The cucumber family — known as cucurbits — provides a wide variety of vegetables popular for the spring, summer and fall home vegetable garden. And they can be planted now.
Cucurbits include summer squash, zucchini, winter squash, mirliton, pumpkin, gourd, cucuzzi, watermelon, cantaloupe, cushaw, luffa and, of course, cucumber.
“All of these vegetables produce vines that run along the ground or climb,” says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill.
Summer squash and zucchini vines are rather short and thick and are more bushlike than other members of the family. Sometimes you also may find dwarf or “bush” types of cucumbers and other cucurbits.
Cucurbits produce separate male and female flowers. They both occur on the same plant, but pollen must be transferred from the male flowers to the female flowers to obtain fruit.
“Pollen transfer is done by bees and other insects, so it is extremely important not to spray insecticides in the morning when bees are most active,” Gill says. “Wait until late afternoon or early evening if you must use insecticides.”
Male flowers produce the pollen that fertilizes the eggs in the ovary of the female flowers, which leads to forming the fruit harvested to eat.
To distinguish the male from the female flowers, look at them closely, Gill says. The female flower has an ovary that looks like a miniature version of the fruit that will eventually form.
The female flower of a cucumber, for instance, is connected to the vine by what looks like a tiny cucumber. The ovary of a female squash flower looks like a tiny squash.
Summer squashes like yellow crookneck, yellow straightneck, zucchini, scallop and cocozelle are among our most popular and productive of the warm-season vegetables.
Winter squash usually have a more vining growth habit and need more room to grow. The term winter squash doesn’t refer to when they are grown, but rather that the fruit store well into winter. Winter squash include pumpkin, butternut, acorn, Turk’s turban and Hubbard.
Cucumbers are generally an easy vegetable to grow by planting seeds directly into the soil. Provide a sturdy trellis 3- to 4-feet tall and space plants along the base about 6 inches apart.
Tests conducted at LSU AgCenter research stations show substantial yield increases for trellised cucumbers as well as fewer disease problems and better quality fruits.
Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.