How to Plant Cucumbers Around Corn
Sweet corn (Zea mays) makes a good companion plant for cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), so these two annual veggies can be planted together in your summer vegetable garden without much concern. They share similar growing conditions and thus will perform well in the same bed without any conflict of care.
Planting cucumber vines and corn together also works well, because the two plants provide shade and other benefits to one another. The plants must be started and transplanted at the right time, however, and they must be spaced properly for good results.
Planting Cucumbers Around Corn
Tall, leafy corn stalks provide shade to cucumber plants, which will help keep the fruit tasting sweet and juicy during the heat of summer. The mature stalks can also provide a natural support structure for vining cucumber varieties in place of a built trellis.
Cucumbers shade the roots of corn plants to help keep moisture in the soil during the hot summer months when corn is reaching maturity. The thick foliage can also help minimize weed growth around corn plants just like a heavy layer of mulch.
Early corn varieties, such as Sundance (Zea mays 'Sundance'), are best for growing near cucumbers if you want to use the stalks as support, because the plants reach maturity earlier in the season.
Choosing a Growing Site
Both cucumbers and corn grow best with six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day, so choose a bed with southern exposure. Good drainage is also very important for both types of plants, so avoid creating a garden bed where water doesn’t drain away after rain.
- Prepare your planting site a week or two before sowing your corn seeds in spring. Wait until soil temperatures reach at least 50°F (60 to 65°F is better) and all frost danger has passed.
- Weed the bed and till the soil. Corn and cucumbers are both heavy feeders, so it is a good idea to amend the bed. Work 2 to 3 inches of compost or well-aged manure into the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil.
Corn and cucumbers both need warm soil to grow well. Cover the bed with a sheet of black plastic for a week or two to warm up the soil if the soil is slow to warm in spring.
Starting Corn Plants
Corn should be started directly in the garden at least one month before setting out your cucumber plants if you want to use the corn as a living trellis for your cucumbers.
- Sow corn seeds along an east-west line to provide plenty of southern exposure. Sow the seeds at a depth of 1 1/2 to 2 inches spaced 2 to 4 inches apart. Corn needs to be planted in a block instead of one long row to ensure good pollination, so make several rows of corn spaced 30 to 36 inches apart.
- Water the seeds well and keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout, which typically takes a week or so when soil temperatures are above 55°F.
- Thin corn seedlings to one every 12 to 18 inches for smaller varieties and 18 to 24 inches for tall varieties. Snip off the seedlings at soil level rather than pulling them up, which might disturb the shallow roots of nearby corn plants.
- Side-dress the corn seedlings with high-nitrogen fertilizer once they reach 8 inches in height. Standard fertilizer is fine, but home gardeners who prefer organic gardening can use aged manure or blood meal.
Once your corn is growing well, you can transplant your cucumbers 12 inches from the base of the stalks.
Starting Cucumber Plants
Cucumbers, or cukes, are extremely cold-sensitive plants, so it is a good idea to start the seeds indoors if you live in a short-season climate where the soil is slow to warm in spring. Otherwise, start the seeds directly in the ground once soil temperatures warm to at least 60°F.
Starting Cucumbers Indoors
Start cucumber seeds indoors roughly three weeks before you want to transplant them into the garden.
- Start cucumber seeds in peat pots filled with moist seed-starting mix. Sow one seed in each pot at a depth of 1 inch.
- Set the peat pots on a propagation mat set to 70°F near a bright, sunny window. Keep the soil moist. Watch for seedlings in 3 to 10 days depending on the soil temperatures.
- Grow the seedlings under bright, warm conditions with good airflow until they produce one or two sets of mature leaves. Then, harden them off for transplanting.
- Harden the cucumber seedlings by placing them in a sheltered location outdoors for a week after all frost danger has passed. Bring them in at night for the first few days and then leave them outdoors overnight.
Transplant the seedlings 12 inches from the base of the corn plants and space them according to their mature size. For instance, bush cucumbers such as Bush Pickle (Cucumis sativus ‘Bush Pickle’) should be spaced 30 inches apart, and Parisian Pickling (Cucumis sativus ‘Parisian Pickling’) cucumbers need 18 to 36 inches of space between plants.
Starting Cucumbers Outdoors
- Sow your cucumber seeds in a row at the foot of your corn plants on the south-facing side. Create a 1-inch-deep planting furrow in a line 12 inches from the base of the corn plants. Space them 12 inches apart in the furrow and cover them with soil.
- Keep the soil moist while the seeds germinate. The growth of cucumbers is very rapid when soil temperatures are warm, so look for sprouts 3 to 10 days after sowing. The seedlings do not need thinning.
- If you want the cukes to climb up your corn, train them against the base of the stalks once they reach 8 inches in height. Hold the vines to the stalks using a loose loop of jute or twisted grass. It doesn’t need to be permanent, because the cucumbers will eventually grab onto the stalks and leaf stems.
Spread a 2-inch layer of mulch between the cucumbers and corn plants to shelter the roots while they grow. Cucumbers in particular benefit from mulch, because it will reduce heat stress and improve the flavor of your cucumbers, keeping them juicy and mild tasting.
Growing Cucumbers and Corn
Growing cucumbers and corn together is a better use of space than simply growing a monoculture of either plant. Since they share the same general needs, caring for them is also a more efficient use of your labor and time in the garden.
- Provide corn and cucumbers with 1 to 2 inches of water each week during the growing season. Check the soil moisture with the tip of your finger and water when it feels nearly dry below the surface.
- Feed the soil with a side-dressing of compost midway through the growing season if you didn’t amend your soil prior to planting. If the plants appear to be growing vigorously and flowering well, then additional fertilizer isn’t needed.
Companions for Cucumbers and Corn
Garden pests are common with corn and cucumber plants, but you can help control infestations by growing plants nearby that attract beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and parasitic wasps that will feed on aphids, cucumber beetles and other pests.
Anecdotally, marigolds (Tagetes spp.), sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) and nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) all act as good corn and cucumber companion plants, because they are trap crops, attracting pests away from food crops.
Aromatic herbs, such as oregano (Origanum vulgare, zones 4 to 8) and sage (Salvia officinalis, zones 4 to 10) may also act as pest control by repelling certain insects with their strong scent, so some of these make great companions for vegetable crops.
Sasha Degnan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Anthropology. Her written work has appeared in both online and print publications. She is a certified Master Gardener and dedicated plant enthusiast with decades of experience growing and propagating native and exotic plant varieties.