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Pumpkins

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Botanical name: Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata, C. argyrosperma

Plant type: Vegetable

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Sun exposure: Full Sun

Soil type: Any

Whether you use them for carving or cooking, pumpkins do not disappoint.

Note that pumpkins do require a lot of food and a long growing season (generally from 75 to 100 frost-free days) so you need to plant them by late May in northern locations to early July in extremely southern states.

Do not plant this tender vegetable until all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warmed as the seedlings will be injured or rot. (See the Almanac.com/Gardening page for frost dates.)

That said, pumpkins are easy to maintain if you have the space.

Planting

  • Pumpkins do best when the seeds are directly planted in the ground. However, if your growing season is very short, seed indoors in peat pots about 2 to 4 weeks before last spring frost. Be sure to harden off before transplanting.
  • The soil must be thoroughly warmed. Minimum soil temperature for germination is 70ºF. Optimum soil temperature is 95ºF. Pumpkins are very sensitive to the cold.
  • Pick a site with full sun (to light shade).
  • Pumpkins are big greedy feeders. They prefer very rich soil that is well-drained and not too soggy. Mix lots of compost and aged mature into the planting site before you sow seeds or tranplant.
  • Select a site with lots of space for the sprawling vines. Vine varieties need 50 to 100 square feet per hill.
  • However, if your garden space is limited, no worries! Plant pumpkins at the edge of the garden and direct vine growth across the lawn or sidewalk. The vines will only be bothersome for a few weeks. You can also grow pumpkins in big 5 to 10 gallon buckets! Or, try miniature varieties.
  • You plant seeds in rows or "pumpkin hills" which are the size of small pitcher mounds. With hills, the soil will warm more quickly and the seeds will germinate faster. This also helps with drainage and pest control.
  • Prepare the hills in advance with an abundance of old manure dug deep into the ground (12 to 15 inches).  If you don't have manure, loosen the soil and mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost
  • Plant the seeds 1 inch deep into the hills (4 to 5 seeds per hill). Space hills 4 to 8 feet apart. 
  • When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin to 2 to 3 plants per hill by snipping off unwanted plants without disturbing the roots of the remaining ones. 
  • In rows, sow seeds 6 to 12 inches apart in rows 6 to 10 feet apart. Snip off plants to thin to one plant every 18 to 36 inches.

Care

  • Use row covers to protect plants early in the season and to prevent insect problems. However, remember to remove covers before flowering to allow pollination by insects!
  • Pumpkins are very thirsty plants and need lots of water. Water one inch per week. Water deeply, especially during fruit set.
  • When watering: Try to keep foliage and fruit dry unless it’s a sunny day. Dampness will make rot more likely.
  • Add mulch around your pumpkins to keep in moisture, suppress weeks, and discourage pests.
  • Pumpkins need lots of nutrients. A regular treatment of manure or compost mixed with water will sustain good growth.
  • Fertilize on a regular basis. Use a high nitrogen formula in early plant growth. Fertilize when plants are about one foot tall, just before vines begin to run. Switch over to a fertilizer high in phosphorous just before the blooming period.
  • Remember that pumpkins are tender from planting to harvest. Control weeds with mulch. Do not overcultivate, or their very shallow roots may be damaged.
  • Most small vine varieties can be trained up a trellis.
  • Larger varieties can be trained upward on a trellis, too—though it is an engineering challenge to support the fruit—usually with netting or old stockings.
  • Pinch off the fuzzy ends of each vine after a few pumpkins have formed. This will stop vine growth so that the plant's energies are focused on the fruit.
  • If your first flowers aren't forming fruits, that's normal. Both male and female blossoms need to open. Be patient.
  • Bees are essential for pollination, so be mindful when using insecticides to kill pests. If you must use, apply only in late afternoon or early evening when blossoms are closed for the day.
  • Pumpkin vines, though obstinate, are very delicate. Take care not to damage vines, which reduces the quality of fruit.
  • Pruning the vines may help with space as well as allow the plant's energy to be concentrated on the remaining vines and fruit.
  • Gardeners who are looking for a "prize for size" pumpkin might select the two or three prime candidates and remove all other fruit and vines.
  • As the fruit develops, they should be turned (with great care not to hurt the vine or stem) to encourage an even shape.
  • Slip a thin board or a piece of plastic mesh under the pumpkins.

Pests

  • Squash bugs and cucumber beetles are common. Contract your local County Extension for controls.
  • Aphids
  • Powdery Mildew
  • Anthracnose
  • Poor light, too much fertilizer, poor weather at bloom time, and reduced pollinating insect activity can reduce fruit set.
  • Cucumber beetles and squash bugs can invest pumpkins, especially later in the summer.

