, Extension horticulturist at Texas A&M University in College Station and the author of Container Vegetables (Texas Gardener Press, 1987).
Most cucumber varieties, even the short-vined ones, will benefit from trellising. "I use a tomato cage, fitted to the container," says Cotner. "The cucumbers vine through it and stay straight and clean," he explains.
In a cool climate, place the containers in a south-facing exposure for full sun. In climates where summer temperatures go up in the 90s, however, you may need to make some adjustments to keep container crops from overheating. Avoid black plastic containers and give the pots an eastern exposure (the heat of a southern exposure can kill the pollen). Elevate them at least four inches off the ground, especially on concrete and brick patios.
Proper Watering is Crucial
The commonly recommended method of determining when to water is to stick your finger into the soil to your second knuckle, and if it's dry at that depth, water. That technique may work fine for clay pots that evaporate water evenly throughout the pot, but plastic and wooden pots can have a dry layer on top and moist conditions below where the roots are. Too little water can cause wilting, bitter cucumbers and insect and disease problems; too much, and the roots may rot.
"A better technique is to push a pencil or popsicle stick down into the soil," says Cotner. If the soil sticks to the pencil after you pull it out, you don't need to water. If it comes up clean, it's time. Add a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength once a week if the plants look like they need a boost. "Always water from the top of the container until the water comes out the bottom to leach any fertilizer salts out," Cotner adds.
If the container has dried out too much, the soil will contract, creating a space between the soil and the edge of the container. "Then, when you water, it will run down that space and out of the container, leaving your soil dry," says Linda Yang. If this occurs, soak the soil mix slowly to be sure the water penetrates it.