- From Seed to Harvest: The Growth Stages of a Pumpkin
- 1. Pick your pumpkin seeds.
- Shop Pumpkin Seeds
- 2. Plant the seeds in a full-sun spot.
- 3. Water and care for your pumpkin plants.
- 4. Fertilize the soil as needed.
- 5. Harvest your pumpkins.
- FAQ About Growing Pumpkins
- Pumpkin Growing Tips: How To Grow Pumpkin Seeds For Your Garden
- When to Plant Pumpkin Seeds
- How to Plant Pumpkin Seeds
- Pumpkin Growing Tips
- Growing Pumpkins
- When to Plant
- Spacing and Depth
- Common Problems
- Questions and Answers
From Seed to Harvest: The Growth Stages of a Pumpkin
It Starts With a Seed
Like most plants, pumpkins start out as nothing more than a seed. Roughly triangular, the pale yellow seed contains everything needed to grow a mature plant.
Once you plant the seeds in warm, moist soil, you only have to wait approximately a week for the first two leaves to appear.
From Seed to Sprout
Once germination has occurred, two small green leaves will break through the earth. These two leaves are not actually “true” leaves, but are instead known as the sprout.
Many people actually grow these pumpkin sprouts to eat, especially during the winter months when fresh greens are not readily available. These small plants will eventually turn into pumpkin plants.
True Pumpkin Leaves
About a week after the sprout has emerged from the ground, you will see the first leaves appear. You can differentiate between true leaves and sprouts by paying attention to the following:
- Sprout leaves are small and round.
- True leaves grow from the center of the plant between the sprout leaves.
- The leaves are dark green.
- The leaves have jagged edges.
Within a few more weeks, the leaves will continue to develop. Once these three leaves form, the rest of the plant begins to proliferate.
Formation and Growth of Pumpkin Vines
Once the leaves are established, you can almost see the pumpkin plant begin to grow. Almost daily, you can see the vines grow longer and spread out away from the base of the plant. Under the right weather and water conditions, pumpkin vines can increase by as much as six inches (15 centimeters) each day!
Midway through the growing season, the pumpkin vines will suddenly be covered with bright yellow flowers. The first flowers to bloom are the male flowers. They stand erect and have a stamen in the center that is covered with pollen.
The female pumpkin flowers appear about ten days after the male blossoms.
Tip: Be sure to leave male flowers on the vines until after the females have closed up. Pollination cannot occur without both male and female flowers.
Fruits Begin to Form
Once the female blossoms have closed, you will see small green fruits appear at the base of the flower. These little orbs are infant pumpkins, so when you see them, you can be sure pollination was successful.
Over the next weeks, the baby pumpkins increase in size. Within a few weeks, you can definitely tell it is a pumpkin, albeit a green one!
The Last Few Weeks of the Growing Season
The last few weeks of the pumpkin growth stage, the green fruits reach their final size and begin to turn their trademark orange color. Be sure to turn the pumpkins occasionally so the sun can reach all sides; otherwise, you will end up with green streaks on the pumpkin!
Tip: Keep in mind that not all pumpkins types are orange. The color depends on the variety you planted.
The Final Harvest
At the end of the pumpkin growing seasons, the pumpkin vines will begin to turn brown and wither. At this time, you can harvest the pumpkins and enjoy the final stage of their growth-eating them!
1. Pick your pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkins come in hundreds of varieties differing in size, color, taste, and texture, so no singular type can claim the title of “best.” From ballooning giants to teeny-tiny gourds, there’s a variety out there for you. Check out some seeds available for online ordering below:
Shop Pumpkin Seeds
Jack O’ Lantern Pumpkin Seeds Burpee amazon.com $7.69
Great for: Carving
Atlantic Giant Pumpkin Seeds Burpee amazon.com $8.49
Great for: Growing big pumpkins
Lumina Pumpkin Seeds Burpee amazon.com $7.69
Great for: Painting
Musquee de Provence Pumpkin Seeds Burpee amazon.com $7.69
Great for: Cooking
2. Plant the seeds in a full-sun spot.
Pick a day after the last frost to sow seeds directly in the ground. Each seed packet will list how long on average the plant needs to produce full-grown pumpkins (“Days for Maturity”). For example, Small Sugar Pumpkins need 100 days to reach maturity. If you wanted them to ripen about a week before Halloween, then plan on planting them in mid-July.