Harvest/Storage

  • Your best bet is to harvest pumpkins when they are mature. They will keep best this way. Do not pick pumpkins off the vine because they have reached your desired size. If you want small pumpkins, buy a small variety.
  • A pumpkin is ripening when its skin turns a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties).
  • When you thumb the pumpkin, the rind will feel hard and it will sound hollow. Press your nail into the pumpkin's skin; if it resists puncture, it is ripe.
  • 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 or cellar—anywhere around 55ºF.
  • If you get a lot of vines and flowers but no pumpkins, you need more bees in your garden to pollinate the flowers. Grow some colorful flowers next to your pumpkin patch this year and you may get more bees and butterflies!

Recommended Varieties

  • ‘Jack Be Little’ miniature pumpkin variety, perfect for a holiday table. Vine variety. Days to maturity 90 to 100 days.
  • ‘Autumn Gold’ great for carving, decorating. All-America Selection winner. Vine variety. Excellent for Jack-o-Lanterns. Days to maturity are generally 100 to 120 days.
  • ‘Sugar Treat’ semi-bush hybrid. Ideal for cooking and baking. Days to maturity are generally 100 to 120 days.
  • ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ jumbo variety can grow to 200 pounds. Great for those who want to grow a giant pumpkin. Vine will spread to 25 feet, so space is a must. Days to maturity are 130 to 160 days so plant early! Thin to the best one or two plants. Feed heavily but keep cultivation shallow. Remove first 2 or 3 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. Take care that the vine doesn't root down near the joints to avoid breakage.

     

Recipes

Cooking Notes

Wit & Wisdom

  • Cucubits, such as pumpkins, are subject to an ongoing myth—that planting different family members or varieties will result in strange fruit. Actually, it is the seeds resulting from cross-pollination that are corrupted, so this is a factor only if you are planning to save seeds for next year's planting.
  • Did you know? A slice of pumpkin pie before bedtime may help you to sleep.
  • Learn about the history of carving pumpkins.
     

Comments

tammi

By Anonymous

a pumkin rotted in my flower bed , it ia a small bed about 2 or 3 feet wide , it is now a patch with many male flowers and about two or three female flowers . i water it , i see two little pumkins forming , will this patch survive in this bed , and can i transplant it somewhere else for next season . Of course after the season is over ? thankyou

tammi

By Almanac Staff

Enjoy your little pumpkin patch this season and hopefully harvest a couple of nice pumpkins. Save some of the seeds for next year if you like. In late fall compost the old pumpkin vines. Next spring plant pumpkin seeds in a new sunny location. Pumpkins need rich soil so add compost and aged manure to the new soil.

Only 1 Pumkin Plant Survived

By Anonymous

I planted 3 pumkin plants in July, about 50 days ago, and Only 1 survived. There are 4 vines that are around 8 ft long. There are yellow flowers (blooms) all over, but there aren't any pumkins. When do pumkins start to appear and do I need more than 1 plant for them produce fruit?

You need to fertilize the female

By Anonymous

To prevent self fertilization, the pumpkin has a "Male" phase followed by a "Female" phase. If you only have one plant you won't get any pumpkins as you won't fertilize the female. I had this problem so went with an ear bud to an allotment nearby and got some pollen from somebody else's male plant to fertilize my female flowers. I now have two excellent large pumpkins growing.

Only 1 Pumpkin Plant survived

By Almanac Staff

You will get pumpkins on your one plant. The first flowers that appear are male flowers. It takes some time for the female flowers to open. The female flowers have a little bump under the base of the flower. This will grow into a pumpkin if the flower is pollinated.

pumpkin plant

By Anonymous

My fiance hit my pumpkin plant with a weedeater, looks like it cut the main stem or vine of the plant. Is there no hope for it? What can I do?

If a vine broke, sometimes it

By Almanac Staff

If a vine broke, sometimes it will heal itself. But if it's a major break, harvest the mature fruit and cure for a week outside; then, store them in a moderately warm, dry place until Halloween.

dying plants

By Anonymous

I was told fish emulsion was a good fertilizer for my pumpkins. However, I think I may have used more than I should have and all the leaves are beginning to die. Is there anyway to save the plants?

Dying plants

By Almanac Staff

Keep watering your pumpkin plants and stop fertilizing for a couple of weeks. Pumpkins need lots of water when they first start fruiting. Also check for bugs, blight and mildew which could cause the wilting leaves.

pumpkins

By Anonymous

how do you keep mildew from growing one its started?

