Cucumbers are one of the world’s favorite vegetables despite technically being a fruit. They are a brilliant hangover remedy, full of electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals. They make our breath smell better, de-puff our eyes, and taste refreshing when raw and salty-deliciousness when pickled. Yet, for such a common and well-loved food, they are utter divas in the garden.
Cucumbers will get transplant shock if their roots are disturbed during the replanting. Planting seeds in peat will help minimize this risk. Also, be sure to harden cucumber seedlings before planting them out. Cold ground and too much nitrogen are other reasons for transplant shock.
Cucumbers look like hardy water thermoses; some even grow prickles along their skin. Yet, despite their tough-guy-act, they’re sensitive when young and demand plenty of elbow room.
They want their environment to be warm but not hot. They get cranky if their soil is dry but upset if it is too wet. They like plenty of compost and fertilizer but pout if the PH is off or is high in nitrogen.
How To Avoid Transplant Shock With Cucumbers
Cucumbers are fussy and difficult to transplant. Therefore, it is to be avoided at all costs. Instead, gardeners are encouraged to plant their cumber seeds directly, if possible.
Yet, due to their love of warmth and inability to handle frost, many gardeners have to start their cumbers indoors. Thankfully, some tricks can reduce the chances of transplant shock.
1. Start Cucumber Seeds In Peat Pots To Avoid Root Disturbance
Cucumbers will not live if they don’t have 60-65F (15.5–18C) soil temperature. But to germinate their seeds, you ideally want temperatures of 70F (21C). Thus, most gardeners have to begin their cucumber seeds indoors in containers.
However, cucumbers go into transplant shock if their roots are disturbed. They are so sensitive that even gently popping them out of a seed tray can be too much. Thus, starting them off in peat pots is recommended to avoid these prima donnas suffering any disturbance.
Peat pots are biodegradable and can be placed directly into the ground. So when the seedling is ready to be planted, it can stay in its pot when being put into its new home.
However, some gardeners rip the bottom off of the pot first to ensure the roots can break out. If you do this, tear gently, and make sure you don’t harm your cucumber’s roots.
Alternative To Peat Pots
Peat pots are controversial, and many gardeners would prefer to avoid them. The controversy is due to peat being a non-renewable resource. Also, the harvesting of peat causes environmental damage. Thus, gardeners have begun experimenting with alternative materials to do the same job as peat and peat pots.
One peat pot alternative is eggshells. The top of the shell must be removed and the inside fully dry before using it as a seed pot.
Once the cucumber seedling is ready to be transplanted, the shell must be lightly crushed, careful not to disturb the roots, before setting it into its new home. The breaking of the shell will help the roots expand beyond the eggshell as the plant grows.
A second alternative is Jiffy-7 pellets. These have a substrate in a netted pellet that grows when watered. The net is made of coir fibers or sphagnum peat moss, which is renewable, unlike regular peat moss.
Gardeners germinate their seeds in these tiny netted pots and, when the seedling is big enough, plop them in their new home.
Lastly, consider using toilet paper rolls as your cucumber seed pots. Of course, they’ll have to be in a tray to prevent the soil from falling out. But once you are ready to transplant, this won’t be an issue. It is simple, easy, biodegradable recycling.
2. Harden Cucumber Seedlings Before Transplanting
Seedlings brought up in cozy indoor environments are wimps. They are used to being coddled and having perfect conditions. Some plants will swiftly adjust to their new outdoor habitat, but cucumbers are sensitive. Thus, it is best to harden them up gradually. Think of it as fitness training for your seedlings.
Like any fitness regime, begin slowly, placing your seedlings outdoors for a few hours of the gentle morning sun. Then, gradually increase the time over a span of two weeks.
This will “harden” the seedlings and decrease the risk of transplant shock when they are permanently relocated to their outdoor home.
3. Give Cucumber Seedlings Plenty Of Space
Cucumbers need space. How much space they’ll require depends on the variety, but it will be between 1 and 5 feet. Growing vine cucumbers will also require plenty of trellis space, at least six feet high (1.8m). Crowded cucumber seedlings can fail to thrive or wilt.
4. Maintain Warm Soil Temperatures for Cucumber Seedlings
Cucumber seedlings should not be planted out until two weeks after the last potential frost. However, even then, they are sensitive to cooler temperatures and can develop transplant shock if the soil isn’t warm enough.
To help the soil retain its heat, use plastic mulch film around your newly planted cucumber seedlings. There are biodegradable options.
The Drawbacks Of Organic Mulch For Cucumbers
Organic mulches such as straw are often preferred to unnatural plastic sheeting. However, while organic mulches can help prevent the ground from freezing over, they don’t help warm it up.
In fact, mulches such as straw are useful for keeping the soil cool in high summer. Thus, when cucumber plants are still small, straw and other organic mulches are unlikely to help warm the soil.
Once the cucumber plants are older, and the weather is warmer, you can remove the plastic sheeting and replace it with a natural mulch. Then save your plastic sheeting for your next cucumber season.
5. Check Soil PH Before Transplanting Cucumber Seedlings
Cucumber seedlings prefer soil that is slightly acidic or neutral. Thus, ensure your soil PH is 6.5-7 before transplanting your seedlings.
6. Ensure Cucumber Seedlings Have Plenty Of Water
Cucumber seedlings will wilt or go into shock if they don’t have enough water. Cucumbers want their soil moist at all times.
