Pumpkins are a low growing squash that is easy to grow with rewarding harvests.
How To Grow Pumpkins
What Kind of Pumpkin Should I Grow
There are a few options when selecting the types of pumpkin you want to grow. They come in all shapes and sizes, some even come in colours like white and bluish green.
Traditional jack o lantern pumpkins are best for carving. They grow to various sizes.
If you are looking for a good pie pumpkin, select one of the smaller sized sugar pumpkins. Their flavour is incredible and are the preferred pumpkin for cooking and baking. The finished size is slightly larger than a healthy sized coconut.
Then there are jumbo pumpkins which do require more care. These pumpkins can grow to impressive sizes and have entire events based around the hobby!
And we can’t forget Ornamental Pumpkins, also known as gourds! Those are the miniature varieties we see in the Autumn used for decorating. These are a great option for container growing.
Be sure to select varieties that will grow in your area. If you want to grow a variety that has a longer maturity date, consider starting seeds indoors to get a jump on the season.
Where Should I Grow Pumpkins
It is important to place the pumpkin plants in an area where they can spread without affecting other plants. The vines need a lot of room to spread and can easily overtake the garden. If you have limited garden space, you may want to consider placing the plants on the edge of the garden and direct the vines to grow out over the lawn.
For smaller varieties like sugar pumpkins, they can be grown on a trellis, but will require extra support once the pumpkins begin to grow.
Select a sunny location for your pumpkin patch that receives a minimum of 8 hours of sunlight. Pumpkin seedlings will not do well when it is cool. Allow the soil to warm and all chances of frost pass before planting the seeds.
For a head start on the season start the seeds indoors a few weeks before your final frost date.
Starting Pumpkin Seeds Indoors
To start pumpkin seeds indoors use 2 – 3 inch containers to plant in. Potting soil can be found in the garden center section of your hardware store year-round. Never use soil from your garden to start seeds in containers. It is heavy and will restrict root growth. That is one of the reasons adding amendments to your garden is important.
Outdoor soil can also bring unwanted bugs into your house.
Fill each container with potting soil and water well. Plant 2 seeds per container at the depth of a half inch. Place the containers onto a tray and place it in a warm sunny location. Warmth helps speed up germination of all seeds. Be sure to keep the soil moist, seeds need that moisture to germinate.
Once the seeds have germinated place the tray under lights or in a sunny window. Water them as needed. Two weeks before you want to plant them in the garden being the process of hardening off the seedlings.
Hardening Off Seedlings
To harden off any indoor started seedlings we place the trays outdoors in a sunny protected area. The trays are brought in nightly to avoid the cold. Over the course of two weeks the plants are left out an hour longer each day. After two weeks with weather permitting, the seedlings can be planted into the garden.
Once you have picked the spot for the pumpkin patch, we can get ready to plant.
Work the soil well adding amendments like peat moss and compost. If the soil is very hard and compact sand is a great amendment to add. It helps loosen the soil and aides in drainage, often an issue when the soil is hard and compacted. Pumpkins are heavy feeders so adding compost to the soil is beneficial.
Space the rows 6 – 8 feet apart to give the vines ample room to spread.
Sow the seeds 8 inches apart in the row at a depth of a half inch. You can create small mounds for the planting spots. Flatten out the entre of each mound creating a small ridge all around the outer part of the mound. This helps hold the water and because it is slightly mounded the soil is going to be warmer.
If you are planting seedlings place the plants 5 feet apart in rows or staggered planting.
After planting water, the seeds well. They take 7 – 10 days to germinate.
It is possible to grow pumpkin plants in containers. The most important thing to consider is the size of the planting pot. It should be no smaller than 10 gallons and have drainage holes. Placement is something to consider as well as the vines will grow down and spread out considerably.
Caring For Pumpkins
Once the pumpkins seedlings are 2 inches tall you can apply mulch to the rows. Mulching helps in reducing weeds and helps maintain moisture in the soil. This also keeps the pumpkins off wet ground which is important.
The root system of pumpkin plants is shallow so take care when weeding near the main stem of the plant.
Because they are vigorous growers, they need 1 inch of water a week. During dry periods be sure to water well, preferably in the morning. This prevents water lost to evaporation and avoids rot which can happen when we water at night. For container grown pumpkins watering twice daily is important drying extreme heat and dry spells.
For fewer but larger pumpkins you can pinch the ends of the vines once a few pumpkins have formed and started to grow. This will direct the energy into growing the fruit. It is also good to remove any unhealthy fruit to maintain strong healthy vines.
Feeding The Pumpkins
It is a good idea to feed the plants during the growing season. If you use compost, you can side dress the young plants. Once the plants are established and begin to vine out you can feed them with a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. A fertilizer where the first number is higher denotes it is higher in nitrogen. This encourages growth and overall plant vigor.
To encourage flowering look for a fertilizer higher in phosphorus, that is when the middle number is higher. There are many options and are often referred to as blooming fertilizers as they promote flowering.
Mix all store bought fertilizers according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Pumpkins produce both male and female flowers. Bees take the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers which grow into fruit. Male flowers are long and slim, the female flowers have tiny bulbs at the base of the flower. Once the female flower is pollinated it will die off to allow the pumpkin to grow.
When the vines begin to die back it is a signal that the pumpkins are getting close to harvest. Depending on the variety, most of the pumpkins will be in various stages of orange. As the pumpkins ripen the stems will harden and the vines will dry out and die.
Though they can withstand a light frost harvest all pumpkins if a hard frost is in the forecast.
Plan to harvest on a dry day. Cut the pumpkins from the vine using a sharp knife or shears, leaving several inches of stem.
Careful move them, avoid using the stem as a handle as this could damage the fruit.
Curing & Storing Pumpkins
Depending on where you live and the climate at harvest will determine where you set the pumpkins to cure. If you live someplace where fall temperatures are quite warm place the pumpkins in a dry sunny location. They will take about 2 weeks to cure.
If you are in cooler parts of the country that gets frost in early September, consider curing the pumpkins in a protected area that receives lots of daylight. Placing them on cardboard in a garage that receives daylight during the day. By opening the door in the early morning and exposing them to sunshine during the day will help ripen and cure the fruit.
Once cured store the pumpkins in a dry cool location for up to 3 months.