Are you looking for how to grow pumpkins at home? Then you’ve come to the right place. One of the most recognizable members of the squash family, pumpkins are a hallmark of many gardens. Pumpkins are a versatile kitchen staple to make savory and sweet dishes and as an icon of fall, people like to carve designs into pumpkins or even paint them to celebrate the season. Let’s take a deeper look into growing pumpkins and how you can have these gorgeous vegetables in your garden as well.
More on Pumpkins
Pumpkins are a winter squash and grown all over the world. They’re called winter squash because they’re harvested in late fall and store well through the winter.
Almost the entire pumpkin is edible, including the leaves and flowers as well as the seeds and often the skin.
Pumpkins have a long growing period, typically between 90 to 120 days (or even longer, depending on the variety) and do not tolerate frost. So gardeners should plan for their pumpkins to be harvested before the first frost date.
Pumpkins grow in many varieties that go way beyond the typical round orange pumpkin we know and love. Depending on your goals and available space, there’s a pumpkin to suit everyone.
Some notable varieties of pumpkin include:
The Hijinks variety of pumpkin is the perfect all-around choice for both aesthetic and culinary purposes. This pumpkin is an All-America Selection winner, and for good reason.
These vines produce 6-7 inch orange pumpkins that are great for carving or cooking. Thanksgiving pies will be a smash hit with the sweet flesh of the Hijinks pumpkin.
Pumpkins don’t just have to come in orange; the Pepitas pumpkin is a beautiful example of this.
The skin of the Pepitas pumpkin is a vibrant explosion of yellow and green, which looks fantastic as a table centerpiece. And this pumpkin is not just good-looking. The Pepitas variety gets its name from its seeds; these seeds do not have a tough outer hull like most pumpkins do.
This is perfect for gardeners who enjoy snacking on roasted pumpkin seeds!
Dill’s Atlantic Giant
For the gardeners who want to go big or go home. These 25 foot (7.6 meter) vines produce pumpkins that can reach up to a whopping 300 pounds (136kg).
Due to their massive size, they have a long growing period of 130 to 160 days. So, if you’re down for the challenge, be ready to prepare early for these giants.
Jack Be Little
Perfect for holiday decor, these little pumpkins only grow to about 3 inches (7.5cm) in diameter and 2 inches (5cm) in height.
Miniature pumpkins such as this are very productive, producing about 12 fruits per vine. Despite their small size, these pumpkins still have a long growing time, averaging between 90 to 100 days.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Pumpkins
Climate for Growing Pumpkins
Pumpkins enjoy a warm climate for growing with ample sunlight to support their health. Ideally, the best nighttime air temperature for pumpkins should be no less than around 55°F (13°C). For those living in colder climates, try to aim for sowing seeds before the end of May. For those that live in a hotter climate, early July is a good deadline for sowing pumpkin seeds.
If you live in an area that is particularly cold with a very short growing season, you can start the pumpkin plants indoors approximately 2 to 4 weeks prior to the last frost date.
Before transplanting the indoor-grown seedling, I would suggest slowly introducing the seedling to the outdoors gradually for a couple of hours every day until it is tolerant of the outdoors. (You can read more about ‘hardening-off’ seedlings here).
Soil for Growing Pumpkins
Pumpkins, being the heavy feeders that they are, will need a soil that is jam packed with fertilizer and nutrients. The soil should also be well-draining and not waterlogged or soggy.
Soil that has been enriched with compost and aged manure is perfect for transplanted pumpkins or seeds, as the nitrogen encourages healthy growth.
A warm soil temperature is also crucial for pumpkin growth. A temperature of at least 70°F (21°C) is acceptable for starting seeds, but up to 86° F (30°C) is even better. Seeds will germinate best with warmer soil, so if needed, start seeds with a heat mat to increase successful germination.
The ideal pH level for soil should be between 6.5 and 7.0, though they are tolerable of pH levels as low as 6.0 and as high as 7.8.
Sun Requirements for Growing Pumpkins
Pumpkin plants are very sensitive to the cold. These plants require a location that can provide full sun (though they can also tolerate some light shade). When planting pumpkins, select a location that will receive somewhere around 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day or more.
Water Requirements for Pumpkins
Growing pumpkins will require a lot of watering. In very warm climates, watering may be required every day or two on hot days, and in particularly wet climates, pumpkins can be watered less. Soil should be moist around 1 inch below the surface. When the soil starts to dry out, it’s time to give the pumpkin vine another drink.
It’s important to water the plants at the base of the vine, avoiding overhead watering. This is because watering the pumpkin vine foliage or fruits can lead to dampness, which heightens the chance of rot and other diseases. So drip irrigation is perfect for watering pumpkins.
Spreading a layer of mulch around the plant can also aid in retaining moisture, as well as reducing the appearance of weeds and deterring pests.