In addition to regular watering, consider making temporary shade shelters to place over your seedlings during the hottest parts of the day.
Compost will also help the soil retain water. Aged manure mixed with compost is another excellent water retainer, full of nutrition.
It is best to work the compost in before transplanting seedlings. Layer two inches of it over your designated cucumber patch. Then work it into the patch, going 6-8 inches deep. You want to achieve a soil that will retain water without becoming boggy.
7. Ensure Cucumber Seedlings Are Not Over Watered
Cucumbers are easily suspectable to root rot. They are especially vulnerable when young. Thus, as much as they require lots of water, they will suffer if overwatered.
Many of the signs of overwatering are the same as underwatering: dry, wilted leaves. This is because the overwatering has damaged the roots, making it difficult to near impossible for the plant to absorb water.
Overwatering is rarely due to watering too often. Instead, it is due to poor soil drainage. This typically occurs due to not mixing the compost in well enough. Clumps of manure and compost can hold water to the point where it is soggy, rotting the roots.
Another common reason for boggy soils is due to high clay content. The clay prevents proper drainage, so regular watering builds up, creating soggy conditions.
If you notice high amounts of clay when preparing your vegetable bed, mix sand in as you would compost. Ensure you mix it in deep, at least 8 inches, so there will be drainage.
Adding more compost to soil with high clay content will worsen the drainage. A fertilizer is preferred when adding nutrition to the soil in these circumstances. Look for one high in potassium and phosphorus and low in nitrogen.
Can You Save Overwatered Cucumbers?
It is a challenge to save cucumber plants that are in boggy conditions. However, it is worth trying to remove them from their soggy home. Otherwise, they’ll simply die.
When gently digging them up, remember not to shake the soil off their roots. This will cause damage. Once you’ve lifted the seedlings out of the ground, replant them in dry pots.
Lining the pots with newspaper may help you “lift” the cucumber plants out once they can be replanted in the ground. Otherwise, simply replant them directly into a much drier part of your garden.
8. Transplant Shock In Cucumbers Due To High Nitrogen
Overfertilizing cucumber plants will cause wilting. In addition, they are especially sensitive to high amounts of nitrogen. Therefore, avoid high nitrogen fertilizers and look for those higher in potassium and phosphorus instead.
Cucumber plants will also do better with slow-release fertilizers than with fast-release. This is because these garden divas get “burned” easily, which is a common problem when using fast release.
9. It Isn’t Transplant Shock But Disease & Pets
Some diseases and pests can cause cucumber plants to wilt as if suffering from transplant shock. Prevention is the best treatment for these cucumber conditions, as there is little a gardener can do after the following diseases and pets move in.
Bacterial Wilt Resembles Transplant Shock
Bacterial wilt is a common garden culprit, attacking cucumber plants and other crops such as tomatoes. It is spread by a pest known as the cucumber beetle. Cucumber beetles eat the plant’s foliage and stems, but that won’t necessarily hurt the plant unless their numbers of high. The more significant issue is that they could be carrying bacterial wilt, which gets passed on to cucumber plants.
Bacteria wilt can spread rapidly between cucumber plants, infecting an entire patch within days. If you catch it fast enough, the best remedy is to remove the infected plants.
Also, take care if any muskmelons are nearby. Squash, watermelon, and pumpkin can become infected, too, but generally have greater resistance.
Ensure you are mulching to discourage cucumber beetles from laying eggs around your plants. Also, during winter, the beetles will try to burrow into leaf piles to survive the cold. Thus, it is best to scoop these piles up and into the compost rather than letting them hang around in your garden.
Squash Bugs & Vine Borers Resembles Transplant Shock
Squash bugs and the similarly named squash vine borers can also cause cucumber plants to appear to have transplant shock or bacterial wilt. Squash bugs harm the plants by draining the leaves of their inner sap. They have a particular taste for cucumber seedlings.
The squash vine borer attacks by burrowing into the stem of the seedlings and then eating their way back out. This prevents water and other nutrients from reaching all parts of the plant, and they wilt and die. The pests typically leave behind dark spots. Unfortunately, there isn’t much a gardener can do by the time an infestation is apparent, aside from removing infected plants.
Bt spray is often used to prevent squash bugs and squash vine borer from laying eggs. Mulching is also an excellent method to discourage the bugs from making your cucumber patch their new home.
Lastly, row cover can help prevent these pests. It’s similar to a net that you put over your plants. Sun, water, and air still get through but keep most pests out. Some gardeners also use these to protect plants from light frosts.
But before you rush out and buy a row cover, keep in mind that this will mean you have to pollinate your cucumbers by hand. Cucumbers put out male and female flowers, and hand pollination must ensure the pollen is mixed between the two to achieve a healthy crop. The male flowers emerge first, so wait a good ten days before pollinating to give the female blossoms to bloom.
Learn more about Growing Cucumbers
- 13 Tips for Growing Great Cucumbers
- What to Plant With Cucumbers
Cucumbers are sensitive garden divas that easily suffer from transplant shock. Choosing seed pods that can be planted directly into the soil is one of the primary ways to keep your seedlings happy.
Also, take note of the weather, and ensure frost is truly over and done with before easing your seedlings outside. Proper management of water and fertilizer will also aid in keeping your cucumbers happy.
If you’re looking for more on growing vegetables in your garden, take a look at these guides: