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Does A Wilting Cucumber Need To Be Watered?

Does a wilting cucumber need more water? This question is as ubiquitous with newbie gardeners as, “Is bitter lettuce safe to eat?”

As to the answer to the cucumber question, I used to think it was a definitive “yes”. I’d go out into the garden in the middle of an 85(F)+ degree, sunny day, see most of the leaves on the cucumber vines drooping, and go into panic mode.

“I just watered that this morning!”

“But we had two-tenths of an inch of rain yesterday!”

“Oh, no! Now the fruit is all going to turn bitter!”

The fact is, a cucumber vine that isn’t getting enough water is going to produce bitter fruit. I learned that by sad experience our first year here.

However, while a wilting plant can indicate a plant that’s begging for water, this isn’t always – or even mostly – the case. For example, I took the following photo around two in the afternoon on a sunny, mid-ninety (F) degree day…after we’d had three inches of rain over a two-day period only a couple of days before.

Photo of wilting cucumber vine in my garden.

Wilting cucumber vine.

So, what do you think? Does a wilting cucumber vine need more water?

Even if we hadn’t had a recent deluge of rain, this vine should be getting plenty of moisture without me having to lift a watering can or turn on a hose. Why? It’s planted in a new Hugelkultur-lasagna garden bed. The very bottom of the bed is filled with rotting wood – medium-sized trunks, mostly (the Hugelkultur part). On top of the wood are at least nine inches of organic matter in various stages of decomposition. The potting mix at the top is actually only a few inches deep.

All of this translates into a perpetually moist growing medium, because as organic matter breaks down, it produces moisture. I also have several inches of cedar mulch surrounding the base of the plant, which not only keeps the rain drops from evaporating once the sun comes out, but also is slowly adding moisture to the soil because it, too, is slowly decomposing.

Why is my cucumber wilting, if it doesn’t need water?

Simply put, water is evaporating off of the leaves faster than the plant’s roots can replenish it. Sometimes this indicates – or can result in – a problem. But in my experience, even though a cucumber plant (or tomato or whatever) will perk up with some extra water, it more often than not just means that it’s not having fun in the summer sun.

Assuming, of course, that the plant has recently been watered. Which brings us to an important question…

How often should I water a cucumber plant?

During a drought, even if you have six or more inches of wood chips around your cucumber vine, you’ll need to water it if it’s growing in plain-old soil or potting mix. How much and how often? It depends. But as I stated earlier, cucumbers need a lot of water to produce non-bitter fruit, so your best strategy is to not let the soil get dry more than an inch deep. And when you check the soil and find that it is dry that deep, water deeply, at least a gallon per plant.

And I’ll tell you from personal experience: if the cucumber is growing in mostly sandy soil, it will probably need to be watered daily in hot weather.

In summary

Does a wilting cucumber need to be watered? If a measurable amount of rain has fallen within the last couple of days, or you’ve watered it deeply in the same amount of time, the answer is no. Otherwise, check the soil for dryness.

Now, if a pepper plant starts to wilt, that’s a different story altogether!

Happy gardening. 🙂

P.S. – For all the basics you need to know to get your own organic vegetable garden started, grab your (very inexpensive) copy of my book, How To Grow Vegetables Without Losing Your Mind.

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