Fertilizer for Pumpkins
Pumpkins are famously heavy feeders and will require fertilizing throughout the growing season. Prior to planting pumpkins, working in aged manure and compost feeds the soil and gives the seeds a great boost of fertilizer while they germinate.
While the vines are in their early stages of growth, an application of fertilizer will encourage stronger foliage growth. Just before the blooming period begins, another feed of an organic all-purpose fertilizer will help ignite flower production in the pumpkin plants.
How Much Space do Pumpkins Need to Grow?
Pumpkins grow on a massive vine, reaching anywhere from 10 to 20 feet (3-6 meters) long. It’s important that gardeners are prepared to accommodate these long vines.
Allow around 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) of growing space between pumpkin vine with enough room for them to stretch out and grow.
Smaller varieties of pumpkin are capable of being trained on a trellis for vertical gardening. However, larger varieties will have a hard time being supported by the trellis, especially when the large fruit begins forming.
If you find yourself short on garden space, you can always plant your seeds at the edge of the garden and train the vine to wrap around the yard. Not only does this save space, but your pumpkins can still happily grow and stretch all they want without being stifled. It also makes for a very pretty edging – especially when the pumpkins start to develop!
How to Grow Pumpkins
Before sowing pumpkin seeds, build a mound of soil (also known as a pumpkin hill). This soil mound allows for the soil to warm up faster, making the conditions perfect for germinating pumpkin seeds quickly. The mounds should be around 6-12 inches (15-30cm) high and wide or more if space permits. In this case, the bigger the better.
Pumpkin hills should be spaced out at least 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) apart from one another, and 3-4 pumpkin seeds should be sown 1 inch deep in the mound. Later thin the seedlings to the strongest two. With a warm soil temperature above 70°F (21°C), you can expect these seeds to germinate in 5-10 days’ time.
When your pumpkin sprouts reach 2 to 3 inches long, you can begin thinning out the weaker sprouts by cutting them off with a pair of garden shears and leaving the strongest 2 seedlings per pumpkin hill. It’s best not to pluck the sprouts out of the ground, as doing so can disrupt the other developing root system underneath the soil.
Spreading out a layer of mulch around your pumpkins also aids in the prevention of weeds. Pumpkins grow shallow root systems, so over-plucking weeds can cause damage to the roots. By inhibiting weed growth with mulch, there will be less weeds to be plucked, therefore less damage to the roots.
Gently place a layer of cardboard under the developing pumpkin fruit to protect it from premature rotting and insects.
In cooler climates, where the growing season is shorter, you can keep the pumpkin vine trimmed to stop new growth once pumpkins have developed. This will help the vine to concentrate all its energy on allowing the pumpkin to mature before it gets too cold.
Pumpkin vines produce both male and female flowers. If you look carefully, you will see flowers that grow with a tiny pumpkin fruit at the base are female flowers. The male flowers grow from a thin stem and do not grow fruit.
As your pumpkin vine grows, male flowers will appear first. Followed later by female flowers. Both flowers need to be in bloom for pollination to occur. Beneficial insects and bees will pollinate pumpkin flowers by transferring pollen between flowers.
Pumpkins that are not pollinated successfully will shrivel and die off. If this happens you will see them failing to grow and starting to rot. This is a result of failed pumpkin flower pollination.
How to Polliniate Pumpkins
You can pollinate pumpkin flowers and increase the rate of successful pollination and therefore your pumpkin harvest. This very simple process is called hand pollination and here’s how.
- Method 1: Using a small paintbrush, brush gently inside the male flower then the female flower. This effectively transfers the pollen from one flower to the other.
- Method 2: Pick a male flower from the pumpkin vine and peel off the petals to reveal the inside stamen (the long piece inside the flower, which is covered in pollen). Use the male flower to gently rub inside the female flower to transfer the pollen.
Both methods work well but I prefer method 2 because it’s really easy, no tools required. And I can do this as I’m out and about inspecting the garden.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Pumpkins
It takes 90-160 days to grow a pumpkin. The growing time does depend on the variety of the pumpkin. So gardeners in cooler climates should opt for pumpkin varieties with shorter growing times.
When are Pumpkins Ready for Harvest & How to Harvest Them
Pumpkins typically use their color, texture, and surrounding foliage to signal when they’re ready to be harvested. For most pumpkins, their color will turn into a deep, solid color when they reach maturity. Similar to melons, pumpkins also make a hollow thumping sound when you knock on it.
You can inspect the pumpkin vine as well for signs that it is ready to be harvested. Oftentimes, the vines will begin to wither and die back when the pumpkin reaches maturity. The stem dries out and hardens, signaling that it is time to remove the pumpkin from its vine.