Pumpkin in the Avocado Planter

By Anonymous

I recently transplanted my avocado trees to a larger planter. (There are three, grown from seeds, with intertwined roots so I kept them together.) Apparently a pumpkin seed from last fall's Halloween pumpkin that I left to rot found its way into the avocado planter and is happily growing. (1) Do I need to worry about the roots of the pumpkin damaging/choking the roots of the avocado trees? (2) Will the pumpkin vines try to climb the avocado plants? I was hoping it would just flip over the side of the planter and move to the ground/soil below and spread from there. (3) It's only a few weeks old. Can I dig it out of the avocado planter and put it into a planter of its own? Any help/suggestions would be appreciated.

Because pumpkins are heavy

By Almanac Staff

Because pumpkins are heavy feeders and require lots of space, it’s probably not a good idea to have it in the same container as the three avocado trees. We’d suggest either pinching off the pumpkin plant at its base, or carefully transplanting it. The avocado trees have shallow, rather delicate, root systems, so try not to disturb their roots if you decide to transplant the pumpkin. If the pumpkin was one of the smaller types, it might grow fine in a large container, with support. Some of the larger varieties would not do as well in containers.

Thanks for the information.

By Anonymous

That's good to know. Thank you so much. I've been growing the avocados for a couple of years now and would hate to jeapordize them . I think tomorrow I will dig up the pumpkin and try and transplant it. If it makes it, great! If not, oh well, I tried. Thanks again.

Garden Box Pumpkins

By Anonymous

Some of the stems are breaking cause they are vining down to the ground. Should they be cut and if so, where should we cut them(right at the break?)

Yes, you can cut or pinch off

By Almanac Staff

Yes, you can cut or pinch off a few of the vines without harming the plant. Wait until some fruits form and then pinch off the ends of the vines.

Will the grass choke out my pumpkins

By Anonymous

Will the grass choke out my pumpkins if so how do I prevent this I

It's best to create a

By Almanac Staff

It's best to create a grass-free plot for pumpkins. Grass competes with pumpkins. Mulch the plot to prevent grass growth, but keep mulch away from root area. Once the grass grows in, it's very difficult to pull because pumpkins do not like the soil near them to be disturbed and it is easy to break vines.

Keeping pumpkins nice till fall

By Anonymous

After I have harvested my pumpkins I give them a water and splash of bleach bath. Do not get top of pumpkin/ stem wet. I use a rag and wipe them down,then dry. This makes your pumpkins clean and polished. Mine last through the winter into spring here in central valley, CA. Then I create a pumpkin graveyard where I watch them break down, collect seeds, or bury pumpkin and watch it grow again! It's a beautiful cycle to watch. When the graveyard produces orange pumpkins by July it just gets me excited to plant more for October deadline. Oh, and the park walkers on my block love to watch them transform and grow!

pumpkin flowering

By Anonymous

I had planted the seeds this June and now the plant has vines which is climbing on a stick I put in the ground. I see lots of yellow flowers which have bloomed. Am i close to getting a pumkin soon :) the vine is about 6 ft long now. and still continues to grow and climb up. Flowers open and close. I have put the garden dust to stop pests. Also watering the pumpkins generously. It rained a lot here yesterday as well in Long Island , NY

Any help is appreciated

Thanks
Deno

If the plants are getting

By Almanac Staff

If the plants are getting pollinated (by bees), you'll get fruit! A couple of tips: 1. At this stage, take care not to overfertilize; too much nitrogen can cause a plant to flower but not fruit. 2. If you use any insecticides, only apply in late afternoon or early evening when the blossoms have closed for the day or the bees won't be able to visit and pollinate.

pollination

By Anonymous

first time pumpkin grower, thank goodness I did not grow too many other plants. The Pumpkins are taking over in a good way. The Bee count seems to be low in central CA. so I'm worried about pollination. Thanks for advice. p.s. what about self pollination with a Q-tip or something like that.

If you're worried about bee

By Almanac Staff

If you're worried about bee activity (or lack of), you can hand pollinate. Tansfer the pollen from the male to the female flowers by using a small artists paint brush when the flowers are open in the morning. Be sure that you do not use any pesticides which kill the pollinators (bees).

Growing pumpkins in buckets

By Anonymous

What sort of special considerations would you need to make when growing pumpkin vines in buckets instead of the ground?

You may wish to consider a

By Almanac Staff

You may wish to consider a pumpkin variety that's more compact. Suggestions are: Autumn Gold Hybrid, Bushkin, Jack Be Little, Small Sugar, and Baby Boo. Use a 5-gallon container with drainage holes. We're not sure where you live, but here's a good link with basic container guidelines: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1645.html

Harvesting

By Anonymous

In our first attempt at planting pumpkins, we may have started too early. We already have orange, large pumpkins. Approximately how long with they last after harvesting, if we store them in a cool garage? We grew these to donate to our school for the Fall decoration scene, but Fall seems so far away. I want them to last. Any suggestions?

