Choosing A Patio Cucumber

  • by Melisa F. Crane and Todd C. Wehner
  • Department of Horticultural Science
  • North Carolina State University
  • Raleigh, NC 27695-7609

Introduction. Production of vegetables in containers is a popular way for people to have a garden, whether or not they have the space for a traditional garden. Container gardening is one of the fastest growing gardening trends in the U.S. Lack of space is no longer keeping Americans from growing their own food even if they live in an apartment.

Cucumbers (both pickling and slicing types) have become one of the most popular vegetables grown in U.S. home gardens. Because they do require a large growing area, many container gardeners choose to grow cucumber cultivars with a dwarf growing habit. Dwarf types are sometimes referred to as compact or bush types, but those terms are misleading since those types have not been useful for cucumber cultivars.

Increased interest in dwarf cucumber cultivars both for home garden and commercial use resulted in this study, which was designed to look at the performance of dwarf cultivars compared with tall cultivars that are often used.

Objectives. The objectives of the study were to:

  1. determine the best cucumber types (dwarf vs. tall, gynoecious vs. monoecious, pickling vs. slicing) for use in containers by testing several cultivars of each type;
  2. determine the best plant density (of three densities tested) for growing cucumbers in containers;
  3. determine the value of field trials for predicting cucumber performance in containers.

Methods. We conducted our experiments at the Horticultural Crops Research Station in Clinton, North Carolina in 2005. Cultivars were chosen from extension recommendations for field and for container production. They were chosen to represent different plant types (monoecious, gynoecious, tall, dwarf, pickling, and slicing types).

Fourteen cultigens (cultivars and breeding lines) were tested at three densities in two seasons using a randomized complete block design with six replications. Pickling cucumbers were M 21, NC-74, M 27, ‘NC-Danbury’, ‘NC-Dixon’, ‘Sumter’, ‘Vlaspik’, and ‘Picklebush’. Slicing cucumbers were ‘Bush Whopper II’, ‘Spacemaster 80’, ‘Bush Champion’, ‘Marketmore 76’, ‘Dasher II’, and ‘Cherokee 7’

Plant densities were one, two, or three plants per three gallon container. Seasons were spring and summer. Containers were set on black plastic to simulate patio conditions. For both the spring and summer container trials, there were corresponding field trials run at the same time for comparison

Traits measured were total yield (sum of eight harvests), early yield (sum of first three harvests), percentage of marketable fruit, vine length at harvests one and seven, gynoecious rating, and powdery mildew (Podosphaera xanthii) and downy mildew (Pseudoperonospora cubensis) disease damage rating. Quality data were also collected for each cultigen. This included a fruit shape rating, fruit color rating, seedcell size rating, overall potential rating, fruit length, fruit length/diameter ratio (LD), and fruit firmness (pickling types only).

Statistical analyses were conducted using the SAS-STAT statistical software package (SAS Institute, Cary, North Carolina).

Patio cucumber photographResults. Cucumbers performed better for most traits in the spring season than in the summer season, probably due to lower disease incidence in the spring. We concluded from this study that over all, dwarf types performed as well as tall types except for disease resistance, where dwarf types were more susceptible to powdery and downy mildews. An advantage to the dwarf types however, was their tendency to stay in and around the container, taking less space. The slicing types performed as well as the pickling types. Compared to monoecious types, gynoecious cucumbers usually have earlier more concentrated harvests than monoecious cucumbers, but had the same total yield.  Monoecious cucumbers provide their own pollen for fruit set.

In terms of early yield ‘Vlaspik’ (tall, gynoecious, pickling type) and ‘Dasher II’ (tall, gynoecious, slicing type) were the best performing cultivars in this study. Both had high total yield, high early yield, and a high percentage of marketable fruit. Both ‘Vlaspik’ and ‘Dasher II’ are gynoecious cultivars. A possible downside to this is that either a monoecious type must be planted next to or very nearby or careful attention must be paid to hand pollinating each flower (in order to ensure proper fertilization). Many gardeners may find it difficult to deal with those pollination issues.

For container gardeners not concerned with early yield and more interested in a continuous harvest (monoecious types), the best cultivars in our study were ‘Marketmore 76’ (tall, slicing type) and ‘NC-Danbury’ (dwarf, pickling type). Both were among the top producers, had a high percentage of marketable fruit, and were resistant to powdery and downy mildew.

Many container gardeners prefer to grow dwarf cultivars because they stay in the container and use less space. The best performing dwarf cultivars in this study were ‘NC-Danbury’ (monoecious, pickling type) and ‘Spacemaster 80’ (monoecious, slicing type). ‘NC-Danbury’ had high total yield and high percentage of marketable fruit. ‘Spacemaster 80’ had high total yield but was susceptible to powdery and downy mildew.

The best performing tall types in this study were ‘Vlaspik’ (pickling, gynoecious type), ‘Dasher II’ (slicing, gynoecious type), and ‘Marketmore 76’ (slicing, monoecious type). All the cultivars described above had high fruit quality ratings.

Best performance was obtained using three plants per container versus 1 or 2, suggesting that cucumbers grow well with 4 L (1 gallon) of soil volume per plant (a common recommendation by extension leaflets). Based on the results of this study, it is recommended that the best time to plant container cucumbers is in the spring when weather permits.

There was a strong, significant correlation between patio and field trials for total yield, early yield, and powdery mildew disease damage. Thus, it should be possible to choose cucumber cultivars for use in patio containers using data from field trials. This is useful, since field trial reports are widely available, whereas patio container trials are rare.

Conclusions. Because this was not an all-inclusive study where all possible cultivars were tested, specific cultivar recommendations can not be made. Instead, based on our findings in this study we recommend that cucumber cultivars with specific qualities be used in containers in order to obtain the best performance. Whether grown in the ground or in a container, cucumber cultivars should have the following qualities: high yield, early maturing, high fruit quality (high percentage of marketable fruit), and disease resistance. Home gardeners interested in patio cucumber production should also choose cultivars that are dwarf, monoecious, pickling types. Dwarf types will stay in the container and not take up patio space around the container. Monoecious types do not require that a pollenizer cultivar be planted nearby to stimulate fruit set as is the case for gynoecious types. Pickling types have thin skin, so do not need to be peeled before eating as is the case for fresh-market types bred for shipping. Those cultivars in this study that had those specific traits were the following: ‘NC-Danbury’, NC-74, M 21, ‘NC-Dixon’, and ‘Bush Whopper II’ (see Table 1).

Table 1. Cultivars from this study with recommended traits for container gardening.z

Cultivar or breeding line
Yield
Earliness
Quality
Disease
NC-Danbury
1
2
1
1
NC-74
2
2
1
1
M 21
2
2
1
1
NC-Dixon
2
2
2
1
Bush Whopper II
2
3
2
1

z Traits ranked 1 to 5 (1=best, 5=worst).