Deciding when to harvest cucumbers can be challenging for a vegetable gardener, particularly a first-time grower. Waiting too long results in over-mature and potentially bitter or spongy cucumbers. Harvesting early doesn’t give the fruits a chance to size up. There are also many types and varieties of cucumbers with fruits in a mix of shapes, sizes, and colors, and that can make it tricky to figure out when to start picking. Keep reading to learn more about how and when to harvest cucumbers.
Why do you need to know when to harvest cucumbers?
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are produced on vining or bush type plants that are grown between the last spring frost and first fall frost. They like a warm and long growing season and thrive in a sunny garden bed with fertile, well-draining soil. Knowing when to harvest cucumbers can mean the difference between an over-mature mushy fruit and one that is crisp and delicious. Picking cucumbers at the right time means you’ll enjoy the best flavor and quality from your homegrown fruits. Plus, harvesting often can encourage a larger crop of flowers and fruits.
Types of cucumbers
There are a lot of types of cucumbers and varieties of cucumbers available through seed catalogs. It’s fun to mix it up and try a new variety or two each year, as well as grow family favorites. Selection often depends on how you intend to eat your cucumbers. Do you want to slice them for salad, pickle them, or eat them straight off the vine? Below you’ll find eight types of cucumbers available to gardeners:
- Pickling cucumbers – Also known as ‘Kirby’ cucumbers, pickling varieties bear small fruits with thin skin and bumps or spines. They’re delicious fresh from the garden but also make excellent dill pickles.
- Gherkin cucumbers – Gherkin fruits are picked extra small, usually when 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. This type is popular with picklers.
- Slicing cucumbers – Slicing cucumbers, also called garden cucumbers, are used in salads and sandwiches and grow 5 to 8 inches long. They have a thicker skin that other types and are often peeled.
- English cucumbers – These are also known as seedless or burpless cucumbers and form slender fruits with thin, deep green skin.
- Japanese cucumbers – Japanese cucumbers look very similar to English-type cucumbers in that they’re long and slender. They don’t develop large seeds and have a mild, almost sweet flavor.
- Persian cucumbers – Persian cucumbers have thin skin and are harvested when 4 to 6 inches long. They’re mild flavored and nearly seedless.
- Armenian cucumbers – Botanically Armenian cucumbers are melons, not cucumbers, but they have a mild cucumber-like flavor and texture that is crisp and delicious.
- Unusual cucumbers – There are also many unusual and heirloom cucumbers and cucumber-like crops you can grow. These include Lemon, Crystal Apple, burr gherkins, and cucamelons.
When to harvest cucumbers
Generally speaking, a cucumber is ready to pick when it’s approaching the size and color indicated on the front of the seed packet. Check the ‘days to maturity’ information on the packet or listed in the seed catalog and start checking for harvestable fruits about a week before the expected harvest date. The different types and varieties of cucumbers can mature at different times. That said, most cucumber plants need somewhere between 40 to 60 days in the garden (or container) before you see the first female flowers. Once a female flower opens and is pollinated by bees, it typically takes 7 to 10 days for the fruit to reach a harvestable size.
The fruits of cucumbers can be deep green, yellow, white, or even brown when perfectly mature. They should feel firm when gently squeezed. Below you’ll find specific information on when to harvest the various types of cucumbers.
The best time to harvest pickling cucumbers
Pickling cucumbers, like Picklebush, are ready to harvest when they’re 2 to 4 inches long. This can depend on the variety so be sure to check the information on the seed packet. Once the plants start to crop, they can quickly pump out a lot of fruits. For this reason, check the plants of pickling cucumbers every day during harvest season. Gherkin cucumbers are also used for pickles and harvested when the fruits are around 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. Their super crisp texture makes for excellent sweet pickles.
When to harvest salad cucumbers
Salad, or slicing cucumbers are a garden treat, but if left on the plants too long a bitter taste can develop. This is why it’s important to harvest salad cucumbers, like Salad Bush, when they’re at the right stage and size. Expect the fruits to be 5 to 8 inches long and around 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Most varieties have dark green skin. This type of cucumber is delicious in salads and sandwiches.
When to harvest burpless cucumbers
Burpless varieties are also known as English, European, or seedless cucumbers. These grow longer than slicing varieties and are ready to pick when they’re 10 to 12 inches long. Again, check the variety info to learn their mature length. Clip the fruits from the cucumber vines when they’re deep green and firm when lightly squeezed.
