Cucumbers are a favorite crop for many gardeners the world over. And why not- you just can’t beat the taste of a refreshing, hot-off-the-vine cuke in your salad or as a snack.
But cucumbers leaves frequently develop unhealthy yellow shade at some point during the growing season. Why? Yellowing cucumber leaves could be due to several reasons:
- Too much water or not enough
- Lack of sunlight
- Harmful insects
- Insufficient nutrition
- Plant diseases
In this article, we’ll cover each one individually, along with the appropriate course of action to get back the green!
Ready? Let’s get started!
1. Overwatering or Under-Watering
Improper soil moisture is the most common cause of cucumber leaves turning yellow. But here’s the thing with this issue: Yellow leaves could be due to either too much moisture or not enough:
- If you let your cukes get too dry, they will respond with wilted, droopy stems and leaf discoloration.
- Perhaps you got a little overzealous with their watering. If so, yellow leaves can be the result of the water-logged soil blocking roots from absorbing necessary nutrients.
Solution: Adjust your watering routine. So how much moisture is just right?
Typically, cucumbers grow best with about 1 to 2 inches of water every week. In practical terms, it takes roughly 623 gallons of water for every 1,000 square feet to get 1 inch of water. Your home cucumber patch is probably quite a bit smaller than that, so let’s break it down into more realistic numbers:
- For 100 square feet, you need 62.3 gallons of water to equal 1 inch
- For 50 square feet, you need 31.2 gallons of water to equal 1 inch
- For 25 square feet, you need 15.6 gallons of water to equal 1 inch
Remember, your cukes need 1-2 inches on a weekly, not daily, basis. And don’t neglect to include to account for rainwater in your total moisture tally!
Before watering, check to see how moist the soil feels. Stick your finger into the soil, and if you feel any moisture about 2-3 inches deep, it’s not time to water yet. You don’t want the soil to be damp constantly- that just leads to other problems, like leaf or root disease.
So you want the upper layer of the soil to dry out between waterings, while the lower levels retain just enough moisture to nourish the plants.
2. Not Enough Sunlight
A healthy plant’s vibrant green color is due to chlorophyll. This substance absorbs sunlight and converts it into plant-friendly energy.
If your plants aren’t getting enough sunlight, chlorophyll can’t do its job. As a result, you’ll see yellow leaves, stunted growth and minimal-to-no blossoms or fruit.
Solution: Provide sufficient sunlight. Cucumbers are a sun-loving crop, and most varieties like to have at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily.
If you’re growing your cucumber plants in containers, try moving them to a sunnier spot. For in-ground gardens near a shade tree or dappled sunlight, trim as many overgrown branches as you can.
If you can’t remedy the light situation, you may have to accept that you’ll have a small harvest this season.
But there’s always next year! If you have it available, choose a sunnier location for next summer’s crop of cucumbers.
3. Pest Problems
Unfortunately, cucumbers are a tempting treat for many garden pests:
- Spider mites
- Cucumber beetle
- Southern corn rootworm
- Potato leaf hoppers
Your best defense against pests is to prevent them or detect their presence early and nip the infestation in the bud.
But speaking from personal experience, it’s easy to overlook the first few bugs on the scene until they’ve multiplied greatly. That’s especially true for sprawling, unruly plants (like cucumbers!) that make it hard to get a good look at all the nooks and crannies.
There are a few different strategies for dealing with pests depending on which ones are attacking your cucumbers. Here’s a closer look:
Aphids, Spider Mites and Whiteflies
These little pests have ravenous appetites for your plants’ nutritional sap. Due to their small size, these insects can easily go undetected until you have a serious problem.
Aphids are oval-shaped insects that leave a trail of yucky black waste in their wake.
Thanks to their green coloring and tendency to live on the underside of leaves, they can be hard to spot.
Spider mites are reddish insects that often show up in large numbers.
They get their name from the delicate, thready nests they weave on the underside of plant leaves.
Whiteflies are another type of pest that can severely damage your plants when they form a large community.
They are winged insects that have a white body.
Solution: Apply insecticidal soap neem oil or a non-chemical treatment. These insects won’t go away on their own, and an infested plant will eventually die. Fortunately, whether your problem is due to aphids, spider mites or whiteflies, you can usually correct the situation if you catch it early.
Spraying the affected plants with insecticidal soap or neem oil is the most effective treatment.
Commercial formulas are readily available online or at big box stores. This insecticidal soap from Safer Brand is a good option, and Bonide makes a quality neem oil. Make sure to follow the package directions for how much and how often to apply the product.
You can also make DIY insecticidal soap. The process is easy, inexpensive and gives you more control over the substances you put on your cucumbers.
