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Pruning Cucumbers – A Complete Guide

Cucumbers are a delicious summery vegetable. Great in salads, delicious for dips, and even fantastic in drinks, growing your cucumbers can offer more flavor and variety than the ones you get at the store. 

Plus, any extra cucumbers you don’t need can easily be turned into pickles for year-round enjoyment!

Plenty of gardeners and professional growers swear by pruning as one of the best ways to get a good harvest from your cucumber plants. So, let’s talk about how you prune cucumbers for a better harvest, why pruning helps, and what parts of your cucumber plant should be pruned. 

When Should Cucumbers Be Pruned?

Cucumber plants, like a lot of fruiting vines, grow incredibly quickly. So, the short answer is that you’ll need to start pruning your plants as soon as they get big enough and keep pruning them throughout the growing season. 

There’s no one rule of thumb regarding how big a cucumber needs to be before you start pruning. Some people recommend you start pruning once the plant has seven fully developed leaves; others recommend only pruning once the plant starts to grow a branching stem; whether that’s before or after seven leaves doesn’t matter. 

Use your best judgment here. But know that you should start pruning about the same time you would prune tomatoes, and you’ll need to prune your cucumber plants more often than tomatoes if you want to promote more growth and fruiting. 

Plan on pruning your cucumbers every few days from the time they get established and start growing well in the spring until the end of the growing season in Autumn

How Do You Prune Cucumbers To Promote Growth?

When you’re pruning cucumbers, you need to decide if you’re promoting growth, fruiting, or both, and the answer can change at different parts of the growing season. 

For instance, if you have a cucumber that starts flowering early while still too small, you can pinch off the flowers to help promote more leaf and stem growth. 

But later in the season, if you have a cucumber that isn’t flowering when it should be, you can pinch off suckers and growth tips to help encourage the plant to start producing flowers instead. 

It’s important to consider when it’s time to encourage fruiting and when to encourage growth. A 6″ cucumber plant might try to produce fruit, but it will produce many more fruits if it’s encouraged to grow larger first. 

Avoid pruning leaves off your cucumber plants ever. Unless you’re trying to grow a single-stem cucumber, you can remove leaves only if you’re removing the stem they’re growing on as well.

Step 1: Let The Cucumber Grow

The first step is to let your cucumber grow to a reasonable size before you start pruning. 1-2 ft is a good rule of thumb for most cucumber plants, but you may get different recommendations depending on what cucumber you’re growing.

Step 2: Start Pruning Early

Plan on pruning your cucumbers at least once every 1-2 weeks, and some cucumbers may need pruning as often as 2x a week. 

Mainly you want to find and remove suckers, which often start to grow near cucumber flowers and where the stems branch. 

You should also keep an eye out for overcrowded leaves, signs of disease, and anything else that could damage the rest of the cucumber plant and remove those parts as soon as possible. 

Remember, in a single pruning; you should remove no more than 10% of the plant. If you need to remove more than 10% of the plant to remove disease or clear leaf crowding, spread it out over several days, provide lots of water and light, and try to prune slightly more frequently in the future. 

Step 3: Maintain And Watch For Early Signs Of Disease

Continue pruning your cucumber throughout the growing season, particularly watching for suckers, unwanted stems, and signs of rot or disease. 

In particular, watch for powdery mildew, remove all affected stems, and dispose of them far away from the plants. 

Should You Remove Male Flowers From Cucumber Plants? 

Removing male flowers from your cucumber plants depends on where you’re growing the plant. 

For indoor cucumber plants, it’s good to remove male flowers (flowers without a baby cucumber starting to grow behind them) to help prevent the fruit from getting bitter while it grows. 

This is important because the fruit can quickly go from delicious and slightly sweet to completely inedible if the male flowers stay on the plant too long. 

However, if your cucumbers are growing outside or in a greenhouse that isn’t completely sealed, you should leave the male flowers where they are. It’s even more important to leave the male flowers on cucumber plants if you’re growing more than one cucumber plant at a time. 

The flowers can cross-pollinate, and you’re more likely to get more fruit. 

Plus, if you seed save, you can eventually get your varieties of cucumber that are well suited to your growing environment as long as you only save seeds from your most successful plants. 

Should You Pinch Out Cucumber Side Shoots?

It’s usually a good idea to get rid of cucumber side shoots if your plant is growing too many of them or already as large or as busy as you want it to be. 

You should pinch off all the side shoots if you want to grow a single stem cucumber like they do for commercial growers. However, single-stem growing isn’t that beneficial for most home gardens, so this is optional. 

What Tools Do You Need To Grow And Prune Cucumbers?

Growing cucumbers doesn’t take a ton of specialty gardening equipment, but it can help to have a few tools on hand when you get started. 

This is a basic list of what you should have, so we won’t be including anything like a specialty grow bed or greenhouse. These are just the basics you need to ensure a healthy plant and a good harvest. 

Pruning Shears

Pruning shears are the easiest and most effective way to remove unwanted plant matter from your cucumber plants. It’s essential to keep your pruning shears sharp because clean cuts can heal faster and take fewer resources from your plant to heal. 

You probably only need a small to medium set with a good grip for cucumbers. There is no need to get the larger branch shears or even one of, the bigger sets designed for thicker stems and woodier vegetables. 

A Trellis

Your cucumber plant also needs a trellis to grow on. While some people let cucumbers grow on the ground, you’re more likely to lose cucumbers to insects and pests growing them that way. 

A good trellis also helps your cucumber grow larger and can improve the chances of getting a good harvest from the plant. 

Cucumber trellises should be at least a couple of feet tall and wide, and you can have more than one plant per trellis, depending on the size. Just make sure every plant has enough space to get plenty of light and enough room for their roots in the soil at the bottom. 

Fertilizer

Cucumber plants benefit most from a 10/10/10 balanced fertilizer that promotes growth. They should be fertilized every 12-14 days, using just enough fertilizer to provide nutrients. 

Don’t add too much fertilizer, or you risk burning the roots and damaging your cucumber plant. 

A Scrap Bucket

Ideally, you should have a 5-gallon bucket or similar to hold the scraps from pruning. That’s important since the scraps can cause problems for your cucumber plants, especially if what you’re removing has a disease or parasite. 

It’s essential to make sure you move the scraps at least a few feet away from the plants, ideally into a compost bin or pile, to turn the scraps into good compost and fertilizer for future planting. 

However, even throwing your pruned plant scraps into the trash is better than letting the scraps mix with the soil under your cucumber plants. 

Garden Gloves

Good quality gardening gloves are even more critical for pruning cucumbers because cucumber plants can produce chemicals that irritate the skin. 

Your garden gloves should be relatively thick, without holes, and at least long enough to fully cover your wrists. 

If you’ve reacted to cucumber plants before, you might want to consider wearing long sleeves while pruning.