Select a full-sun spot and space out the seeds based on the recommendations provided on the packet. Pumpkin vines can sprawl quite far, although there are some “bush” varieties that grow in a more compact form.
If you’re feeling ambitious, plant the seeds in pumpkin “hills” — mounds of dirt slightly raised off of the ground. “The hills tend to warm up faster and they drain water faster than just planting them flat on the ground,” Lerner says. “It gets the plant up and allows the long vines to cascade down a bit.”
3. Water and care for your pumpkin plants.
Most vegetable crops need a deep yet gentle soaking once per week — about an inch of water at a time. Adjust based on rainfall accordingly. Note: Pumpkin leaves can look wilted in the afternoon heat, even if the soil is still moist. Resist the temptation to douse the dirt even more if the foliage perks back up again in the evening or under cloud cover, as overwatering can contribute to root rot. Mulching your beds will help keep pumpkin plants more consistently hydrated and also tamp down weeds.
In general, you do not need to prune your vines. Big leaves help them produce more carbohydrates, which mean more pumpkins. Some people will thin their plants to one or two fruits each in order to grow giant prize pumpkins, but everyday backyard gardeners can skip this step.
4. Fertilize the soil as needed.
Pumpkins are heavy feeders. Using an all-purpose vegetable garden fertilizer (not one designed for lawns) can provide them with the right food they need. It’s also a good idea to test your soil every couple of years. The results will reveal what type of dirt you’re dealing with — including the pH and nutrient levels — and help you plan accordingly.
5. Harvest your pumpkins.
After several months of growing, your pumpkins will reach maturity when the rinds harden and reach the desired shade. Definitely harvest before a heavy frost, which will damage the fruits, Burpee advises. Cut the vine with pruning shears leaving several inches of stem attached. Then enjoy the fruits of your labor — either by carving, cooking, or decorating.
FAQ About Growing Pumpkins
Got more questions about growing gourds? Here’s what you need to know.
Can I plant the seeds from a store-bought pumpkin?
You’re better off buying seeds from reputable brand than saving ones from a random pumpkin. “It may or may not be harvested when the seeds are completely mature,” Lerner says. “Chances are pretty good they’re not.”
Even if the seeds do germinate, they may produce a different plant if cross-pollination with another squash species occurred. Using saved seeds could serve as a fun experiment, but it’s worth spending a couple bucks on vetted seeds for reliably growing jack-o’-lanterns by Halloween.
Can I grow pumpkins in containers?
Yes! The bigger the container, the better. (A half-barrel planter could do the trick.) Take care to monitor the soil — container gardens will dry out faster than normal beds.
What should I put under growing pumpkins?
Spreading a layer of straw underneath your developing crop can help protect the gourds during the hot summer months. “Having some kind of mulch like straw will help reduce the evaporative loss of moisture from the soil, it will help cool the soil a little bit, and it helps keep the pumpkins cleaner,” Lerner says.
How long does it take to grow a pumpkin?
Pumpkins generally take about three months to reach maturity, but it can depend on the variety. Check seed packet for the “Days to Maturity” to determine when you can expect to harvest your crop.
Is it too late to plant pumpkins?
It depends. Many varieties need at least 100 days to grow gourds, making July a great time to start planting. But as long as you have enough time before cold weather and winter frosts set in, go ahead!
Why are my pumpkin flowers falling off?
Pumpkins produce both male and female flowers. (You can tell them apart because female flowers in the squash family have an ovary — what looks like a little mini fruit — right below them.) The male flowers typically open first and fall off. That’s okay! As long as the female flowers get pollinated, you’re set to go.
How can I protect my pumpkins from pests?