During application, be careful to spray both the top and the underside of the affected leaves. Especially if you have a heavy infestation, you may need to apply insecticidal soap weekly or bi-weekly.
If your problem is whiteflies, you’ve got another strategy you could try. Ronnie Collins, founder of Electro Garden Tools, offers some advice for a totally non-chemical approach: “In most cases, adding reflective mulch solves the problem. If the infestation is severe, you need to catch the flies and seal them in a plastic bag.
No matter which if these three tiny pests is plaguing your plants, some leaves may be damaged beyond repair. Cut these leaves off and discard them in the trash or by burning.
Given the chance, cucumber beetles will decimate your cucumber and squash plants.
These pests can quickly turn cucumber leaves into a lacy pattern of holes, and they can also be carriers of serious plant diseases (more on that in a little bit).
Solution: Take early action. If you spot a cucumber beetle, knock it off your plant into a container or put sticky traps in your garden.
Beneficial insects can also help you out here:
- Braconid wasps
- Wolf spiders
- Ground beetles
If you see these garden friends around, let them stay!
Lay down a layer of straw as mulch- this makes it harder for the beetles to travel from one plant to another. And it can also help attract some of those natural predators we listed above.
Be especially vigilant for cucumber beetles early in the season since these pests are particularly harmful to young seedlings. Use a physical cover if necessary, like a floating row cover. Just be sure to remove the cover before your plants flower so you don’t interfere with pollination.
Southern Corn Rootworm
These little pests are spotted cucumber beetles in larva form, and they make their home in your garden soil.
Southern corn rootworms eat through plant stems at ground level, thus slowing growth and turning foliage yellow.
Solution: Pull affected plants and turn the soil regularly. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about the plant damage once it has occurred. Remove affected stems and leaves and discard them.
Since southern corn rootworms live in the ground, you can try to loosen the soil around your cucumber plants. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll see much improvement in your current crop.
The best way to deal with southern corn rootworms is to interrupt their life cycle early in the spring.
Make it a point to thoroughly cultivate your garden before you sow seeds. This is especially critical if you’ve had past problems with spotted cucumber beetles in the past year or two.
As the name suggests, these insects usually attack potato plants. But they also won’t pass up the chance to suck the sap from cucumber plants as well.
To make matters worse, potato leafhoppers leave behind a toxic substance that leads to yellowing and leaf drop.
Solution: Don’t overcrowd your garden and use insecticides carefully. Crowded vegetable patches can make an inviting home for potato leafhoppers. So remove as many weeds as possible from your cucumber plants.
Commercial insecticides can also rid your cucumbers of potato leafhoppers. But these chemicals are often harsh and can contaminate your food, so you may want to proceed with caution.
If you’d prefer a more natural insecticide, this formula could be a good choice. But you’ll still need to follow the package directions carefully.
4. Nutrient Deficiencies
If your cucumber is low on essential nutrients, it won’t be able to produce vibrant green foliage (or a good harvest.)
Potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen are the three main nutrients most plants need to thrive, and cucumbers are no exception. But cucumbers prefer a nutrient balance that’s a bit different than many other vegetables.
Relative to other plants, cucumbers require high amounts of both phosphorus and potassium to produce blossoms that result in fruit. And while they definitely need some nitrogen, cukes don’t require as much as many other plants.
In fact, using too much nitrogen has a couple of potential downsides:
- Your cucumber may go wild in producing excessive foliage but no fruit.
- All that extra nitrogen can make its way into the groundwater and become a contaminant.
Solution: Fertilize carefully. Ideally, you should have your soil tested before applying any additional fertilizers. But if you can’t, these guidelines are a good general rule of thumb.
Many pre-made fertilizers are rich in nitrogen. Look for a formula with higher levels of potassium and phosphorous than nitrogen.
Most commercial formulas list their ingredients in this order: Nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium. A fertilizer with a 5-10-10 label should be about right, like this formula from Lilly Miller.
If you prefer an alternative to commercial fertilizer, compost is perfect. Naturally low in nitrogen, compost feeds your cukes with the nutrients they need.
5. Viral, Bacterial or Fungal Diseases
Unfortunately, plant diseases happen to the best of us. And if you don’t act quickly to address the problem, you risk losing your entire harvest.
Even experts can sometimes have a hard time determining which disease a plant may have. So taking your time in doing thorough research is a wise move. And if you still have questions about which disease may be afflicting your cucumbers, contact your local extension office to see if they can help you.
Here’s a closer look at the diseases that might be responsible for your cucumber’s unhealthy-looking foliage.
Mosaic virus is a disease that’s easily recognizable by the distinct pattern it creates on your cucumber plant’s leaves.
