Learn how to successfully plant and grow bush cucumbers, then discover the best ways to protect your cucumber plants from potential predators.
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Bush cucumbers grow very differently than vining type cucumbers. Even though they technically still have vines, they're short and stay with a few feet of the plant. Bush varieties take up about a third the amount of space as a vining cucumber. Because of this, they grow well in pots. You can grow one or two plants in a 5-gallon bucket.
Bush cucumbers can be grown in groups on what's known as hills. The mounds support the plants and because of their shape, they help the plants get plenty of sun. To make a hill, mound the dirt so the hill stands 6-8 inches higher than the surrounding dirt. Then smooth out the sides so the hill gently slopes back into the beds. This way all of the roots will be in the hill where they have lots of loose fertile soil and the branches can move out around the space. Plant four plants per hill.
Mulch is Critical
It's critical to give cucumber plants plenty of mulch. They need lots of water and if the soil gets too hot or it dries out, the plants will stop producing fruit. When mulching around any vegetable be sure to add at least 4 inches of mulch. Keep the mulch away from the stem of the plants so they don't get too wet. Stems rot if they get water logged so give then 2-3 inches of clearance. The mulch not only keeps valuable moisture from evaporating out of the soil, it keeps weeds from popping up and competing with the plants for nutrients.
Water the new cucumber plants with liquid fertilizer. Fertilizer pellets take time to start breaking down, but liquid fertilizer is absorbed immediately, getting the new plants off to a quick start. Cucumbers, like tomatoes and summer squash, need lots of nutrients all the time. By giving them liquid fertilizer every two weeks they have a constant supply of food entering their leaves and coming through the ground into their roots.
Bugs and Beetles Love Young Plants
Young cucumber plants are a favorite target for bugs and beetles. They attack the young plants before the stems can harden, sucking the moisture out of the leaves and vines. Bug netting or row covers keep out bugs until the plants are starting to bloom. To install a row cover first measure the area that needs protection. The cover needs to be larger than the space so that it can drape loosely and it won't press down on the plants while they're growing. Netting can be used to cover both types of cucumbers. To hold it down, use bricks, blocks or timbers around the edges.
Beetles and flies love to attack cucumber plants. Use sticky bug paper to catch some of the flies before they can do too much damage to the plants. Nail pieces of bug paper along the sides of the trellis to catch white flies and cucumber beetles. They're attracted to the scent and yellow color. The bugs get stuck on the paper when they land on it. Also hammer in a couple of stakes with bug paper around the cucumber mounds.
Homemade Soapy Bug Spray
Bugs don't like soap and one way to get small bugs like aphids and thrips off of your plants is to use a homemade bug spray. To make this use 1 tablespoon of liquid soap mixed with 1 gallon of water. Peppermint scented soap is best but any type will do. Carefully mix the 2 ingredients but don't shake it up or you'll have bubbles. You can now put this in a garden sprayer or a hand-pump sprayer and mist your plants.
When you apply the soap to the plants be sure you only cover each plant with a fine mist. If you soak the plant the soap will clog the tiny pores on the leaves, making it difficult for the plant to breathe.
You can reapply the spray if needed. One coat will keep bugs off until the soap is washed or rained off.