At the beginning of the season, cover your plants with floating row covers to protect them from common culprits like squash bugs, squash vine borers, and cucumber beetles. Remove these covers as soon as flowers develop, however, because you’ll need bees to pollinate them! For that same reason, always take care when using any type of insecticide on your garden. The chemicals can harm these all-important creatures and consequently prevent the plants from producing any pumpkins!
There was frost on the pumpkins yesterday morning, as the old expression goes. So I thought I’d share some reflections on our first year of growing white pumpkins. From the time that the seeds that we planted in July germinated and started coming up, I have been fascinated with the pumpkins. I guess that’s because the white variety is still somewhat of a novelty. Or maybe it’s because the vines grow so rapidly that you can see changes from day to day.
Leo and I learned a lot about growing pumpkins this year. We did some things right such as preparing the soil before planting. You can read about that in Leo’s post: White Pumpkins for Fall, Anyone? We planted our seeds in mid-July, but next year we will move that date back closer to the first of July because pumpkins need 90 days to mature.
We planted 3 different varieties this year: Valenciano (Cinderella shaped) Polar Bear (really large) and Moonshine (long-stemmed). Although I like large pumpkins, I would not plant the Polar Bears again because their skin is smooth with no ridges.
Here’s one of the Polar Bears which grew up on our fence, and Leo is cutting it for our granddaughter. We did find out that this type of wire will definitely support the weight of the pumpkins as they are growing.
But I also like this Cinderella shaped Valenciano pumpkin that you see in this centerpiece, too! We will definitely grow both of these varieties again.
One of the things that we discovered was how much water pumpkins need. Wouldn’t you know that as we were growing our pumpkins, we had the driest August and September that we’ve had in a long time! Since we didn’t put a watering system to our pumpkins, I had to hand water those babies just about every day. So next year, we will put a drip irrigation system in when we plant our seeds because it’s so hard to find the root of each vine when the leaves are large. You really don’t want to water anything other than the main stem because too much dampness may lead to powdery mildew. And we will add mulch to the pumpkin patch when the plants are tiny because before you know it, they become so large that you can’t add mulch without stepping on the vines!
How do you know when to harvest your pumpkins? Well, see how the vines are shriveling up in the photo above? When that starts happening and the stem starts changing color, that’s when you can cut the pumpkins from the vine. But flowers kept forming and baby pumpkins were growing even into October.
We had a lot of fun decorating with the first pumpkins that we cut. Here is one of the Polar Bears in a black urn.
Here I’ve used one of the pumpkins as a centerpiece in our fall tablescape.
This one I used to add a little autumnal flavor to our deck.
And a few days later, I turned it into a succulent centerpiece. Shortly after, we sent almost all the white pumpkins that we had to be used as decorations for a fall wedding. And then they went to a school where they were going to be painted. It warms my heart to know that so many other people enjoyed them as much as we did.
Well, all the vines have been pulled up and this little guy was the last pumpkin to come out of the patch. It was one of the later ones to grow, and you can see that it is still green.
I saved the seeds from the pumpkin that I cut to use as a succulent centerpiece. It’s the one with the really long stem, and I happen to have one of the Valencianos on the front porch. I’ll save its seeds, too. Since the Valenciano is an heirloom, its seeds will produce white ones again next year. And because the Moonshine pumpkin is a hybrid, I may get some orange ones from its seeds. That’s ok with me because I love orange ones, too. And I’ve already decided that I’m ordering some seeds to grow some Jarrahdale and Chioggia pumpkins next year along with the peach colored ones (Galeux D’Eysines) with the warty skin!
All in all, I would consider our first attempt at growing pumpkins a success. We made a few mistakes, but we’ll try it again while making some adjustments.
The season to season challenge of growing a garden is what’s exciting to us.
Metamorphosis [email protected] Naps on the Porch
Inspire Me [email protected] Stroll Thru Life
Pumpkin Growing Tips: How To Grow Pumpkin Seeds For Your Garden
When do you start growing a pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima) is a question that many gardeners have. These spectacular squash are not only a fun fall decoration, but they can make several tasty treats as well. Pumpkin growing isn’t hard and is even a popular garden activity for a child in the garden. Let’s take a few minutes to learn a few pumpkin growing tips for starting pumpkins from seed.