The yellowing is isolated to the spaces between the leaf veins, while the veins themselves retain their normal green color. This creates a high-contrast, shattered look that’s very much like a mosaic art piece:
But this is no work of art- mosaic virus is a serious disease that can wipe your whole cucumber patch and other garden plants.
Depending on when your plant gets infected with mosaic virus, it may produce no fruit at all or very little. Any cucumbers you do manage to grow may be small, misshapen or have yellow spots of their own.
The virus typically travels from one plant to another through an insect carrier (usually aphids) or through certain weeds.
Solution: Pull affected plants. There are no chemical treatments available for mosaic virus. Pull and immediately destroy any infected plants by throwing them in the trash or by burning. Don’t allow them to sit in a heap by the garden or put them in the compost.
After removal, thoroughly clean any tools you used in the process to prevent spreading the virus to other plants.
Preventing mosaic virus is your best bet. Make sure to stay on top of weeding your cucumber patch, and keep an eye out for aphids. If you notice a few of these little guys, apply insecticidal soap right away.
In the early stages, bacterial wilt causes your cucumber leaves to wilt down during the day but perk up at night. It’s all too easy to mistake this disease as a simple response to heat.
After a time, though, the leaves will start to take on a yellow color at the leaf perimeter. Eventually, the yellow sections will turn brown and the plant will die.
The primary way your plants can get infected with bacterial wilt is through the spotted cucumber beetle. If these pests have been munching on other plants and then move on to yours, they can transfer the disease.
Solution: Pull affected plants. No chemical treatments are effective against bacterial wilt. You have no choice but to pull and destroy your infected plants right away. Either dispose of infected plants in the trash or by burning.
To prevent bacterial wilt from getting a foothold in your garden, keep a sharp watch out for cucumber beetles.
When downy mildew takes hold, your cucumber leaves will take on a mottled yellow appearance. Infected leaves will eventually stunt your plant’s growth and fruit production.
This disease is commonly considered a fungus, but it actually belongs to a family of organisms called oomycetes. (There’s a random piece of fun gardening trivia to wow your friends with!)
Oomycetes thrive in damp conditions, and downy mildew often strikes in areas where leaves are wet or areas with high humidity.
Solution: Keep moisture off leaves and don’t overcrowd your plants. Don’t overwater your cucumbers- make sure to allow the top 1 inch of soil to dry out before giving any more water.
And when you’re watering, avoid splashing leaves with water. Wet leaves are a perfect breeding ground for fungus, and the hot sun can also scorch wet leaves more easily than dry ones. So do your best to water the soil and not the leaves.
Also, take steps to encourage good airflow can help keep damp conditions at bay. Leave plenty of space between your cucumber plants. If your patch is overcrowded, you may want to consider sacrificing a few plants to keep the others in the healthiest state possible.
And make sure to keep your cucumber patch weed-free- weeds just take up space and create barriers to good airflow.
This disease is a fungal growth that slows plant growth and also turns leaves yellow-brown.
Certain insects, mainly spotted cucumber beetles, carry Fusarium wilt spores from plant to plant. The spores also live in the soil, where they can remain dormant for up to two years.
Solution: Destroy affected plants. Once a plant becomes infected with Fusarium wilt, you can’t save it. As soon as you identify Fusarium wilt, pull the plant out before the disease can spread.
If you can, burn the plant. Your next best option is throwing it out in the garbage. Do not add it to the compost pile or allow it to sit.
Bonus Tip for Dealing with Cucumber Diseases: Use a Trellis
Growing your cucumbers on a trellis can help reduce your plant’s risk for disease in several ways:
- Keeps leaves off the ground
- Promotes greater airflow
- Can help you spot harmful insects
- Gives you a better view of your plants so you can identify issues early on
- Makes it easier to water appropriately
Pre-made gardening trellises are widely available in a variety of sizes. The downside is that they can be pricey, especially if you want a large size or a heavy-duty material.
Not to worry: Make your own! Check out this awesome video from CaliKim for step-by-step instructions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Yellow Cucumber Leaves
Yellow leaves could be due to a number of causes. Determining the specific one could help save your harvest or at least plan ahead for next year.
- Ensure your cucumbers get about 1 to 2 inches of water weekly.
- Cucumbers love the sun, so make sure your plants get plenty of it.
- Keep a sharp lookout for pests and take action immediately.
- Meet your cucumbers’ nutritional needs with plenty of phosphorous and potassium.
- Observe yellowed leaves to figure out if a plant disease might be to blame, and consider growing your cukes on a trellis.
It’s no fun when the cucumber plants you’ve worked so hard to nurture start taking a downturn. But with a little diligence and know-how, there is hope!
Did you find this information helpful? Do you have any experience or thoughts you’d like to share?
Post them in the comments!