Easy to grow and very popular, cucurbits belong in every vegetable garden. Biting into a freshly-picked crisp cucumber or juicy melon: does summer life get any better? The pleasure will be all yours if you give your seedlings the best start possible.
Cucumber, squash, zucchini, melons and pumpkins: they are all big-statement, exuberant plants. And as for the taste, that is big-statement as well! To enjoy a really successful harvest, follow the growing tips below.
The best start for the best results
Before you plant your squash, cucumber or melon seedlings, it is important to choose the correct:
- With full sun and good air circulation
- With close to 2 m2 for each plant if grown on the ground
- With a 1.5m to 2-high stake or support structure
- That is very rich in organic matter (compost, manure, humus)
- That is fresh and well-drained
- That is soft and deep
- With a pH between 5.5 and 6.8
On the ground or staked
You'll have to decide whether you want your plants to climb or crawl. Vertical supports are necessary for the former, which includes container growing. Horizontal growing will require a larger area and is the only choice for large, heavier fruits such as pumpkins, melons, and watermelons.
Grown horizontally, each plant requires 2 m2 and sufficient mulching. Mulch spread on the ground offers some support to plants and fruit and helps conserve soil moisture and aeration. Straw, or mulch, acts as a barrier layer between plants and the soil, offering plants protection against slugs and diseases, thereby improving yields.
Grown vertically, plants need a structure to climb: stake, trellis, ropes, metal or plastic framework. Space requirements are minimal, making this ideal for small gardens or container growing. Stems send out tendrils, which wrap around vertical supports, which must be 1.5m to 2m in height. Disease is less likely and more easily controlled with vertical growing.
How to plant:
- Aerate and loosen soil.
- Dig a hole 20cm deep and 20 cm wide or use a 25 cm pot.
- Mix in plenty of compost with the soil.
- Set the seedling in to the base of the first leaves.
- Fill in with soil and create a small mound of earth to prevent plant rot.
- Space plants a minimum of 60 to 80 cm for horizontal growing.
- Protect young plants when night-time temperatures are chilly.
Cucumbers, squash and zucchinis can be successful grown in 10 to 20 litre containers, or with a minimum circumference of 60 cm. Place the container in full sun on the balcony or deck.
Pollinate the flowers
To produce fruits, the female flowers must be fertilized. Pollination is usually done by insects; they extract pollen from the male flowers then deposit the pollen on the pistil of the female flowers. Left unfertilized, flowers will simply drop to the ground and fruit will not appear.
Happily, it is possible to perform this fertilization step by hand; simply rub the insides of a male flower onto the pistils of a female flower.
Various vegetable plants do very well close to cucurbits: sweet corn, peas, beans, lettuce, sunflowers, cabbage, radishes, mint and basil.
On the other hand, cucurbits do not do well planted next to tomatoes and potatoes.