How To Grow Pumpkins Successfully

How To Grow Pumpkins SuccessfullyDo you have childhood memories of pumpkin patches and jack-o-lanterns? Why not make a pumpkin patch in your garden this year? Pumpkins are easy to grow and will grow in raised beds as well as containers. If given a comfortable, spacious place to grow, they will often grant you some real fall beauty in the shape of beautiful pumpkins.

To Grow Pumpkins Successfully, follow these steps:

  • Choose a site in full sun, with lots of space, and well-drained soil
  • Plant 2-4 seeds per spot in mounds or rows, pay attention to spacing pumpkins need 3-6 feet per plant and 4-6 feet between rows
  • Water thoroughly
  • Cut back the weakest plants, so you have only two per hill
  • Mulch around each plant to conserve water for the plant
  • Water Weekly, include a 5-10-5 fertilizer, try to keep foliage dry when watering
  • Use floating row covers to prevent cucumber beetles and other pests
  • Gently train vines to grow where you want them
  • In Mid Autumn test for ripeness, cut leaving a 2-3 inch stem connected to the pumpkin
  • Wash, cure in 80-degree weather for a week
  • Store for up to 3 months in a dark, cool dry place

Growing pumpkins can be very rewarding. The delightful orange fruit can be used for so many things, from pies to decorating the front porch. Keep reading for an in-depth look at everything that you need to know for your pumpkin patch to thrive.

Pumpkins or winter squash are easy to grow. However, there are a few considerations to take into account when planning pumpkins as part of your garden. Knowing ahead of time the variety, the plant size at full maturity, and spacing, whether or not to trellis, if you will grow pumpkins in your garden or containers. I did a lot of research and will give you all the best tips for triumphant pumpkin growing. Read on to find out more.

Choosing The Best Pumpkin Variety For Your Garden.

One of the first things you need to decide is what the pumpkins will be used for after harvest. Are you trying to grow the World’s biggest pumpkin?  Are you going to be making jack-o-lanterns? What about pumpkin pie? Perhaps you will be using your pumpkin harvest to decorate a Thanksgiving table?

No matter what your end goal is, there is a perfect pumpkin for you!

Pie Pumpkins

If you want to make pumpkin pie, why not try a few varieties. CountrySide.com says that the best pumpkin pie was made using zucchino rampicante, a famous Italian squash known for its long neck, and beautiful curves, as well as its flavors.

Amazon sells this variety, with seed counts from 25 to 100 per package. Click the photo to go to Amazon’s product page for zucchino rampicante.

Cinderella Pumpkins

Similarly, Kitchn.com agrees that the type of pumpkins picked and used for jack-o-lanterns are the worst for baking. Instead, they recommend finding sugar pumpkins, or Cinderella pumpkins. Especially if you want that orange round shape with sugary sweetness.

Cinderella pumpkins have a hard, smooth skin, but have a delicious orange flesh inside.

As a bonus, the Cinderella variety is an heirloom variety. To view Cinderella pumpkin seeds on Amazon, click the picture above.

Make sure you read our post about how to grow Cinderella pumpkins.

Giant pumpkins

Giant Pumpkins

Growing the World’s biggest pumpkin is no small feat. It takes special cutting back, constant food and water sources, protection of the skin of the pumpkin, and much more.

If this is your goal for your pumpkins this year, be sure to read the post about growing giant pumpkins. This post includes varieties known to produce monster pumpkins such as Atlantic Giant, Big Moose, and Polar Bear F1.

Jack-O-Lanterns

 

Jack-o-lantern

Connecticut field pumpkins are the perfect option for jack-o- lanterns. Round, smooth-skinned, and symmetrical in proportions these pumpkins have the ideal Halloween look.

A smaller subtype of this pumpkin the “small sugar pumpkin” is a favored variety for pie.  If you are planning a pumpkin patch of your own in your garden, these might be the ideal plants for you. Be sure to read the post about Growing Howden Pumpkins if you plan to grow your jack-o-lanterns.

Decoration Pumpkins

Decoration Pumpkins

According to my research, Jarrahdale and Buttercup squash make great pumpkins for fall decorations. Both of these pumpkins are not actual pumpkins; they are winter squash. Jarrahdale pumpkins’ unusual color is what makes this pumpkin idea for decoration. To view, the post about Jarrahdale pumpkins, click here.

