Garden Q&A: How to straighten out those cucumbers
Question: Why do my cucumbers often turn up or curl on the ends? I planted a variety called “Straight Eight,” but very few of the cukes were actually straight. Did I do something wrong?
Answer: Cucumbers curl at the end for several reasons. First and foremost, this is often a varietal issue. Some cultivars naturally twist or curve into a C-shape, which is also called crooking. You did the right thing by selecting a variety that is bred to be straight and uniform, but even with that, sometimes the ends curl.
Curling may be due to poor pollination, though a more common indication of insufficient pollination is a deformed blossom end that tapers to a narrow point. Even though there may seem to be plenty of pollinators in the garden, it takes dozens of insect visits to a single flower to properly form the fruit. If weather conditions are too wet while the blossoms are open, the flowers may end up under-pollinated.
To ensure proper pollination, you can hand-pollinate cucumber flowers every morning with a paintbrush, swiping it around in each open flower for a second or two and spreading the pollen. Be sure to plant plenty of flowering annuals and herbs in the vegetable garden. This helps to lure in a greater diversity of pollinators and boosts their numbers.
Crooking also may be caused by inconsistent moisture levels. Mulch your cucumber plants well with 2 to 3 inches of straw, hay, untreated grass clippings or some other organic matter to help retain soil moisture. Plants should receive 1 inch of water per week. If they are allowed to dry out frequently, deformed fruits can be the result.
Less-than-ideal temperatures also can affect fruit formation. The ideal temperature for fruit set on cucumbers is between 65 and 90 degrees F. Hotter or colder temperatures can affect pollination and fruit shape.
Lastly, consider growing your cucumbers vertically. Allowing the vines to climb a trellis or fence means the fruits will hang, rather than rest on the ground. While the developing fruit can begin to curl or twist if it encounters a physical barrier when on the ground, growing straight comes naturally to fruits that are hanging.
I grow cucumbers in my garden on a nylon net secured to the wooden fence surrounding my vegetable garden. Keeping the fruits off the ground not only helps them grow straight, it also keeps them away from cucumber beetles and gives me more room to grow other crops.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.