Knowing exactly when to pick cucumbers can spell the difference between a fantastic flavor/texture and one that’s disappointing at best. Fortunately, I’ve found that there are simple clues you can use to figure out if it’s the right time to harvest those fresh cukes.
In this post, I’ll show you what a perfectly ripe cucumber looks like, and also how to recognize underripe and overripe ones. After that, we’ll go over some harvesting tips and proper storage.
Let’s get started!
- Most cucumber varieties take between 50 and 70 days after germination to produce ripe fruits.
- Factors such as variety, weather, and growth rate determine how fast each cucumber fruit reaches ripeness.
- Visual clues that cucumbers are ready for harvesting include reaching the full size for the variety (3-4 inches for pickling cucumbers, 6+ inches for slicing cucumbers) and vibrant skin color that’s appropriate for the variety.
- Signs of overripeness include yellow skin, a bloated shape, and skin shriveling.
Determining When to Pick Cucumbers
Let’s get right to it- how to identify those perfectly ripe cucumbers that you should pick and enjoy right now.
Size and Shape
The ideal size and shape for harvesting different types of cucumbers vary:
- Slicing (or salad) cucumbers: 6-8 inches
- Pickling cucumbers: 2-4 inches
- Burpless: Approximately 10 inches
- Armenian cucumbers: 8-12 inches long
- Persian cucumbers: At least 4 inches long
- Japanese cucumbers: 10+ inches long
There are also more obscure cucumber varieties that have rounded or oval shapes- lemon cucumbers and dragon’s egg are a couple of examples. Consult the seed packet to find the ideal mature size; it’s usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-5 inches long.
Here’s a slicing cucumber that’s ready for picking:
If you’re growing pickling cukes, they should look like mini pickles on the vine- like this:
Skin Color and Texture
Mature cucumbers are vivid in the color that’s appropriate for their variety. Most are the classic green color, and you should see even, vibrant green color over the entire fruit. That’s also true for white varieties- look for a solid white color over the entire fruit.
If you’re growing a variety that’s naturally yellow or brown, you might see a little more variegation in color. But the general principle is still true- ripe fruits should have a pleasing, bright color.
As far as skin texture, ripe cucumbers should feel firm when you apply gentle pressure with your fingers. Squishiness is a sign that the cucumber is getting overripe, but if the color is still good, I recommend picking it. But before adding it to any recipes, I would take a small taste and make sure it’s not bitter.
Identifying Underripe and Overripe Cucumbers
Sometimes seeing what you shouldn’t be harvesting can help you hone in on the perfectly ripe cucumbers. So to that end, let’s take a look at what immature and overly mature cucumbers look like.
What Underripe Cucumbers Look Like
You always want the most bang for your garden buck, and picking your cucumbers too early robs you of enjoying the greatest volume of fresh deliciousness.
Underripe cucumbers have a few defining characteristics:
- Small size
- Weak color
- Blossom still attached to the cucumber’s end
- For some varieties, the skin will be wrinkly in the immature stage and flatten out as it grows
This cucumber looks healthy and is definitely on its way, but it’s not ready for picking just yet:
It’s only been a couple of days after the blossom was pollinated, so it will be a few more days before this cucumber is at peak ripeness. But keep a close eye- some varieties yield perfectly mature fruits just a few days after pollination. Check on your growing cucumbers every single day so they don’t get away from you!
What Overripe Cucumbers Look Like
What you definitely want to avoid is letting your cucumbers get overripe. If you’ve ever eaten a cuke that’s been on the vine just a little too long, you don’t want to do it again- they’re usually very bitter! Plus, leaving cucumbers on the vine for too long can slow down the overall production as the plant isn’t getting stimulated to produce more fruits.
Signs of overripeness include:
- Tough skins
- Yellowing of the skin
- More rounded shape
Here’s one that’s been left a bit too long:
This cuke is too far gone to be edible. Notice how it has a bloated shape that looks almost ready to explode- this is due to the seeds inside growing and maturing. If you’re growing an heirloom cucumber variety that you want to save seeds from, then this is exactly what you want to see.
At this point, I recommend picking it and throwing it in the compost pile, unless you’re saving seeds.
You’re far better off harvesting a bit too early rather vs. waiting too long. So don’t wait to let that ripe cucumber “get a little bit bigger” before you pick it. We’ve all been there, but the window of opportunity can be shorter than you think.
Factors That Affect Cucumber Ripening
Most of the time, it takes about 30 to 50 days for the first blossoms on cucumbers to appear. The males are first on the scene, and the females follow several days later. After a female is pollinated, cucumber plants produce fruit that’s harvest-ready in about 7-10 days.
But there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for when to pick cucumbers- there are just too many different varieties and situations out there.
Let’s break down a few things that can affect how fast your cucumbers reach a harvestable stage.
Days to Maturity by Variety
There are many cucumber varieties out there, and to harvest at the right time, you have to be familiar with the specific one you’re growing.
Some varieties are ready for picking in as little as 50 days after germination- Spacemaster is one example that springs to mind. Others take longer- up to about 70 days after germination. Longfellow is an example here.