Buttercup squash also is known as Turban squash; it is the shape and color of this pumpkin that causes it to become a focal point quickly. As a bonus, you can make a great fall soup out of this squash. Check out our post about buttercup squash pumpkin.

There Are At Least 73 Different Types Of Pumpkins

Different pumpkins

We’ve researched this in-depth and found all 73 types of pumpkin grown in North America. You can see the types of pumpkins list here. This extensive list includes little, baby pumpkins, Giant Atlantic pumpkins, and everything in between. It will give you all kinds of ideas for growing fun new pumpkins in your garden.

How And When To Start Seeds Indoors?

To figure out when to start your pumpkin seeds indoors, you will need to find out your USDA hardiness zone. You can do that by entering your zip code on the USDA hardiness page.

Or you can use a calculator like Johhny’s Seed- Starting Date Calendar. Type in your spring frost-free dates, and the webpage will give you a list of seed starting dates for all kinds of garden produce, pumpkins included.

Most pumpkins will take 90 days up to 125 days to reach maturity. As general rules seeds should be started indoors two to six weeks before the last frost date. There are some caveats to this as temperature, watering, fertilizers, and pests can cause a plant to take longer to mature its fruit.

Choosing A Planting Location For Your Pumpkins

The right location can make the difference between successfully growing pumpkins to failing at doing so.

Light Requirments

Pumpkins need full sun to reach top growth potential. Full sun means that each pumpkin plant needs around six hours of sunlight a day. Growing conditions in the shade will lead to retarded growth because the leaves of the pumpkin plant will not make enough carbohydrates to feed the plant. To read more about sunlight needs for pumpkin plants, check out our post about full sun or shade for pumpkin plants. 

Soil Type

Pumpkins do best in soil that is slightly acidic, or nearly neutral. The ground around the pumpkins needs to drain well. You can prepare the soil in early spring, by fertilizing it with around four inches of cow manure.

Spacing Needs

Pumpkins can be planted by using the hill method or by trellising in rows or rows of the bush variety. If you are trying to grow the World’s biggest pumpkin trellising might not work well. So use common sense to decide if the variety you are developing is the right size for using a trellis.

Hill planting is excellent for the home gardener that is using a small corner of the garden for planting pumpkins. It allows the plant space to spread out and helps to gather water closer to the roots, will also allowing good soil drainage.

Row planting and trellising are significant if you are trying to conserve space. However, you will need a ten-foot stretch to provide enough soil nutrition for your plants.

To trellis pumpkins, you will need 1×2 or 2×4 lumber to build the frames, or you can make a tepee trellis by lashing the top of sturdy two inches in diameter, poles together. Depending on the size of the fruit, you may also need some twine or parachute cord to make a rope nest to help hold the weight of the pumpkins, in order to keep them from breaking off the vine.

Preparing The Soil For Growing Pumpkins.

Soil Amendments

Pumpkins need moisture to grow well; the catch is that pumpkins cannot tolerate sopping wet soil all the time. The ground needs to drain water well. Rich loamy soil sites tend to be the most productive for pumpkins. The soil’s pH is the balance of acids and alkalines in the soil. For pumpkins, the ideal pH is between 6 and 6.5. You can have your soil tested at your local Lowes or extension office.

If the pH of your soil is too high, you can lower it by adding ammonia sulfates, and you can raise pH in soil by adding agricultural lime. Your soil test should give you the ideal amounts of each item to add to your garden.

Building Hills

Creating a mounded pumpkin patch has many benefits, including the fact that elevated soils warm faster, more exposure to warm air, and sun allows your planting season to begin earlier. Hilling also has the advantage of helping the roots of plants to drain well and supports your plant as it grows a healthier root system. The loose soil of hilling also means the plant requires less energy to push its roots through the soil to nutrients.

