Pruning Cucumbers Improves Production
by John Harmon
July 7, 2002

With thunderstorms moving through the Whitehorse area this past week it's been a week of joy as well as worry. The farmers in places along the storm path that received some rain would consider the storms a joy because of the much-needed moisture. The worry part is because of the lighting strikes. With this years extremely dry summer the small amount of rain we have received so far hasn't been enough to alleviate the worries about fires in the forest. If you have brush piles to burn please wait till there's some snow on the ground which won't be long now that our summer is half over. 

I received some questions this week about pruning cucumbers. If you are growing any of the varieties of cucumbers that climb, sometimes called greenhouse cucumbers, you can increase your production with a few simple techniques. Greenhouse or climbing cucumbers include such varieties as Long English and most are grown on a trellis or up a support string. Pruning these cucumbers will give you better quality fruit and more of them. Even slicing varieties like Straight Eight and Sweet slice can be grown up a support and pruned to produce better fruit. 

The method of pruning is similar to the way tomatoes are done. Keep the plant to one stem by pruning off all the lateral shoots that appear. Unlike tomatoes cucumbers will send out suckers from the same spot over and over again so pruning is a daily chore of hide and seek. Somehow cucumber plants seem to sense that you are picking off the suckers and send them out in places where you won't look like behind a patch of leaves where they are hard to see. Be vigilant and get every one.

Once the plant is up to a few feet and sending out flowers pick them off too. I know it sounds cruel after waiting all this time for them to flower but it will give you better production in the long term. Allow the vine to produce at least seven leaves before you start production. Pick off every sucker and flower or fruit that tries to grow below that point. Cucumbers don't have an extensive root system like tomatoes and need to put all their energy into growing roots and foliage in the early stages to be able to support good fruit growth later on.

Once you're past the seventh leaf let the plant produce one cucumber for each leaf. Prune off all other fruit that try to develop keeping it to one fruit per leaf. The fruit will develop one at a time from the bottom up in order. Once you have started to let fruit develop it's very important not to let suckers or fruit start below that point and believe me your plants will try. 

As your plant grows upward you will be able to pick mature fruit from the bottom up. If you miss a sucker or fruit below where you are currently picking mature fruit the growth will slow down or stop on the upper part of the vine while the plant puts it's energy into the lowest one. Even if the plant continues to grow and set cucumbers they will not grow to their potential with suckers or fruit growing lower down on the vine. 

Keep in mind that these pruning methods are only used on greenhouse cucumbers that climb. Don't do it to bush varieties like pickling cukes. Bush varieties will grow more than a single stem and produce without pruning. 

With pruning and of course proper watering and a good nutrient supply cucumber plants will produce a bumper crop of tasty fruits for you to enjoy all summer.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write John at The Real Dirt, c/o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, Y1A 2E4 or e-mail




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