Store pumpkins in a cool,

By Almanac Staff

Store pumpkins in a cool, dry, dark place (not inside). If you store in a dry place between 50 and 55 degrees, the pumpkins should last about 6 months. When storing, do not stack them or let them touch each other. They are best stored sitting on a board or cardboard or straw about 2 inches apart. Not a cement floor. One of our readers shared a tip: Wash the pumpkins in a very mild chlorine solution (one cup of chlorine to one gallon of water. This gets rid of bacteria which causes rot. Then thoroughly dry.

Giant Pumpkin

By Anonymous

I am trying to grow a giant pumpkin in my backyard. Should I be burying the vines to encourage a stronger stem and multiple root systems?

You'll want to leave the

By Almanac Staff

You'll want to leave the vines undisturbed. They are essential to the growth of the pumpkin. However, make sure the vines are growing in a direction where they will not be susceptible to breaks.

Hope this helps!

Will they still grow?

By Anonymous

Last night deer ate most of my plants down to the stem. They were only leaves, no vines or flowers yet, maybe 6-8 inches high. A few still have some leaves or munched on leaves. Will any of them be able to grow now?

The plants that still have

By Almanac Staff

The plants that still have some leaves will keep growing with some luck. The once with just the stems don’t have much chance to survive. Plant some more pumpkin seeds and try to keep the munching deer out of your pumpkin patch if you can. Thanks, The Old Farmer's Almanac editors

pumkin surprise

By Anonymous

My children took seeds from 4 pumkins and planted them in the backyard two years ago. Since then we have put up a dog pin that houses a great dane. while moving the dog pin we found several pumkin vines growing in a 3'3 area. We live in tennessee and just need to find information on how to take care of the pumkin plants that we found.The kids like the idea of growing their own pumkins for halloween. So we want to take care of the plants the best we can.

Since they have vines, leave

By Almanac Staff

Since they have vines, leave the pumpkins where they are. Pumpkins do not like being moved about; be gentle with them. They'll grow if they have plenty of sunlight--and you water and feed them as described in the "care" section above.

does pumpkins cure any desease

By Anonymous

have just started pumpkins farming this year so i wanted to in one plant of pumpkins how many it produce?

growing pumpkins

By Almanac Staff

It depends on the variety and if you are growing them for size or for eating. The small-to-medium varieties may produce 4 or 5 pumpkins per plant. If you want bigger ones, you can pinch off some and stick to 2 or 3. The most common pumpkin problems/disease are probably powdery mildew and squash bugs/cucumber beetles. See pest section above. Good luck!

growing pumpkin in small space

By Anonymous

i live in an apartment in tennessee and last fall i carved two pumkins of medium size and left a few seeds in them both i left them to rott in the dirt and mulch all season through the winter and now it is spring and i have a lovely pumpkin patch with bright flowers and pumpkins are forming already...it didnt take any work at all.i do water them everyday though

deer

By Anonymous

Does deer bother pumkin vines? Thanks

deer and pumpkins

By Catherine Boeckmann

Pumpkins may be more deer-resistant but nothing is truly off limits for deer except tall and wide fences. While they won't like the vine, deer love pumpkins.

pruning

By Anonymous

I wish you would talk a little bit more on how to prun the vines, how to prun the pumpkin plant?

vines

By Almanac Staff

To avoid having vine growth, pinch off the fuzzy ends of each vine after a few pumpkins have formed. This will stop vine growth so that the plant's energies are focused on the fruit.

hi what do you mean when you

By joanna d

hi
what do you mean when you say pinch off fuzzy end?
Also I "accidentally" started a pumpkin patch with an "old" jackolantern and found out that pumpkins are self seeders if that is the right lingo? well now I am really into the patch and it is growing really well lots of vines leaves and flowers, but the flowers are now just falling off... are they all male? I see a lot of bees in the patch which i know leads to fruit... help

pumpkin type

By Anonymous

im considering growing some pumpkins but im not sure what variety would be best for me. I live in the lower mainland of bc canada. I'm wanting a large variety of pumpkin that would be good for carving and cooking. I would like to try making pumpkin pie among other recipes so it needs to be sweet.

Easy way to grow a pumpkin

By wellheck

I had cut a whole pumpkin in half after Halloween and put the halves in the yard for the birds. Over the winter, one half ended up in an area I had not raked before the snow hit. It was a small area, perhaps 2' by 3', with some leaves over concrete. Come spring, the half had sprouted a new vine, and we had a homegrown pumpkin for Halloween!

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