To mound or hill pumpkins you need to:

  1. Test soil temperature weekly, when it is 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, you can start to build your mound.
  2. Dig out a three-foot circle, dig down twelve inches, remove stones and debris, add a four-inch layer of compost, and a cup of all-purpose fertilizer. 5-10-5 is a great basic fertilizer for pumpkins.
  3. Place four pumpkins seeds in the flattened top of the hill, and be sure to space them ten inches apart.
  4. Water the hill thoroughly, once plants emerge clip off the two weakest plants.
  5. After plants sprout mulch the hill to help retain moisture and heat in the mound.
  6. Fertilize your pumpkin plants when tendrils start to grow on the vine. Water to help soak in fertilizer
  7. Pumpkins need around two inches of water each week. Water weekly if your area is lacking rain.

Spacing Pumpkin Plants

Pumpkin plants are space hogs in the garden.

Vining pumpkin plants need five to six feet between each hill; spacing rows ten to fifteen feet apart. It is best to thin pumpkin plants to two plants per hill.

Plants that are semi-bush pumpkins varieties need four feet between hills and eight feet between rows. Bush varieties need one plant every three feet and require four to six feet between rows.

Planting The Pumpkins

Are you wondering when to start your pumpkin seeds indoors?

The planting depth for each pumpkin variety is different for each type of pumpkin plant. Seed sellers will put the specific depth for each variation on the seed packet. It is generally, 2-3 inches in depth for pumpkin seeds with a few varieties that require deeper planting.

Well, you will need to know when the first frost-free date is for your USDA hardiness zone. Once you know that,  you will need to start your seeds indoors 3 to 2 weeks before the first frost-free date. The seedlings can then be planted in the garden after the danger of frost has passed.

If you are sowing pumpkins by direct seeding, wait until the soil has warmed to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You will need a row cover to protect the delicate plants from cold temperatures and pests.

Watering

Pumpkins need two inches of water a week to thrive. With that said, they also do not like having wet roots. So, the soil around the plant needs to drain well. Mounding pumpkins can help facilitate water management near the roots of the plants.

It can be helpful when watering pumpkin plants to lay drip hose before the plants are established so that you can water without having to disturb the plants once they fill out space where they are planted, and pumpkins start to form.

Pumpkin Plant Care And Maintenance

Let’s dive deeper into how to care for your pumpkins.

Mulching

Either way, you choose to grow pumpkins, mounding hills, rows, or trellising, mulching around your pumpkin plants is an excellent idea. Mulch conserves water in the soil, keeps weeds at bay, and all-around saves you time.

6 Types Of Mulch

  • Wood chips
  • Straw
  • Shredded Leaves
  • Geotextiles – Landscaping fabric
  • Plastic mulch
  • Compost

Fertilizer

Pumpkin plants are heavy eaters. Whatever nutrients are in the soil they will eat. Plus any more that you give through fertilizing.  Fertilizers are typically called by the numbers which represent nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium amounts in the mix. The order of the numbers for fertilizer will always be in the order nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Nitrogen is a promoter of green growth, which means plenty of healthy green leaves, and vines to shade the growing pumpkins. Start your fertilizing with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, use this weekly early in the growing season.

Phosphorus in fertilizer will promote blossoms, so when you see them starting to form switch to a heavy phosphorus mix. Similarly, when pumpkins appear, you need to switch to a heavy potassium mix, as doing so will promote health in your plants’ fruit.

A little goes a long with fertilizer. Adding too much nitrogen will burn your pumpkin plants leaves reducing flower growth. Adding too much potassium can cause the pumpkins to grow too fast, which could cause skin cracks. Ideally, add small amounts of fertilizer, watch for results, and add more small quantities if needed, so that you avoid overfeeding your plants.

If you are looking for a fertilizer method that works overall finding a basic 5-10-5 fertilizer will do well. Espoma Garden sells an organic version. 

Pest Control For Pumpkins

Pumpkins and winter squash love to grow, and in general, are relatively low maintenance. However, there are a few things that can hinder the growth of pumpkins and winter squash. Pumpkins play host to several kinds of unwelcome garden guests.

The sucking insects damage plants by sticking their mouthparts into the plant to suck out plant juices. The sucking insects that are attracted to pumpkins and winter squash are aphids and squash bugs. To handle these pests, you can use neem oil or insecticide soaps.

Beetles, including the Cucumber beetle, damage the plants’ roots and flowers. A few ways to deal with cucumber beetles are floating row covers, organic insecticides, trash and debris removal from the garden floor, and beneficial insects that will feed on the eggs of the beetles.

