Gardening Australia

With a little guidance, cucumbers can provide a bumper harvest, says PHIL DUDMAN


Cucumbers love the spring, so get some plants in the ground and brace yourself for a bountiful crop… I’m not joking! I often head out to pick one and come back with 10. So, you’d better get those pickling jars ready, too!

Plant seedlings in full sun, but when it’s hot, be prepared to cover the vines with shadecloth to reduce stress. They will happily ramble along the ground, but it’s best to give them a fence or trellis to climb on. This allows better airflow around the vines, which are prone to powdery mildew when damp. Young plants need a little guidance, but once their tendrils lock onto their support, they naturally head skywards.

The soil needs to be free draining and rich in humus, too. Incorporat­e some compost and create a mound to improve drainage. Add a little organic fertiliser as well, and sprinkle more around the vines when the first fruit appears. Supplement with fortnightl­y applicatio­ns of seaweed solution.

Be careful not to overwater in the early stages. Cucumber seedlings are prone to damping off, which can be quite a setback. It’s a different story once the plants are establishe­d. Keep them well watered to ensure crisp, juicy fruit that are free of bitterness. Avoid getting water on the foliage – yep, powdery mildew again.

So, what’s best... seed or seedlings? The seeds germinate readily in warm weather, and it’s good to have them on hand, ready to plant your follow-up crop. Sow directly in the ground, or start them in multicell punnets. If you want a quick start, go for establishe­d seedlings. Choose ones that are on the small side. Avoid large cucumber seedlings, especially if the roots are crowded and poking out of the drainage hole – they never seem to do well.

And about that powdery mildew: when it appears, pick off the worst of the damaged leaves, and spray the vines with an organic fungicide.

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