- Growing Pumpkins
- When to Plant
- Spacing and Depth
- Common Problems
- Questions and Answers
- How to grow pumpkins for Halloween
- Which pumpkin should I grow?
- When to sow Pumpkins
- How to grow a pumpkin
- Pollinating Pumpkins
- Harvesting Pumpkins
- Pumpkin growing tips
- How to use pumpkins
- How to Grow Pumpkins in a Container
- Florida Pumpkins
- Using Pumpkins
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!
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.
How to grow pumpkins for Halloween
Way back in spring you were busy sowing summer crops and Halloween was the furthest thing from your mind. But now you are faced with disappointment of picking your pumpkin from the supermarket shelves instead of your own vegetable garden.
It’s a shame that these magnificent autumn vegetables are so easily forgotten, because growing a pumpkin is great fun for all the family. And don’t forget that you can make tasty pumpkin pies too! Read our pumpkin growing guide to learn just how simple it is to grow your own pumpkins. Don’t get caught out again next year – add some pumpkin seed to your order today in preparation for next spring.
Which pumpkin should I grow?
There’s a pumpkin to suit every home at Halloween, from the tiny Pumpkin Jack Be Little’ to the enormous Pumpkin Dill’s Atlantic Giant’. Or perhaps you’d like to have a go at growing Pumpkin ‘Paton Twins Giant’ with seeds taken from an award-winning, 1200lb pumpkin! But before you begin growing giant pumpkins its wise to think about how much space you have to spare!
If you prefer traditional sized pumpkins then Jack Of All Trades’ is the perfect choice for carving and making pumpkin pies. For something slightly different why not try the small, attractive fruits of Pumpkin Hooligan’. The green and orange patterned fruits that are the perfect size for popping in the microwave.
When to sow Pumpkins
Pumpkins require warm daytime temperatures of between 18 – 30C (68F) and prefer a minimum night temperature of 16C (61F), at least until they are planted out. In cooler areas pumpkins can be sown indoors from April to mid May for transplanting outside later on when temperatures have risen.
However if sowing space is at a premium then you may prefer to wait until the soil has warmed up in late May and early June, and sow them directly in situ outdoors. Whether you choose to start them in pots or in situ, it’s best to sow two seeds per hole and thin the weakest plant out later on. If you are direct sowing pumpkins outdoors start them off under cloches to give them the best start.
How to grow a pumpkin
Step 1 – Sow pumpkins seeds on their sides in small 7.5cm (3″) pots of seed compost at a depth of about 2.5cm (1″).
Step 2 – Place them in a propagator or seal the pots inside a plastic bag at a temperature of 20C (68F) until germination, which takes 5-7 days.
Step 3 – Once germinated, grow pumpkin plants on for about 4 weeks until they are large enough to be transplanted outdoors.
Step 4 – Gradually acclimatise them to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days before transplanting pumpkins into warm, well drained, humus rich soil in full sun, with shelter from winds. Choose a spot that receives at least 6 hours of direct sun per day and prepare the soil in advance, adding plenty of well rotted manure or compost.
Step 5 – Planting distances can range from 90cm apart to 3m apart depending on the variety, so you will need to check the seed packet. At each planting station, pile the soil into mounds about 15cm (6″) high. Plant each pumpkin plant on top of a mound to ensure good drainage and keep them well watered until they are established.
Step 6 – Pumpkins enjoy plenty of nitrogen so they will appreciate a feed of general fertilizer a few weeks after planting. They will begin to produce long stems which can be trained in a circle around the plant to prevent them spread too far. They have deep roots and are normally quite capable of finding their own water within the soil, but in very dry periods some supplementary watering may be required.
Pumpkins are normally insect pollinated but if the fruits are not setting then you may need to hand pollinate them. Female pumpkin flowers can be identified by a swollen bump at the base of the bloom, which male flowers don’t have so you can easily tell them apart. Don’t be alarmed if the first few flowers are all male. This is normal and you will start to find female flowers developing soon after.
As the flowers develop, pick a single male flower and remove its petals. Press it against the centre of each female flower. If you prefer, you can tickle the centre of each flower with a small paintbrush to transfer the pollen from the male flower. If you are growing pumpkins for Halloween then you will be hoping for the largest fruits possible. Select just two or three pumpkins per plant and remove all the others to focus the plants energy on your chosen fruit.
Leave your pumpkins on the plant for as long as possible until the skin has hardened and the fruits start to crack near to the stem. But be sure to harvest them before the first frost though! Cut each fruit from the stem leaving several inches of the stem attached.
Pumpkin growing tips
Pumpkins can be prone to rotting if they are sitting on wet ground. If necessary you can raise the fruits off of the ground using a wooden board or a large upturned seed tray. When growing pumpkins you can help the fruits to ripen by removing any foliage that is shading them. In cool seasons you may need to harvest pumpkins a few weeks before Halloween and bring them into a warm room to help them ripen in time.
How to use pumpkins
- Table decorations – Use small pumpkins as table decorations by placing them on some colourful autumn leaves that you’ve collected. Or, if you’re really creative, make place settings with them for your dinner party guests!