Armyworms and Loopers feed on the pumpkin plant leaves. By spraying biological pesticides like Bacillus thuringiensis on the leaves, you can control these two pests.

Downy Mildew is a fungus that starts by showing yellow sores on the vines and foliage. Treating this mildew is important because it spreads to other plants quickly. You can manage this by using a fungicide, particularly one that contains chlorothalonil or maneb. Be sure that the fungicide completely covers all parts of the pumpkin plant.

Just like humans, pumpkin plants can become calcium deficient which causes blossom end rot. This problem is easily remedied by using a calcium spray while you water the pumpkin patch. If left untreated it will cause your pumpkins to rot on the vine.

Harvesting Your Pumpkins

You have done the hard work, you have watered, fertilized, and weeded faithfully for around 80 to 100 days. Now is the time to enjoy the benefits of your labors. It’s fall pumpkin harvest time.

Pumpkins are typically ready to harvest in the middle of autumn; you will want to bring them in before the first frost as frost will cause rot.

Your pumpkin will grow for as long as it is one the vine, watered, fed, and frost-free. If the unfortunate happens and pests cause the vines to wither and die, your pumpkins no longer have healthy vines to feed on, and you need to harvest them as they will stop growing, and start rotting.

When you knock on a ripe pumpkin, it should sound hollow.

Fingernail Test

Pumpkins rinds need to be firm when harvested. One of the ways you can test to see if the pumpkin is ready for harvesting is to poke your fingernail into the rind. Assuming your pumpkin fruit has reached the ideal color for its variety, and it is the right size, if your nail does not leave an imprint then your pumpkin or winter squash is ready to harvest.

Another symptom to watch for is signs of age on the vines. If the plant is otherwise healthy, and the vine starts to wither, and twist, then you can employ the fingernail test to see if your pumpkins are ready to harvest.

Cutting The Stem

It is vital to remove the pumpkins from the vines carefully. A jagged edge on the tool used to cut might cause rot and disease to affect your plant. The suggested tool for harvesting pumpkins is a sharp knife with a smooth blade or a sharp pair of pruning shears or gardening scissors.

You want to position the cut so that there are a few inches of stem still connected to the pumpkin. If for some reason the stem is completely removed it is best to use the pumpkin fruit immediately or it will rot and be wasted.

Washing Your Pumpkin

It is essential to wash your pumpkin; this will kill any bacteria and fungus on the skin, and prepare it for storage in a way that will preserve it longer. It is recommended to use a 10% bleach wash on the surface of the pumpkin; there are also a few people who recommend using hydrogen peroxide if you want to avoid bleach.

Now you can let the pumpkins sit outdoors in an area that is 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 to 80 percent humidity for 7-10 days. This will increase your pumpkin storage time to 3 months and is called curing.

Storing Your Pumpkins

After being washed, pumpkins can typically be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight, for one to three months if cured before storage. A place that allows plenty of ventilation and air circulation is best for pumpkins.  It is better to place pumpkins on a piece of cardboard rather than putting them directly on cement.

It is also possible to freeze pumpkins.  For more information on harvesting and storing pumpkins, see our article “How And When To Harvest Pumpkins.”

Enjoy Your Harvest

There you have it a complete guide to planting, growing, watering, fertilizing, harvesting, and storing your pumpkins. Does anyone else want a pumpkin spice latte right now?

Did you use this guide to successfully grow pumpkins from seed, or seedlings? Did you win a prize for your pumpkin growing skills? Leave me a comment, and let me know.

Some trivia: Where Does The Term Pumpkin Originate?

According to Wikipedia, the word pumpkin originates from the Greek word pepon, which means large melon, or something round and large. You can laugh, I did. The French people adapted the word to pompon, which then became pompion in Britain, only to become pumpkin in the Americas.

The term pumpkin has no scientific or agreed upon botanical meaning. Winter squash is traditionally used for yummy fall desserts and are often called pumpkins. Because of the American traditions of jack-o-lanterns and orange pumpkin patches, we have come to believe that is how all pumpkins look.

Across the world, however, winter squash of all shapes and sizes are used to make yummy desserts and decorate fall and winter tables.

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