When to Plant Pumpkin Seeds
Before you can grow pumpkin seeds, you need to know when to plant pumpkin seeds. When you plant your pumpkins depends on what you plan on using them for.
If you plan on making jack-o-lanterns with your pumpkins, plant your pumpkins outside after all chance of frost has passed and the soil temperature has reached 65 F. (18 C.). Take into account that pumpkin plants grow faster in hot climates than cold climates. This means that what month to plant pumpkin seeds changes depending on where you live. So, in cooler parts of the country, the best time when to plant pumpkin seeds is in late May and in warmer
parts of the country, you can wait until mid July to plant pumpkins for Halloween.
If you plan on growing pumpkins as a food crop (or for a giant pumpkin contest), you can start your pumpkins indoors about two to three weeks before the last frost date for your area.
How to Plant Pumpkin Seeds
Starting Pumpkin Seeds Outside
When you plant pumpkin seeds outside, remember that pumpkins need an incredible amount of space to grow. It’s recommended that you plan on a minimum of 20 square feet being needed for each plant.
When the soil temperature is at least 65 F. (18 C.), you can plant your pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds won’t germinate in cold soil. Mound the soil in the center of the chosen location up a bit to help the sun heat the pumpkin seeds. The warmer the soil, the faster the pumpkin seeds will germinate. In the mound, plant three to five pumpkin seeds about 1 inch deep.
Once the pumpkin seeds germinate, select two of the healthiest and thin out the rest.
Starting Pumpkin Seeds Indoors
Loosely pack some potting soil in a cup or a container with holes for drainage. Plant two to four pumpkin seeds 1 inch deep in the soil. Water the pumpkin seeds just enough so that the soil is moist but not swamped. Place the cup on a heating pad. Once seeds have germinated, thin out all but the strongest seedling, then place the seeding and cup under a light source (bright window or fluorescent light bulb). Keeping the seedling on the heating pad will cause it to grow faster.
Once all danger of frost has passed in your area, move the pumpkin seedling to the garden. Carefully remove the pumpkin seedling from the cup, but don’t disturb the roots of the plant. Place in a hole 1-2 inches deeper and wider than the rootball of the pumpkin plant and backfill the hole. Tap down around the pumpkin seedling and water thoroughly.
Pumpkin growing can be rewarding and fun. Take some time this your to plant pumpkin seeds in your garden.
Pumpkin Growing Tips
Wallace’s Whoppers Growing Tips
Pumpkin Care and Fertilizer Suggestions
Welcome to the exciting world of growing giant pumpkins! Growing giant pumpkins is a family fun event that for some has turned a hobby into an obsession. Some people grow for neighborhood “bragging” rights, others for competition. Depending on what category of grower you fall into, the one thing all growers have in common is we all started at the “beginner” level.
If you have purchased a pack of Wallace’s Whoppers and have never grown a giant pumpkin, I would also suggest you subscribe to my exclusive pumpkin growing tips, weekly updates, and videos starting in the spring of 2018 at the Wallace Organic Wonder YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrGKtAPO27GCmvv3m7uyQew These videos will feature both beginner and intermediate growing practices.
Below are some suggestions to help you get started on giant pumpkin growing. All product suggestions in bold are available at www.wallacewow.com.
Location and soil test: Giant pumpkins like all day sun and a fertile well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. Competition growers can allocate as much as 1,000 sq. ft. for a single plant! If you are just starting out, have no fear you can grow a single plant in a 300 sq. ft. area and still grow a pumpkin up to 800 pounds or more! First thing you will need to do is to take a soil test from your garden area and send it to your local soil-testing lab. Most tests cost less than $30 and are well worth the money. One of the things you need to do, if you do nothing else, is to take a soil test and adjust per the lab’s recommendations. Pumpkins like a soil pH of 6.5 to 7. I’ve had good results from Western Laboratories for my soil and plant tissue testing. www.westernlaboratories.com. Once you’ve received the results, you can email me your soil test information and I will advise. [email protected]
It is best to start your pumpkin patch the previous fall if possible. At this time you can add compost and organic matter to your soil, adjust your soil pH per the lab’s recommendations and also plant a cover crop of winter rye. This cover crop will “hold” all of your soil’s nutrients in place until it is ready to be tilled under in the spring.
