Why Are Your Cucumber Plants Wilting After Transplant?


There is nothing worse than seeing your cucumber plants wilting after careful transplant into the garden.  You are probably wondering why it happens, and what you can do to avoid it or treat it.

So, why are your cucumber plants wilting after transplant?  Cucumber plants wilt after transplant for several reasons, including:

  • Lack of hardening off
  • Root damage during transplant
  • Under watering
  • Over watering
  • Over fertilizing
  • Pests and Diseases

Of course, it would be nice know which of these factors is causing your cucumber plants to wilt.  That way, you can figure out how to fix the problem.

We are going to dive deeper into why cucumber plants wilt after transplant.  We’ll also look at some steps you can take to revive a wilted cucumber plant and prevent the same problem in the future.  Let’s dive in.

Why Are Your Cucumber Plants Wilting After Transplant?

According to Burpee, cucumber plants are difficult to transplant without damaging them.  In fact, many gardeners suggest planting cucumber seeds directly in the garden (direct sowing), rather than transplanting.

However, direct sowing can cause a problem in cold climates with a short growing season, since frost will kill cucumber plants.  Even a brief overnight frost in the late spring could spell the end for your plants.

wilting cucumber plant
There are many reasons that cucumber plants wilt, including cold or lack of water.
Wilting cucumber plant, courtesy of user Sohmen at Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Photo-of-a-real-wilting-cucumber-in-greenhouse.jpg

One way around this is to choose plants that can tolerate colder temperatures.  You can learn more about cold tolerant cucumber varieties in my article here.

According to the University of Georgia, cucumbers are a subtropical crop.  That means they need plenty of moisture, along with warm temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 29 degrees Celsius) to thrive.

In fact, soil should be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) before transplanting cucumbers, according to Michigan State University.  Leave 12 inches (30 centimeters) between plants to avoid competition for water and nutrients.

Even if you manage to avoid cold or frost damage to your cucumbers, there are lots of other reasons they might be wilting after transplant.  Transplant shock due to a lack of hardening off is a common one.

Cucumber Plants Wilting Due to Lack of Hardening Off

As mentioned earlier, some gardeners start cucumber seeds indoors.  This gives you a longer growing season in cold climates, where late spring frosts can damage cucumber plants.

When you transplant cucumber plants outdoors, they have their first experience with “the elements” (wind, rain, heat, cold, insects, etc.).  Before transplant, your seedlings lived in a controlled environment indoors.

Now, they are subject to varying wind, water, temperature, and sunlight conditions during the day.  The great outdoors can be harsh for young cucumber plants!

For this reason, it is helpful to give them a gradual transition to the outside environment.  This is the purpose of “hardening off”: to avoid transplant shock by helping plants get used to the outdoors.

One option for hardening off is to put your plants in a greenhouse or cold frame.  That way, they can gradually adjust to more exposure to the elements.

greenhouse
A greenhouse is useful for hardening off cucumbers and other plants before transplant into the soil.

A greenhouse or cold frame will also keep your plants warmer when the nights are still cold early in the growing season.

Another option is to use a cloche to protect cucumber plants from wind and cold.  Remove the cloche before a hot and sunny day, or you will kill your plants with too much heat!

If possible, transplant your cucumber plants outdoors in the late afternoon or evening, ideally on an overcast day.  This gives them a little time to adjust before facing a full day of sunlight.

When transplanting, move each cucumber plant directly from the tray or pot into the ground.  Do not leave your cucumber plants out with their roots exposed to the sun!  This will damage them and could stunt their growth or kill them.

If your cucumber plant is hardened off properly and is still wilting, it could also be due to damage during transplant.

Cucumber Plants Wilting Due to Damage during Transplant

There are several ways to damage cucumber plants during transplant.  It is possible that your plant is wilting as a result of this damage.

One type of damage that is easy to see upon closer inspection is bent or broken vines.  If a vine is bent or broken, then all of the leaves on that branch could wilt and eventually die.  In this case, the plant may or may not survive.

cucumber seedling
Inspect your cucumber plant for bent or broken vines – this could cause wilting.

If there is no damage to the plant’s vines, then the roots may be damaged.  It is easy to damage the roots of a plant when you move it outdoors.  This is especially true if the root system is well-established.

Another reason that root damage occurs during transplant is overcrowded plants. When the roots of nearby plants get tangled together, it is almost impossible to pull them apart without damaging some of the plants.

