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If you are growing cucumbers or want to get started, an easily overlooked but very important thing is the soil. To find out what type of soil works best for growing cucumbers, I visited a garden center and talked to one of their very experienced gardeners.
Cucumbers grow best in slightly acidic, nutrient-rich soil with some sand and high amounts of organic matter. Nutrients are crucial for cucumber plants to grow and produce fruit and the sand is important since it improves drainage, which can prevent several problems.
Below, I go into more detail about how you can create the optimal soil mix for your cucumbers. I also explain how you can check if the soil you have right now is good enough for growing cucumbers. Lastly, I share some simple tricks I used successfully to improve some of my soil and make it suitable for growing lots of cucumbers.
How to Create the Ideal Soil Mix for Cucumbers
Proper soil is one of those things not everybody considers when they first start gardening, but it is actually incredibly important. Bad soil can make your plants grow slowly and poorly and even worse, it can mean that you don’t get to harvest anything from them.
Lucky for you, I have done a bunch of research to figure out what the best type of soil for growing cucumbers is. Other than, of course, growing a lot of cucumbers on my own, I visited one of the best garden centers in my area to ask one of their gardeners.
The gardener I talked to told me that cucumbers need sandy but nutrient-rich soil to thrive. The nutrients are, of course, required if you want a lot of fruit from your plants. The sand makes it easier for water to run through the soil, which reduces the risk of mold and other problems.
The easiest thing you can do is to get some high-quality potting soil. It is usually plenty good for growing cucumbers.
We didn’t talk about the pH of the soil, so I decided to look it up online and I found two articles from the University of Georgia Extension and the University of Minnesota Extension. They both say that the ideal soil pH for cucumbers is between 6.0-6.5, which means that it is slightly acidic.
If you start your cucumbers from seeds, I have learned from experience, that it works better if you start the seeds in some soil made specifically for seedlings (such as this). Just make sure you move the plants to some soil like the mix I described above (or just a good potting soil) within a few weeks after the seedlings come up.
A good soil mix can also help cucumbers flower better and thereby produce more fruit. You can read more about that in this article, where I explain what to do when cucumber plants flower, why it happens, and much more.
I have by far had the most success with my cucumbers when I used good soil, so I cannot recommend it highly enough. That’s why I want to teach you how you can check your own soil to see if it is good enough and if it isn’t, I also want to teach you how to improve it. Keep reading to learn that.
How to Know if Your Soil Is Good Enough for Cucumbers
Cucumbers need to grow in nutrient-rich, sandy, and ideally slightly acidic soil. If you don’t know if your soil is good enough, I have some easy tricks you can use to figure it out.
Cucumber plants only live for one season (read more about that here), so in order to get the best result, you should make sure your soil is good enough.
A good rule of thumb for determining if soil is rich in nutrients is to look at the color. Nutrient-rich soil tends to be a lot darker than nutrient-poor soil, which often looks very light and sometimes almost gray.
Another good trick to see if your soil is good enough for growing cucumbers and other vegetables is to take a handful of it and squeeze it. Nutrient-poor soil will often be loose and seep through your fingers whereas nutrient-rich soil tends to stick together like a ball when you squeeze it and break apart easily when you poke it.
If your soil ball doesn’t break apart easily when you poke it, it might be because it contains a lot of clay. Soil with a high clay content will feel smooth and sticky when you squeeze it, but it is typically not good for growing vegetables.
The more clay your soil contains, the harder it is for your plants’ roots to grow and spread properly. In addition to that, clay makes it a lot harder for water to seep through the soil, which can lead to mold and other problems. That is why you want sandy soil for your cucumbers since it provides better drainage and makes it easier for the roots to grow.
Keep in mind that some plants grow well in soil with a lot of clay, but most vegetables prefer sandy soil.
Another sign that might indicate that the soil is not good enough is that some of the leaves on your cucumber plants turn yellow. There are many reasons why the leaves can turn yellow, but nutrient deficiencies caused by poor soil are common. You can read more about that as well as what to do about yellowing cucumber leaves on this link.
As I wrote earlier in this article, the ideal soil for cucumbers is slightly acidic with a pH between 6.0-6.5. You can test your soil’s pH as well as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash with a kit like this to make sure your soil has everything it needs before you plant your cucumbers.
If your soil is not good enough for growing cucumbers, there are several things you can do to improve it. I get into that now.
How to Improve Your Soil to Grow a Lot of Cucumbers
If you have some soil that is not quite good enough for growing cucumbers, there is a very good chance that you can save a lot of money by improving what you already have rather than replacing it with entirely new soil.
Over the years, I have learned about some small but cool tricks you can use to improve your soil by talking to other gardeners, and experts in agriculture, and simply by trying some things for myself.
Here are some simple things you can do to improve your soil and prepare it for growing vegetables.
- Add a layer of mulch on top of your soil.
- Consider adding some earthworms to the soil.
- Mix a lot of organic matter into your soil.
- Mix sand into your soil for better drainage.
Mixing organic matter and sand into your soil is, of course, a quick and simple way to improve your soil. If your soil is poor in nutrients and drainage, adding organic matter (such as compost) and sand is most likely the easiest thing you can do to improve it.
For some reason, I didn’t use mulch for several years when I first got into gardening. I suppose it seemed easier, but that was a mistake that you don’t have to make.
Adding mulch on top of your soil makes a huge difference in the long run because it is slowly broken down into small pieces of organic matter that add nutrients to your soil. Mulch also helps retain moisture which means that you don’t need to use as much water.
Here is a photo of two cucumber plants I used to have in my greenhouse. See how I covered the ground around them with wood chip mulch. These two plants produced so many tasty cucumbers that I could barely keep up.
Part of the reason why these two plants were so productive is that they were kept warm in a greenhouse, which allowed them to live and produce fruit for longer. You can read more about the advantages of using a greenhouse for growing cucumbers as well as the advantages of growing them outside in this article.
The last thing I want to cover is the earthworms I mentioned in the list because that might not be something you thought about (I sure didn’t for a long time).
If you have the option to add some earthworms to your garden, your soil, and thereby your plants, can potentially benefit a lot from it, but it is not always a good idea to do.
I found this article from the University of New Hampshire that explains why earthworms are good for your garden. This quote summarizes it well.
Studies of earthworms in agricultural settings have found that earthworm burrows can improve water infiltration and soil aeration, and their castings (excrement) form soil aggregates by combining minerals and organic matter. Earthworm activity can also relieve compaction and make nutrients available to plants.“Should I put earthworms in my garden?” – University of New Hampshire
The article also explains how and why you should add (or attract) earthworms to your garden without doing more damage than necessary and especially why it is important to know how earthworms affect the environment in your area before you begin working with them.
If you decide to use some earthworms in your garden, you should be aware that they might want to taste some of your cucumbers. You don’t necessarily need to do anything about that, but you can easily build a trellis that lifts most of the plants and fruit off the ground, keeping them much safer from insects and other animals. You can read more about why using a trellis is a good choice when growing cucumbers in this article.