Another method of determining the maturity of a pumpkin is by examining the texture of its outer skin. The rind of the pumpkin should be hard to the touch. To test its toughness, gardeners can take their fingernail and press it into the skin of the pumpkin. A ripe pumpkin will resist being punctured by the fingernail.
After successfully determining a pumpkin is suitable to be harvested, it’s time to remove the pumpkin from its vine. It is important to use a sharp knife or garden clippers to sever the stem of the pumpkin. One of the keys to keeping a harvested pumpkin fresh is to make sure to leave the stem on the fruit. Leaving about 2-3 inches (5-7.5cm) of the stem will slow down its decaying process, giving you a longer-lasting pumpkin.
Immature pumpkins that are still green are still edible, they can be cooked and prepared as you would a zucchini. And remember, the flowers and leaves are also edible.
Storing Pumpkins After Harvest
There’s no denying pumpkins are delicious, so of course, gardeners will want to make the most of their bountiful harvest.
Pumpkins can be eaten once they’re harvested but if you would like to store them for a longer time, pumpkins should be cured first. To cure a newly harvested pumpkin, simply allow it to sit in a dry, sunny location for 10 days. Curing allows the pumpkin’s skin to toughen and improves its flavor.
When curing is complete you’ll want to store the pumpkin in a place that is cool and dry, whether it be a cellar, bedroom, or garage. Storing pumpkins in a humid location will cause premature rotting. Following these steps, pumpkins will store well for about three to four months.
After slicing into a pumpkin, you can store fresh cut pumpkin in the refrigerator for about 2 to 3 days, or in the freezer for 6 to 8 months.
Pests and Diseases
There are a few pests and diseases to look out for when growing pumpkins. You can help minimize these by checking your pumpkin plants every few days and then taking action should you notice a change in appearance.
Some examples of pests include:
Aphids are tiny little insects that feed off of plants’ nutrients by sucking the liquid right out of them. Despite their small size, they can quickly take over a pumpkin vine and cause the plant to suffer.
Thankfully, aphids are treatable with simple solutions. If you suspect your pumpkin vines are under attack, dousing them with a stream of cold water is often enough to loosen the aphids off your plants.
Aphids can also be treatable with diatomaceous earth, which is a natural and organic powder made of the fossilized skeletons of aquatic organisms.
And you can solve aphids by spraying them with a mix of mild washing-up liquid and water.
Squash Vine Borer
The squash vine borer is a moth larva that attacks plants by burrowing themselves into the lower stems of the plant. This causes sudden weakening of the pumpkin plant and oftentimes, results in death.
Once infested, removing these bugs is very difficult, especially if the eggs have already hatched. Therefore, prevention is key to deter the squash vine borer from causing serious harm to your garden.
One simple solution is to start growing your pumpkin as early as you can; squash vine borers become active in the mid-summer, so having a strong, mature plant can deter pests from leaving any serious damage. However, if your vines are still growing during peak squash vine borer season, a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth around the stalks is an organic method of pest prevention.
Despite their name, cucumber beetles threaten all members of the cucurbit family, including pumpkins. Gardeners can identify striped cucumber beetles by the yellow and black striped abdomen, and spotted cucumber beetles by the twelve black spots on their yellow abdomen.
If you happen to find any cucumber beetles on your plants, remove them promptly. They might be difficult to hand-remove, some gardeners opt to suck them up with a handheld vacuum.
Cucumber beetles can be deterred with a simple row cover. Row covers are affordable, easy to make, and require no harmful chemicals. If you do choose a row cover, make sure to uncover them and allow several hours of sunlight when your vine begins blossoming for pollination.
Some examples of diseases include:
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that reduces the quality and productivity of your plants. This disease can spread simply by drifting off other plants from the wind. Powdery mildew is also unique in that it thrives in warmer, drier climates. Powdery mildew is identifiable by its circular white spots that look like the leaves are dusted with powder.
This fungal disease can be curbed by spraying a fungicide on your plants to kill the fungus. Consider going with a natural approach when removing powdery mildew by spraying it with a homemade milk spray.
Another fungal disease, anthracnose leaves dark spots on all parts of the plant; leaves, stems, flowers, and pumpkin fruits can be affected by anthracnose. Wet, warm conditions allow for this fungus to thrive and spread around plants.
Unfortunately, when anthracnose affects plants, the best practice is to completely remove and destroy the affected plant. In the future, anthracnose can be prevented by selecting a well-draining soil enriched with compost to deter soggy soil. In addition, try to cut back on overhead watering, which heightens the chance of excess water sitting on susceptible plants. Instead, try to water as close to the base of the pumpkin vine as possible.
Pumpkins are an exciting and easy crop to grow. And what better feeling is there than having bragging rights that your pumpkin pie was made from freshly grown pumpkins right out of your garden? With proper care, and the right conditions, anyone can enjoy having these beauties in their garden.