To avoid overcrowding, thin your cucumber seedlings after they germinate.  For more information, check out my article on thinning seedlings.

When you leave enough space between seedlings, you reduce competition for water and nutrients.  You also reduce the chance of disease and prevent the roots of nearby seedlings from getting tangled together.

Remember that you do not need to brush the soil off of the roots when you transplant a cucumber plant outdoors.  Doing so only increases the chances that you will damage the root system.

Cucumber Plants Wilting Due to Under Watering

Under watering may also be a cause of wilting cucumber plants.  This wilting looks bad, but it serves to protect the plant during a dry spell.

When the leaves of a cucumber plant wilt, less of the leaf’s surface area is exposed to the air.  This reduces exposure to sunlight, and reduces the water lost through evaporation.

In some cases, your cucumber leaves will become dry to the point where they are “crispy”.  Usually, this happens after a prolonged drought.  At that point, your plant is in real trouble!

Under watering is more likely to be a problem if you live in a dry, sunny climate.  It is also more likely if your garden soil drains quickly (for example, sandy soil tends to drain fast).

dry soil
Hopefully your soil is not this dry!

If your soil is dry, mix in some compost to help to retain water.  Adding a layer of mulch over the soil will also help to retain water.

You can learn more about treating dry soil in my article here.

Cucumber Plants Wilting Due to Over Watering

Over watering is a common cause of wilting in plants.  In fact, it may be even more common than under watering.

Ironically, some of the symptoms are the same: wilted or dry leaves, due to the plant’s inability to absorb water.  But why does this happen?

When the soil stays too wet for too long, the roots of the plant stay wet.  They cannot get enough air, and with too much water, they start to rot.

Once the roots are damaged by root rot, they will no longer be able to absorb water from the soil.  Adding more water only makes the problem worse!

If a potted cucumber plant is over watered, you might be able save it by transplanting into a pot with dry soil.  Otherwise, wait it out and avoid watering until the soil dries!

The best advice I have is to always check the soil before watering your plants.  Use your fingers to dig a few inches down into the soil.

watering can
Use your fingers to check the soil before watering. If the soil is dry a few inches down, go ahead and water.

If it is dry a few inches down, then you can water the plant.  For more information, check out my article on over watering your plants.

Cucumber Plants Wilting Due to Over Fertilizing

Over fertilizing can also cause cucumber plants to wilt after transplant.  If you give the cucumber plant too much fertilizer at transplant, it could burn the plant and cause wilting leaves.

For more information, check out my article on over fertilizing your plants.

A fast release fertilizer is much more likely to burn plants in this way, especially if you forget to water.  A slow release fertilizer would be better (for example, an organic fertilizer like compost, or a pelletized synthetic one).

For more information, check out my article on slow release fertilizers.

Cucumber Plants Wilting Due to Pests or Diseases

When pests or diseases cause a cucumber plant to wilt, the problem is a bit more serious.  This is due to the fact that some plant diseases have no treatment.

Often, the only action you can take is to remove the infected plant from your garden.  Otherwise, the disease will continue to spread to other plants.

One common disease that infects cucumber plants is bacterial wilt.  According to the University of Kentucky Extension, bacterial wilt is spread by the cucumber beetle, so look for damage from their feeding.

cucumber beetle
Cucumber beetles will feed on your plants and spread bacterial wilt.

Also, pay attention to the time that your plants are wilted.  If they wilt during the day but recover at night, the problem may be heat or lack of water.

On the other hand, if they continue to wilt in cooler temperatures at night, then the problem may be bacterial wilt.  Another sign of an infected plant is leaves that turn dull green.

Plants often pick up diseases from water or soil.  Plants that crawl along the ground are more likely to catch these diseases.

Cucumbers will naturally crawl along the ground as they grow, exposing them to disease.  To prevent this, use a trellis to support them.

You can learn more about supporting cucumbers in my article here.

Pests may also damage your cucumber plants and eventually cause wilting.  For example, squash bugs may feed on cucumbers, though they prefer squash and pumpkins.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, squash bugs suck the sap out of leaves, which causes spots that turn yellow and then brown.  They can also cause young plants (such as your cucumber seedlings!) to wilt and die.

The only upside is that squash bugs do not carry diseases like cucumber beetles do.  You can protect your plants from squash bugs by picking them off by hand or spraying them off with water.

Conclusion

Now you have a better idea of why your cucumber plants are wilting after transplant.  You also know how to prevent the problem in the future.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who will find the information useful.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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