- Halloween carvings – Small pumpkins can look very effective and are easier for young children to handle. There are lots of free templates online that you download, from simple to more elaborate designs, to really impress your neighbours.
- Soup bowls – Pumpkin soup is delicious and looks really effective presented in hollowed-out pumpkins. Simply scoop out the flesh, making sure that that the ‘bowl’ is sturdy enough to hold the soup. Take a look at our recipes page, where you’ll find some great recipes for warming pumpkin and butternut squash soups.
- Pumpkin Seeds – Don’t throw away your seeds after carving! Pumpkin seeds are edible. Simply scoop out, wash and dry the seeds. Sprinkle them with oil, salt and pepper and roast them. Use them for a garnish on salads and soups or just eat them as a tasty snack.
How to Grow Pumpkins in a Container
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Because of the sprawling nature of pumpkin vines, some city gardeners feel they can’t grow the seasonal plant. However, the small varieties of pumpkins grow well in large containers and are just as popular at Halloween as their bigger relatives.
Look in a gardening catalog or online for pumpkin seeds that produce small or miniature pumpkins. Purchase seeds for one or more varieties. Sugar Pie, Small Sugar and Jack Be Little are three proven varieties. These small pumpkins can grow in containers because the pumpkin vines are strong enough to support them. Larger varieties produce fruit that the vine cannot support and are unsuitable for containers.
Purchase or find a container for the pumpkin garden. A plastic kiddie pool is in inexpensive container that is easy to find, although any large, well-drained container will work. Prepare the kiddie pool for the garden by punching holes in the bottom of the pool for drainage.
Purchase or make a trellis or two. The trellis encourages the vines to grow up, instead of sprawling out across the ground.
Position the container in a sunny place in the yard.
Prepare the soil for the pumpkin container garden. Fill the container with potting soil or garden soil amended with compost. The compost gives the pumpkin plants an extra nutrient boost during the growing season.
Plant the pumpkin seeds 1 inch deep in mounds, three seeds per mound. The number of mounds depends on the size of the container; mounds should be positioned 4 feet apart, so you may have room for only one mound in a small container.
Place the trellis behind the container or in the case of a kiddie pool container, place it inside the pool and push it through the pool bottom. If the pool is large enough, add two or three trellises and tie strings between them to give the pumpkins another supportive place to grow.
Water and fertilize the pumpkin plants regularly. As the plants grow, train them on the trellis and strings. Keep the bed weed free by hand pulling any weeds as you see them.
Avoid using insecticides. Bees pollinate the flowers to produce the pumpkins. If you must spray, do it in the evening after the blossoms have closed for the day.
Harvest when the pumpkin rind is hard to the touch, and the color is a deep orange (in all but the white varieties). Cut the pumpkin from the vine using pruning shears, leaving a a 2-inch stem attached to the pumpkin.
Pumpkin is an important vegetable in cucurbit family. It shares this family with members of summer and winter squash. However, pumpkins are easily distinguishable from squashes by having a coarse, strongly flavored flesh, and rinds whose hardness falls between that of summer and winter squash.
“Pumpkins” are varieties of Cucurbita species pepo, moschata, mixta, and maxima. Sometimes a pumpkin may be called “pumpkin” in one area, but “squash” in another.
The standard Halloween pumpkins have smooth, orange, and slightly ribbed skin. ‘Connecticut Field’ is the most popular variety used for carving. Its other names include ‘Big Tom,’ ‘Canner’s Supreme,’ ‘Common Field,’ ‘Connecticut Cornfield,’ ‘Golden Marrow,’ ‘Lake Shore,’ Michigan Mammoth,’ ‘Pure Gold,’ and ‘Yankee.’ This pumpkin can be used for pies, canning, stock feed, and carving.
The best Florida pumpkins include ‘Howden’ and ‘Jackpot.’ ‘Big Max’ and ‘Big Moon’ are other well-suited big pumpkins (some can reach 200 pounds under ideal growing conditions). ‘Funny Face’ is a semi-bush plant, and therefore good for growing in small gardens. ‘Atlantic Giant’ can be considered the best show variety, reaching over 200 pounds in Florida.
‘Small Sugar’ is a popular variety grown in Northeastern areas of the country. Other common varieties of pie pumpkins include ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Triple Treat,’ ‘Spookie,’ ‘Winter Luxury,’ ‘Cheese,’ ‘Kentucky Field,’ and ‘Cushaw.’
An important cushaw variety in Florida is the ‘Seminole’ pumpkin. A staple of Florida Native Americans, these climbing pumpkins were grown around the Everglades. They are less susceptible to the pressures of heat and humidity and resistant to powdery mildew. The fruit is small, has a sweet flavor and bright firm flesh, and stores well at room temperature.
Varieties include ‘Munchkin,’ ‘Sweetie Pie,’ ‘Buskin,’ ‘Minijack,’ and ‘Jack-be-Little.’ These miniature fruits are 3-4 inches in diameter.