When to pick Japanese cucumbers
Japanese, and Chinese cucumbers like Suyo Long, have glossy green skin. They also typically have small spines that run the length of the fruits. The spines can be rubbed off with a clean, dry dishtowel. Harvest when the cucumbers have reached their ideal length, typically 8 to 12 inches. Don’t let them linger on the plants as quality declines once they’re past maturity.
When to pick Persian cucumbers
Have you ever bought a pack of mini cucumbers from the supermarket? There’s a good chance they were Persian cucumbers. Persian varieties yield a heavy crop of nearly seedless, thin-skinned fruits that are harvested when 4 to 5 inches long. They have a mild flavor and are usually medium to dark green in color with smooth skin.
The best time to harvest Armenian cucumbers
Armenian cucumbers are my favorite cucumber to grow. Except that they aren’t actually cucumbers, but muskmelons. The plants form long vigorous vines that pump out cucumber-like fruits from mid to late summer. There are different varieties, but the fruits are usually pale green, ribbed, and covered in a light fuzz.
The skin of Armenian cucumbers is thin and they don’t need to be peeled, but you may wish to wipe away the fuzz with a clean, dry dishcloth. They can grow 2 to 3 feet long, which is fine if you wish to save seeds from an overly mature fruit, but for fresh eating we pick Armenian cucumbers when they’re 8 to 10 inches long.
The best time to harvest unusual cucumbers
The first unusual cucumber I grew was Lemon, an heirloom variety with rounded, pale green fruits. As the fruits matured they turned a bright yellow colour. The yellow color is eye-catching, but for the best eating quality harvest Lemon cucumbers when they’re light green. The same holds true for a similar variety called Crystal Apple.
If you’re wondering when to harvest cucamelons, the best time to pick this quirky crop is when the fruits are 3/4 to 1 inch long. If you wait too long they’ll be soft in texture and have a pronounced sour flavor. I like to grow cucamelons up a trellis to make it easier to see and harvest the small fruits.
The best time of day to harvest cucumbers
One of the advantages of having a vegetable garden is being able to harvest crops just before we want to eat them. That way, they’re at their best in terms of eating quality and flavor, and packed with nutrients. However, if you’re planning on pickling or harvesting a large number of cucumbers, pick them in the morning when the weather is cooler and the fruits at their crispiest.
How to harvest cucumbers
Once you’ve determined it’s the best time to pick a cucumber, grab your garden shears, hand pruners, or a sharp knife (be careful!). Don’t try and pull cucumber fruits from the plants as that can damage the plant or break the stem off the cucumbers. Also avoid twisting fruits from the vines. Use snips to clip fruits from the plant, leaving one inch stems. If harvesting prickly cucumbers, like pickling types, you may wish to use gloves. When picking a bunch of cucumbers, lay them in a garden trug or harvest basket to avoid bruising the fruits. Check cucumber plants every day or two, harvesting any ripe fruits.
Caring for the plants
There are several ways to encourage a large harvest from your cucumber vines. The first is to plant them in a site that receives full sun – 8 to 10 hours of direct light each day. Next, be sure to add organic matter like compost to the soil before you plant. I also work in a slow release organic vegetable fertilizer. Growing vining cucumbers on sturdy cucumber trellises is another way to boost production. The plants have better access to light, improved air circulation to reduce diseases, and it’s easier to see the growing fruits.
Water consistently as the plants grow. I like to use a long-handled watering wand so I can direct water right at the root zone. Drought-stressed cucumber plants produce poorly and fruits can develop a bitter flavor. Hold soil moisture by mulching around plants with straw or shredded leaves. When the harvest season begins, pick fruits often. If you spot an over-mature cucumber on the plant remove it immediately as it can slow down the production of new flowers and fruits. About a month before the first expected fall frost date pinch or snip off newly developed flowers to direct the plants energy into ripening existing fruits.
For further reading, please check out these in-depth articles:
- Cucumber plant spacing in gardens and containers
- Cucumber trellis ideas and inspiration
- Learn how to grow cucumbers in pots
- Discover the most common cucumber plant problems
I hope I’ve answered the question of when to harvest cucumbers. What’s your favorite type of cucumber to grow?