But that can only be the basis of a guide- your plants may produce faster or more slowly based on care and environmental conditions. It’s a good way to get a general timing idea, though.
Cucumbers love lots of water, sun, space to stretch out, and nutrients. If any of those things are lacking, your timeframe for harvesting will likely get pushed back.
Especially with drought conditions, your plants will slow down production. So if you’re not getting much rainfall, make it a point to manually water your cucumber plants every day or two. An automatic drip irrigation system is another great option; this video from Fine Gardening lays out a good demonstration:
Maximizing Your Cucumber Harvest
Who doesn’t want to get as big of a cucumber crop as possible each year? Of course, we need favorable weather, but beyond that, there are a few strategies we can deploy.
Plant Care and Maintenance
To maximize your cucumber harvest, make sure your plants get full sun exposure (8+ hours daily), regular watering, and fertilizing. Growing your cukes vertically on a trellis can also help your plants stay healthier.
I’m always tempted to cram as many plants as possible into the garden, but in my experience, that usually backfires. It’s much better to respect that cucumbers are large plants, so make sure to leave at least 24 inches between plants when planting. You can get away with 12 inches between plants if you grow them vertically.
Keep the cucumber patch weeded, and carefully look over plants regularly for signs of disease or pests.
Extending the Harvest Season
If you’ve got the garden space, consider successive plantings every two weeks and start seeds indoors to gain a head start.
Pruning underdeveloped cucumbers towards the end of the season can encourage the plant to direct its energy towards the remaining fruits. Pinching off new flowers at the end of the season does the same thing.
Harvesting Techniques for Cucumbers
Your cucumbers are showing all the signs of being perfectly ripe for harvest- now what? Let’s talk about what you’ll need to pick your ripe cukes and how to do it.
Tools and Equipment
To harvest cucumbers, you’ll need the following tools:
- A pair of garden shears or pruners
- A basket or container
- Gloves (optional but nice to have)
I recommend picking cucumbers during the early morning hours. According to Clemson Home and Garden Information Center, fruits and veggies picked earlier in the day usually have higher natural sugar and water content, so they have the best flavor.
When you go to harvest, bring along a pair of sharp scissors or hand pruners. Making a clean cut keeps the vine healthy and less susceptible to microbial infection than a jagged tear.
It’s not totally necessary, but gloves can be a good idea- cucumber stems are prickly! And depending on the variety you’re growing, the cucumbers themselves may have sharp spines too.
Make sure to handle burpless cucumbers with care while picking, as they have thin skins and are prone to bruising. English cucumbers are one example here. I always think these types of cucumbers have skin that almost feels like zucchini.
Varieties with thicker skin, like pickling cucumbers, can tolerate more abuse. But it’s still a good idea to handle them as gently as possible.
Storing and Enjoying Your Cucumber Harvest
Now that you know how to harvest cucumbers at the peak of ripeness, it’s time to eat them! Let’s talk about some ways to store and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Your cucumbers will have their best flavor immediately after picking, so try to time your harvest to coincide with your kitchen plans as much as possible.
But life doesn’t always allow for that, so here’s how to store your fresh cucumbers.
To store cucumbers, follow these steps:
- If there’s any caked dirt on the cucumber skin, brush it off before storing, but do not rinse or get the cucumbers wet before storage. Wash them right before you’re ready to use them.
- Wrap them in a paper towel or tea towel.
- Place them in a plastic bag.
- Store them in the warmest part of the fridge, such as the door or upper shelves.
- Keep them away from other fruits and vegetables to prevent any potential spoilage.
Use your cucumbers as soon as possible, definitely before one week in the refrigerator.
Ways to Use Cucumbers
I’m a simple person, and my favorite ways to use fresh cukes are sliced on a fresh green salad or used as a crunchy snack with dip. But if you want to get more creative, you’ve got many fun options to explore:
- Pickling (of course!)
- Cucumber salsa
- Cucumber smoothies
- Cucumber-infused water
- Cucumber gazpacho
- Cucumber roll-ups
- Stuffed cucumber cups
- Cucumber salads
- Tzatziki dip
You simply will not beat the flavor of a fresh-picked cucumber from your own garden. So make the most of all your hard work and enjoy some creative uses for your harvest!
Frequently Asked Questions about Harvesting Cucumbers
I hope this article has answered your questions about when to pick cucumber at just the right time. Once you know the tricks, you’ll never have to deal with one that’s underripe or too far gone again. (Except for those sneaky ones that hide away under the leaves- you didn’t even know they were there!)
For a quick summary, make sure to know the average mature fruit size for the variety you’re growing. And keep an eye out for vibrant, even skin color that’s appropriate for the variety. Those are your two biggest clues as to when it’s time to harvest and enjoy those fresh cukes!
I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything else you’re wondering about picking cucumbers that I didn’t cover here? Or are there some tips for perfect harvesting you’ve learned along the way? Your question or experience might be exactly what someone else needs to hear, so please feel free to share in the comments!