Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2007
Regional Report

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Armenian cucumbers are ribbed but don't need to be peeled.

Troubleshooting Cucumber Family Problems

You've probably been harvesting cukes and summer squash already so you may feel you've had a successful run so far. However, some challenges may yet appear, so here are some things to look out for.

Problem: When vines wilt, and leaves have small specks that turn yellow and brown, the squash bug has infected the plant.
Solution: Handpick and destroy the adults and their egg clusters. Plant resistant varieties. Rotate crops. Apply wood ashes or an ash-water spray. Squash bugs hate catnip, pink petunias, radishes, marigolds, orange nasturtiums, and tansy, so planting these will provide garden beauty while deterring the bugs. Plant new crops as far away as possible from the previously infested crop. Trellised plants are less susceptible.

Problem: Leaves that are eaten may have been enjoyed by the cucumber beetle.
Solution: Plant late in the season. Cultivate the soil thoroughly, and mulch heavily. Dust plants with rotenone for a serious infestation. Striped cucumber beetles love goldenrod more than cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins, so plant some of these as sacrificial attractants. Interplant with catnip, radish, or tansy. Natural enemies are the soldier beetle, braconid wasp, and nematode.

Problem: If plants suddenly wilt, have chewed parts, and yellow sawdust-like deposits are at the base of the stems, the squash vine borer is in residence.
Solution: Make succession plantings. Slit the stems and remove and destroy the borer. Cover the damaged area and every fifth leaf node with soil to encourage rooting, so the vine will continue to grow beyond the slit. Destroy all vines after harvest.

Problem: When mature plants are healthy but there are no blossoms or fruit set after a particularly heavy harvest, or some mature fruits still remain on the plant, the plants are just temporarily resting from their exertion.
Solution: Harvest as fruits ripen, even if they will not be used immediately.

Problem: When blossoms appear but don't set fruit, or the fruits shrivel and fall off, the most likely causes are: (1) The flowers may be male flowers, which don't set fruit; female blossoms will follow and set properly; (2) Very cool or very hot night temperatures inhibit fruit set; blooming and fruit set will resume about a week after more moderate temperatures; (3) An unusually heavy fruit set can inhibit later fruiting. Other possible causes are a lack of moisture, poor soil fertility, too much shade, and various diseases.
Solution: Fruit should set properly later in the season. Irrigate more frequently and deeply, and incorporate a complete fertilizer.

Problem: Cucumbers taste bitter, especially just under the skin and more deeply at the stem end. This may be due to older varieties, overmature fruit, hot and dry temperatures, daily temperature fluctuations greater than 20 degrees, excessive nitrogen, or irregular growth resulting from inadequate or infrequent moisture.
Solution: Choose newer varieties; irrigate more deeply and frequently during hot, dry weather; and harvest fruit as soon as it's ready. For eating, cut and discard the bitter portions, and heat the cucumbers for 1 minute in boiling water to draw off the bitterness.

Problem: Misshapen fruits can result from inadequate moisture, poor pollination, or confined development. When the weather is too cool or too hot, bees are not available, and pollination is not complete. When blossoms cling to the fruit after overhead watering, or the fruit is confined in the foliage, fruit development is constricted, and odd shapes result.
Solution: Irrigate more deeply and frequently, and underneath foliage. Encourage bees to your garden by providing blue-flowering plants. Avoid overhead watering during blossoming. Provide trellises or other support to release fruits from being bound in the plant foliage.

Problem: Scab -- which thrives in foggy, cool weather -- causes dry, corky spots on fruit, leaves, and stems. Sap oozes from the fruits, and greenish mold develops.
Solution: Pull up and destroy infected plants immediately. Plant resistant varieties. Rotate the crops so that you're not growing the same crop in the same spot more frequently than every three years.

Problem: Squash and pumpkins that rot during storage were probably not sufficiently cured or properly stored, or they were next to ones that are spoiling.
Solution: Let the fruit mature completely before harvesting, and cure them thoroughly. Store in a dry place at 40 to 60 degrees.

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