My Cucumbers Hate Me: Cucumber Wilt & Cucumber Beetles

Every year I plant cucumbers. I plant cucumbers because I want to eat cucumbers. In case you haven’t noticed, cucumbers are damn expensive in the store. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I really, really want to grow and eventually eat cucumbers, I have a problem. Cucumber plants hate me.

And not in a nice way either. They can’t just drop over dead like normal plants do. No, they have to torture me by looking healthy, producing two nice fruit and then slowly dieing, resisting every effort I make to save them. I think they do it out of spite. I mean that is a dedicated hate right there, when you are wiling to sacrifice your life for the sake of torturing someone.

But, putting my ego-centric paranoia aside, it seems that the rest of the gardening establishment feels that my cucumbers may in fact be suffering from cucumber wilt.

Cucumber wilt is characterized by the fact that the leaves on a cucumber plant start to yellow and turn crisp around the edges. Then, very suddenly, the leaves simply seem to collapse or wilt. Breaking the stem of the plant will cause a gooey, slime to ooze from the stem. This slime is what kills the plant because it blocks the water from getting through the plants vascular system.

Cucumber wilt is a bacterial disease that is caused by the Erwinia tracheiphila bacteria. Most of the time, this evil bacteria is spread from plant to plant by diabolical cucumber beetles, either the striped cucumber beetle or the spotted cucumber beetle. (They are the height of cucumber beetle fashion.)

Most of the time, if your cucumber plants are affected by wilt, it will be the striped cucumber beetle that you blame (just in case you were looking for who to make the voodoo doll of). The striped cucumber beetle feeds and breeds exclusively on plant in the cucumber family and actually prefers to do so on wilt infected plants.

So in fact it isn’t the cucumber plants that hate me, it is the striped cucumber beetles that do. They lay in wait till they see me pluck my first few cucumbers and then they attack. *grrr* Damn beetles.

Worse yet there is no good way to control them. It is pesticide or row covers. That’s your only choices. Row covers are more work than I have time for and pesticide… Well, despite the fact that I have threatened to use Sevin on my veggies for several years now, I have yet to resort to it. But there is always next year.

The only other suggestion I found that may be helpful to buy varieties that are wilt resistant. Of course this comes from horticultural departments at universities and when I went to find the names of some wilt resistant varieties, I discovered that there is currently only one, a pickling variety, on the market. Thanks guys, that was helpful (not).

The other bit of bad news is that, like tomato wilts, cucumber wilt stays in the soil. So it appears I have yet another bed to solarize and I will move the cucumbers to another bed in the garden next year.

I swear, the scientist who can come up with a soil antibiotic that would effectively and quickly kill all varieties of bacterial wilt will be a hero and ungodly rich. I know I would be willing to spend a small fortune in order to be able to grow and eat a bushel basket of cucumbers.

9 thoughts on “My Cucumbers Hate Me: Cucumber Wilt & Cucumber Beetles
  1. *sigh* I feel your pain.

    Supposedly ( another factor is whether your plants are “bitter free” or not–apparently the same chemical that makes the cucumbers bitter attracts the beetles. Huh.

    That said, I’m growing what’s apparently a bitter-free variety (no idea WHAT variety–they were freebies from a fellow gardener, but I’ve eaten several and there’s no bitter there), I only seen ONE cucumber beetle all season . . . and my plants are still dying of wilt.

    I wish you luck! I’ll be watching for the post where you figure out a solution–that would be the Nobel Prize of gardening.


  2. I’m so thankful for your blog. It appears my entire garden bed is infected. I suppose I’ll have to community garden next year. But I’m still getting some cucumbers, at least enough to pay for itself. How are things going this year?


  3. Anne on

    My cucs have brown enlongated paths on the skin. Is this from beatles? I don’t seem to have wilt or maybe I do and the blemished skin is the evidence. Any thoughts?


    Rebecca Reply:

    Could be slugs.


  4. I was wrong. My entire garden bed was infected by hot weather and not enough watering 🙂
    I still love your blog.


  5. i recently learned that there is definitely 1 wilt resistant strain: county fair…. also H-1 Hybrid is linked in one the online catalogs as a wilt-resistant comparable. good luck!


  6. Kay in northern Virginia on

    Your post made me feel a bit better. In an AMAZING garden, producing bushels of tomatoes, peas, green peppers, green beans and yellow squash, all 5 varieties of cucumbers decided to wilt. Why not the squash or watermelon? Beats me, but gosh I will try the “Country Fair” variety next year.


  7. I’ve had great success by delaying my planting of cucumbers until June 7th or so (in NE PA). Yes, my cucumbers are late, but at least I have cucumbers!


  8. Beautiful cucumber and green beans! Sorry about the poerwdy mildew on the lemon cukes particularly frustrating since you like them so well. I found my first cucumber today too, but not quite as far along as yours is. My greenbeans are in the tiny stage but I expect them will zoom to the harvest ASAP stage relatively quickly as well. I am looking forward to green bean season even if it means picking lots of them about every third day for a while. They fill up the winter supply very quickly and I always feel a sense of relief when I get a large stash of them put by for the winter.


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