The biggest mistake first time growers make is starting their seeds too early. If you do not plan to place a small greenhouse over your pumpkin plant, there is no need to start your seeds until the first week of May or later. Then place your plants outside after the last expected day of frost for your area. Outside planting instructions are listed on the back of your Wallace’s Whoppers Seed packet. If you plan on starting your seeds indoors, please see our video for seed starting at www.wallacewow.com
Starting Seeds: Lightly file the edges of your seeds with a fine grit sand paper. This helps the seed coat remove easily from the new seedling. Soak seeds for 1 hour in 1 quart of warm water with ¼ teaspoon WOW Seaweed Powder. Mix 6 ounces of WOW Pumpkin Pro Mycorrhizal Inoculant with 1.5 cubic foot of seed starting mix. Add moistened seed starting mix to 5-inch peat pot and place 1 seed per pot – point down – no deeper than 1 inch below the soil line. Place peat pots in seed starting tray, and cover with 2-inch plastic dome. Place tray on top of seedling heat mat and keep in a warm place. Keep soil moist but not wet. Seedling will germinate in 4 to 5 days. After germination, place seedling under grow light for 14 hours a day for several days. After a few days the seedlings will need to be transferred to a 1-gallon pot or planted directly into the garden. Before planting seedlings outside, make sure they are exposed to some natural sunlight for a few hours each day along with keeping them cool at night. This will properly “harden off” your seedlings.
Seed Starting Video
Planting your Wallace Whoppers giant pumpkin plant
Watering your plant and night time protection
The following are some fertilizing suggestions. These are the fertilization products I use when growing for competition. Some fertilizers are very basic in nature and others are “cutting edge.” You do NOT have to go “all-in” on all fertilizer suggestions. I suggest you educate yourself on all products recommended and see if they are right for you and what you are looking for out of your pumpkin patch. Some growers are high tech, and others only apply basic rudimentary gardening skills. Both methods have been found to be very successful. The biggest thing to remember is to have FUN! You will be amazed at just how fast your Wallace’s Whopper pumpkins will grow and the excitement it brings to you.
May: For a pumpkin patch of approximately 500 square feet, add to your soil and till in 10 pounds of WOW Kelp Meal and 2 pounds WOW Humic and Fulvic Acid.
When transplanting out into the patch, work into the soil where your plant will be planted ½ cup Pumpkin Pro, 3 tablespoons WOW Soil and Plant Booster, and 1 tablespoon of powdered Azos.
After seed germination and planting in your patch, water plants weekly with WOW Soluble Seaweed Powder (1 teaspoon per gallon of water) combined with WOW Humic Acid (½ teaspoon per gallon of water), and Triple 12 Liquid Fertilizer (¾ ounce per gallon of water). All can be mixed in a watering can and applied in and around the plant. Any time you use a watering can or other methods to soak the soil, this is called a “soil drench.” Seaweed can also be foliar applied through the season and is very effective. A “foliar” application is misting your plants’ leaves using a mechanical or hand pump sprayer. Humic Acid is more effective when soil drenched. All application rates and instructions are printed on each product label.
Also I am excited to be one of the first in the USA to sell the product Root. Root’s active ingredient Formononetin is a naturally-occurring compound found in plant roots, which stimulates the natural growth of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae, enhancing the growth of plants! Bottom line and translated into understandable terms: Formononetin is a food source for mycorrhizae. Seedlings should be drenched every week at 2 teaspoons per gallon of water. Established plants should be drenched every 2 weeks at 1 teaspoon of Root per gallon of water. I have studied Formononetin for years and am anxious to see the results!
