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Pumpkins - How to Grow All Kinds of Great Pumpkins

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Photo of Pumpkin on Vine

A ripe pumpkin, ready to harvest, will be fully colored and the tendril nearest the stem will have begun to brown and whither.

Photo of powdery mildew on a squash vine.

Powdery mildew can quickly cover pumpkin and other squash vines. It's not usually fatal, but it does weaken the plants and lessen the yield or flavor of the squash.

Overview and Description:

The term ‘pumpkin’ can be confusing, meaning different things to different areas. Here I am referring to the round or oval, orange fruits which are member of the squash family. They are best known as Halloween decorations and holiday pies, but there is a lot more variety to pumpkins than just the common orange Jack-o-lantern.

Pumpkins seem as American as apple pie, but they've been grown around the world for centuries. Orange is the commonly know color, but pumpkins come in white, red, pink and blue and can be smooth, bumpy, oval, flattened or round. Pumpkins are a type of winter squash, but some are simply grown as decoration.

The variety grown by most commercially is ‘Connecticut Field'. They are usually between 10 and 20 pounds each and orange color. Watery, with bland taste, this is not a great pie pumpkin.

Botanical Name:

Most belong to Curcurbita pepo, but there are some pumpkins in Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita mixta and Cucurbita moschata Common Name(s) Pumpkins

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Pumpkins are annuals, although most need a long season to mature.

Mature Size:

The pumpkins themselves will vary greatly from miniatures of a few ounces (‘Jack Be Little’) to giants (‘Atlantic Giant’) weighing in at over 1,000 pounds. Even the length of the vines will be variable, although most can grow more than 10 ft. in any direction. Either give your pumpkin vines plenty of space to spread out or grow them vertically, on a strong support.

Exposure:

Pumpkins, and all squash, need full sun and lots of warm days, to produce and mature their fruits.

Days to Harvest:

As I mentioned above, pumpkins are long season growers. Most need somewhere between 90 - 110 days. If you live in a short season climate, make sure you choose a variety that will have time to mature in your garden.

 

Harvesting:

Don't rush harvesting or your pumpkins won't last long or taste great. Wait until the color is uniform and the shell doesn’t dent when pressed with a finger nail. A this point, the vines should have begun to dry and shrivel. Watch for when the tendril closest to the pumpkin turns brown.

Pumpkins can withstand a light frost, but always harvest before a hard frost. Cut them off the vines with a pruner, leaving 2 -4 inches of stem. This is not a handle! It's there to help the pumpkin cure and to keep disease from entering where the stem join the pumpkin. Try not to break it off.

Pumpkins are not really winter squashes and they will not store through the winter, but you should be able to hold onto them for a month or 2. They need to be cured, to store well. Place in a warm, sunny spot (low to mid 80s F.) And space so they are not touching. Allow to cure about 10 days. Then they can be stored in a cool, dry spot (50 F.)

Suggested Varieties:

  • Carving Pumpkins : 'Connecticut Field', 'Ghost Rider' or (yes) 'Jack O' Lantern'.
  • Giant Pumpkins : 'Atlantic Giant’
  • Cooking Pumpkins : 'Small Sugar', aka 'New England Pie'.
  • Heirloom ‘Cinderella’ Pumpkin : ‘Rouge vif D'Etampes’, ‘Musque de Provence’
  • White Pumpkins : ‘Baby Boo’, Lumina, Casper
  • Other Colors : ‘Australian Blue’ & ‘Rouge D’Etant’ (Red)
  • Hull-less Varieties : ‘Hungarian Mammoth’, ‘Lady Godiva’, ‘Triple-Treat’,

 

Growing Tips:

Pumpkin plants take up a lot of space. You’ll need a 6 x 8 foot area. Pumpkins will grow up a fence or trellis, but make sure it is strong and study, since there can be as many as 9 pumpkins per vine. The vines of small pumpkins can sprawl as far as large pumpkins.

Pumpkins like full sun and a rich, well-draining soil. Soil ph should be slightly acidic, 6.0 to 6.5.

You can start seeds indoors about three weeks before the last expected frost. If your growing season is long enough, sow seeds directly in the garden when the soil temperature reaches about 60 degrees F. Plant 3-6 seeds in a hill, or slightly raised mound. Spacing varies with the variety (check the seed packet), but in general allow at least 5 feet between plants in each direction. Vines and roots can easily spread 15'.

Maintenance: Thin the seedling to the strongest 2 -3 plants. Mulch around the plants to conserve moisture, suppress weeds and keep the fruit clean. It also helps to place boards or old roof tiles under the fruits, to keep them from touching the ground and rotting.

Give your plants at least 1 to 2 inches of water a week, especially when they're blooming and setting fruit. Once the first fruits appear, you can pinch back the vine tips, to limit vine growth and to put the plant’s energy into maturing the existing pumpkins. However, this may limit production of more fruits.

Turn the pumpkins slightly every week or so, to keep them growing symmetrical. Do this gently. You don’t want to snap the vines.

Problems: Squash bugs and cucumber beetles. Avoid planting close a relative, like cucumbers or squash. Companion Planters can try planting petunias or nasturtiums nearby to repel the squash bugs and circling each hill at planting with radishes, to ward of squash beetles.

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