Most pumpkin varieties need around four months to reach maturity. Seed pumpkins no later than early July to be ready for Halloween.
Spring pumpkins planted in March or April can be stored for use in October and November (though long storage is difficult in Florida). Early August seeding provides a fall crop for late November. In frost-free areas of the state, plants can be seeded in August through March.
Pumpkins should be spaced with 6 feet in either direction, except the bush types. Plant 3-4 seeds per hill, then thin when the plants are 2-4 inches tall. Climbing varieties like Seminole can be trellised for more space. Use slings to support larger fruits.
Pumpkins do well with liberal amounts of compost. One tip is to place compost under each hill before seeding. Sidedress with a handful every three weeks or as needed.
Like other cucurbits, pumpkins need bees for pollination. Each plant holds male and female flowers. If large size fruits are desired, keep only two fruits on the vine. Once two fruits are the size of baseballs, remove all others as they form.
Keep pumpkins in a cool dry place for maximum storage length.
Adapted and excerpted from:
J. Stephens, “Pumpkin – Cucurbita spp.” (HS649), Horticultural Sciences Department (revised 09/2015).
Pumpkins are some of my favorite plants and now that it’s Fall it’s time for them to start popping up in supermarkets and road side stands. It’s too bad that it’s so difficult to actually grow them down here. I found some good tips for those of us that refuse to accept defeat.
Florida pumpkin growing is very difficult. The heat and high insect and disease pressure make it a hit or miss affair at best.
Several tips are.
Do not water the foliage. Water the plants through a soaker system, or some type of flood system that will allow the leaves to remain dry. If wilting is a problem from the heat, a misting system is recommended, but must be shut off early enough for the plants to dry off before nightfall.
Practice a religious fungicide and insectice spray program. Spray in the evening at dusk, never in the morning, and use the smallest recommended dosages. Pumpkins in florida are very susceptible to leaf burn from chemicals due to the high heat and intense sun conditions.
A shade structure for the entire plant is very beneficial. Greenhouse grade shade cloth, of about 30% light blockage is a very good idea.
Be very careful of using florida well water. It is very often high in many minerals that over time can reach toxic level with pumpkins. Have your well water tested, never use water from a softening system to irrigate, and if neccessary, install a filter for your irrigation.
Floridas growing season is different than up north.
For best results, plant in late Feb, or in August to take adavantage of the milder weather.
The thing about not getting the leaves wet or watering at night has always seemed silly to since once our rainy season stops there’s not much we can do about that. It rains at night and it just rains and the leaves get wet. This is another factor that make growing these fun plants so hard. Our second season for growing starts now in September. August is better for Pumpkins though. I am a bit late, but there are still too many bugs in August. I’m growing some ball luffas and a few other cucurbits. Most only need about three months so we can just make it into Dec before it really gets cold in Jan and Feb.
Cross posting to cucurbitaceae
Grow pumpkins for Halloween and harvest decor, and for pie filling come Thanksgiving. They are easy to grow, you just need to get started in late spring and early summer.
Most pumpkins need 100 days to mature, meaning direct sowing seeds in late May for the north to early July for southern locations. Check seed packets for days to maturity for the varieties you want to grow.
Pumpkins are a tender crop, so plant after all danger of frost has passed. Learn your average date of last frost in this key.
6 Simple Steps to Growing Pumpkins:
- Choose a location with plenty of sunlight, at least six to eight hours a day. Though you should follow recommendations on the seed packet, most varieties are planted in hills at least 2 feet apart.
- Sow seeds in hills 9 to 12 inches tall and a foot across. Keep the top of each hill flat, not mounded, so that water can reach the plants. Seeds will germinate within 10 days.
- When plants are an inch tall, thin to three plants per hill. When vines are 3 inches high, thin to the strongest plant in each hill.
- Protect plants with a few inches of organic mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Top dress with organic compost to keep plants healthy and growing.
- Water frequently. Like most vegetables, count on at least an inch of water a week, and focus the spray on the plant’s roots, or consider drip irrigation or a soaker hose on a timer to regulate watering.
- Pumpkins are ready to harvest when you scratch the rind with a fingernail and you can’t puncture the skin. Use a knife to cut the pumpkin from the vine, at least 3 inches from the fruit. Pumpkins need to be cured before using or storing.
STORAGE TIPS FOR PUMPKINS:
- Wash rind with cool, soapy water. Using a soft cloth, wipe each one with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.
- Cure pumpkins for a week either indoors, near a warm, sunny window, in a heated bathroom or on a sun-drenched, south-facing spot on your deck or patio. Curing encourages rinds to harden, which helps them store longer when moved to a cooler place.
- Store long-term in an unheated basement or cool room where the temperature is around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Check every two weeks and immediately cook fruit that is soft or discolored.
LEARN MORE ABOUT PUMPKINS:
- Make Perfect Pie Puree
- 5 Smashing Ideas for Decorating with Pumpkins
- Plant Pansies in Pumpkins and More Ideas for Porch Decor