June: Continue feeding plants with WOW Seaweed, Humic Acid, and Triple 12 Liquid Fertilizer. Use 2 tablespoons of Pumpkin Pro and 1 tablespoon of WOW Soil and Plant Booster and place under each leaf rooting point when burying vines. When burying vines, I always place what I need to a small bowl and to that add a few tablespoons of powdered Azos. Research has shown that adding Azos provides an extra biological presence to the soil and this helps mycorrhizal fungi establish and grow. I also will be adding Root to my vine-burying mixture in 2018. Every 2 weeks drench the soil and plants with Azos Blue. Early in June would be the time to consider foliar applying Axiom Harpin Proteins. (2.0 grams per 1 gallon of water will cover 1,000 sq ft.) I applied Harpin Proteins last year to tomato plants and saw significant results compared to the ones without. I will apply Harpin Proteins to a few plants this year and will report on my findings at year-end. There is extensive information on the web as it pertains to the ISR Induced Systemic Resistance plants get from Harpin Proteins. Starting in early June, every 14 days, I will add Companion Biological Fungicide, (2 teaspoons per gallon of water) and Essential (¼ ounce per gallon of water) to my Seaweed and Humic/Fulvic fertilizers. The Companion will help shield your roots and leaves from harmful fungi. Essential contains 20 natural L-amino acids that will aid in plant growth! Starting around the third week of June, apply TKO Phosphite to the plants at ¼ ounce per gallon of water. This will add needed phosphorus and potassium along with the power of phosphite plant protection. Also in June every 10-14 days brew some WOW Wonder Brew Compost Tea. Finished Wonder Brew may be diluted with up to 8 gallons of water per finished gallon of Brew. Drench plants with Brew!
July: Weekly additions of WOW Seaweed and Humic Acid, and Triple 12 Liquid Fertilizer. Continue to bury vines using a mixture of Pumpkin Pro, WOW Soil and Plant Booster, and Powdered Azos. Every 2 weeks drench the plants and soil with Azos Blue and continue weekly with TKO Phosphite applications. Let’s not forget to sit back and have a cold beverage and enjoy all your hard work! Every other week continue with Companion and Essential. Continue drenching plants with WOW Wonder Brew Compost Tea.
August: This is my last soil and plant drench of Azos Blue. I will also continue to bury vines till plants have filled their allocated area with a mixture of Pumpkin Pro, Soil and Plant Booster, and powdered Azos. Weekly applications of WOW Seaweed and Humic Acid, and Triple 12 should continue. At this time depending on tissue test results, I will add 0-0-25 from Growth Products to TKO Phosphite. Every other week continue with Companion and Essential. Every 10 days drench with WOW Wonder Brew compost tea.
September: The first thing you should do is add mouse bait around all of your pumpkins! Do not let a mouse ruin all your hard work. Continue feeding with WOW Seaweed and Humic Acid and Triple 12. Depending on my growth rates and shape of the pumpkin, I will continue to keep my foot on the “throttle” till season’s end. TKO Phosphite and 0-0-25 is applied weekly till the third week of September. If my pumpkin has a very high growth rate or a stem crack, I will ease off on applying fertilizers. The middle of September will be the last of our fertilizer applications, along with Companion and Essential.
At the end of the season, I immediately make notes on my calendar and update what I have done to be better prepared for next season. I urge everyone to enter one of the GPC (Great Pumpkin Commonwealth) weigh-offs. With or without a pumpkin you will make friends that will last a lifetime.
Insect & disease control: Please view our Wallace WOW YouTube channel for Insect and disease control measures.
Here is one last WOW tip if you want to get ahead on next season. Prepare your garden during the month of October by adding compost and plant a cover crop of winter rye and hairy vetch mixed with 3 pounds per 750 sq. ft. of WOW Pumpkin Pro Mycorrhizal Inoculant.
Since pumpkins generally require around 75 to 100 frost-free days, it’s a good idea to get a jumpstart on planting them.
