Top Tips for Growing Cucurbits

Zucchini, summer squash and cucumber plants all fall into this bountiful crop family.

Cucurbitaceae Growing on Twine

Cucurbitaceae Growing on Twine

Photo by: DK - Gardening Step by Step © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Gardening Step by Step , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Vigorous and high-yielding, these plants, which include pumpkins, zucchini, and cucumbers, are great fun to grow. Trailing varieties look good scrambling up a fence or over an arch. Some cucurbits may need hand pollination: female flowers have mini-fruit behind them, while male flowers grow on a thin stem. Remove male cucumber flowers in the greenhouse to prevent pollination and deformed, bitter fruits.

Site and Soil

Plants in the pumpkin family come from hot climates and thrive on well-drained soil enriched with organic matter. Once established, their growth can be rapid and extensive, so leave them enough space. Cucumbers do well in pots or growing bags.

Sowing and Planting Out

These tender plants cannot tolerate frost and will not grow in the cold. Sow seeds indoors, in biodegradable pots to prevent root disturbance, and plant seedlings out when the weather improves. Harden seedlings off before planting out after the last frost.

Care and Potential Problems

Cucurbits require lots of watering. Cucumbers and squashes often benefit from sturdy supports: cane teepees, fan trellises, and wires in the greenhouse are all effective. Cucurbits are mostly pollinated by insects. Powdery mildew may occur and cucumber mosaic virus can cause deformed fruits. Red spider mite and whiteflies can also be a problem.

Harvest and Storage

Leave pumpkins, and squashes on the plant until they have a hard skin and cracked stem, and for longer, if possible, if they are to be stored. Cut with a long stem and cure in a warm room for several days, before storing somewhere cool and dry.

Types of Cucurbits 

  • Zucchini: Easy to grow and productive, zucchini usually has a bush, rather than trailing, habit, and suits small gardens.
  • Cucumber: The smooth-skinned greenhouse types of cucumbers are more difficult to grow than outdoor ridge varieties.
  • Summer squash: Strangely shaped, soft-skinned squashes taste the same as zucchini and can be cooked in the same way.
  • Pumpkin: A late summer bounty in the garden. Select varieties grown for flavor rather than size if they are for the kitchen.
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