Yes, it is June and I am writing about pumpkins. (Shudder.) But this isn’t a put-up-the-Christmas-decorations-in-October kind of thing. It’s that winter squash takes forever to grow and requires the long game – so now is actually the perfect time to start talking pumpkins.
People have been growing pumpkins in North America for almost 5,000 years … and is it any wonder? They are bright, nutritious and completely delicious. Plus, jack-o’-lanterns, of course – so if you want pumpkins in time for Halloween, you need to get a jump on things.
When to plant pumpkins in time for Halloween
To have pumpkins ready for Halloween, they should be planted from late May in northern sites to early July in the southernmost states. If pumpkins are planted too early, they may become mush before Halloween. Too late, and they won’t be ready in time.In general, they require 75 to 100 frost-free days. Some big gorgeous heirlooms take 120 days or more, but even little cutie-pies can take 90 days or so.Also, make sure all threat of frost has passed and the soil is warm.When it comes time to harvest, here are some tips from The Old Farmer’s Almanac to help extend the post-harvest life of your pumpkins.
- To slow decay, leave an inch or two of stem on pumpkins and winter squash when harvesting them.
- To harvest the pumpkin, cut the fruit off the vine carefully with a sharp knife or pruners; do not tear. Be sure not to cut too close to the pumpkin; a liberal amount of stem (3 to 4 inches) will increase the pumpkin’s keeping time.
- Handle pumpkins very gently or they may bruise.
- Pumpkins should be cured in the sun for about a week to toughen the skin and then stored in a cool, dry bedroom, cellar, or root cellar – anywhere around 55ºF.
For more on how to grow pumpkins, visit The Old Farmer’s Almanac; and for some very lovely varieties, visit Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Pumpkin is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown throughout much of the United States. Besides being used as jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween, pumpkins are used to make pumpkin butter, pies, custard, bread, cookies and soup.
When to Plant
Pumpkin is a very tender vegetable. The seeds do not germinate in cold soil, and the seedlings are injured by frost. Do not plant until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has thoroughly warmed. Plant pumpkins for Halloween from late May in northern locations to early July in extremely southern sites. If pumpkins are planted too early, they may soften and rot before Halloween.
Spacing and Depth
Vining pumpkins require a minimum of 50 to 100 square feet per hill. Plant seeds one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill). Allow 5 to 6 feet between hills, spaced in rows 10 to 15 feet apart. When the young plants are well-established, thin each hill to the best two or three plants.
Plant semi-bush varieties one inch deep (four or five seeds per hill) and thin to the best two plants per hill. Allow 4 feet between hills and 8 feet between rows.
Plant miniature varieties one inch deep, with two or three seeds every 2 feet in the row. Rows should be 6 to 8 feet apart, with seedlings thinned to the best plant every 2 feet when they have their first true leaves.
Plant bush varieties one inch deep (1 or 2 seeds per foot of row) and thin to a single plant every 3 feet. Allow 4 to 6 feet between rows.
Pumpkin plants should be kept free from weeds by hoeing and shallow cultivation. Irrigate if an extended dry period occurs in early summer. Pumpkins tolerate short periods of hot, dry weather pretty well.
Bees, that are necessary for pollinating squash and pumpkins, may be killed by insecticides. When insecticides are used, they should be applied only in late afternoon or early evening when the blossoms have closed for the day and bees are no longer visiting the blossoms. As new blossoms open each day and bees land only inside the open blossoms, these pollinating insects should be safe from contact with any potentially deadly sprays.
Pumpkins can be harvested whenever they are a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties) and the rind is hard. If vines remain healthy, harvest in late September or early October, before heavy frosts. If vines die prematurely from disease or other causes, harvest the mature fruit and store them in a moderately warm, dry place until Halloween. Cut pumpkins from the vines carefully, using pruning shears or a sharp knife and leave 3 to 4 inches of stem attached. Snapping the stems from the vines results in many broken or missing “handles.” Pumpkins without stems usually do not keep well. Wear gloves when harvesting fruit because many varieties have sharp prickles on their stems.
Avoid cutting and bruising the pumpkins when handling them. Fruits that are not fully mature or that have been injured or subjected to heavy frost do not keep. Store in a dry building where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F.
Powdery mildew causes a white, powdery mold growth on the upper surfaces of the leaves. The growth can kill the leaves prematurely and interfere with proper ripening.
Cucumber beetles and squash bugs attack seedlings, vines and both immature and mature fruits. Be alert for an infestation of cucumber beetles and squash bugs, as populations build in late summer, because these insects can damage the mature fruits, marring their appearance and making them less likely to keep properly.
Questions and Answers
Q. The first flowers that appeared on my pumpkin plants did not form fruits. Why not?
A. This condition is natural for cucurbits (such as cucumber, gourd, muskmelon, pumpkin, squash and watermelon). The first flowers are almost always male. The pollen on these first male flowers attracts bees and alerts them to the location of the blooming vines. By the time the first female blossoms open, the bees’ route is well established and the male flowers’ pollen is transferred to the female flowers by the bees. Male flowers bloom for one day, then drop off the plants. The male flowers may predominate under certain conditions, especially early in the season, or under certain kinds of stress. The small fruits, visible at the bases of the female flowers, identify them. There is no swelling on the bases of the male flower stems.
Q. How can I grow pumpkins that weigh more than 100 pounds?
A. Use one of the jumbo varieties. Plant in early June and allow 150 square feet per hill. Thin to the best one or two plants. High fertility, proper insect control and shallow cultivation are essential. Remove the first two or three female flowers after the plants start to bloom so that the plants grow larger with more leaf surface before setting fruit. Allow a single fruit to develop and pick off all female flowers that develop after this fruit has set on the plant. Do not allow the vine to root down at the joints near this developing fruit because these varieties develop so quickly and so large that they may actually break from the vine as they expand on a vine anchored to the ground.
Q. My grandmother made pies with a green-striped, long-necked pumpkin. Is this variety still available?
A. Yes. The variety is Green-Striped Cushaw. Because it has a unique texture, some cooks prefer it for custards and pies.
Q. Will pumpkins, squash and gourds cross-pollinate and produce freak fruit if I interplant several kinds in my garden?
A. Pumpkins, squash and gourds are members of the vine crops called “cucurbits.” The name is derived from their botanical genus classification of Cucurbita (often abbreviated C.). There are four main species of Cucurbita usually included in the pumpkin, squash and gourd grouping. The varieties within a botanical species (which may be referred to as pumpkins, squash or gourd) can cross-pollinate. Varieties from different species do not. For example, zucchini crosses with Howden’s Field pumpkin, acorn or spaghetti squash, small decorative gourds, or Jack-Be-Little miniature pumpkins because they are all members of the same botanical species (C. Pepo).
However, cross-pollination does not affect the taste, shape or color of the current season’s fruit. Crosses show up only if seeds from these fruits are saved and grown the following year. Butternut squash, Small Sugar pumpkin, White Cushaw pumpkin, and Big Max pumpkin could all be grown in the same area without crossing because each variety comes from a different species. Because bees carry pollen for distances of a mile or more, in suburban areas where many gardens are in close proximity, fruits must be bagged and pollinated by hand if pure seed of non-hybrid varieties is desired.
Q. What is the difference between a pumpkin and a squash?
A. It is all in what you call it. Varieties of each of the four species, discussed in this section are popularly called “pumpkins,” and varieties of each are called “squash,” more by tradition than by system. In fact, orange color sometimes helps determine what is a pumpkin. Two varieties of the same species, C. maxima, hold the records for the world’s largest squash and pumpkin. The variety called squash is gray to green and larger one called a pumpkin is pinkish to orange. Shape may vary slightly, but these two freely inter-pollinate and are botanically pretty much identical. Unless you are dealing with specific rules or regulations at a show, you can pretty much interchange the words squash and pumpkin, though you can expect a fight with purists, no matter what you do.
Growing Giant Pumpkins in the Home Garden
How to grow a really big pumpkin!