How to Grow the Best Pumpkins

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Pumpkins can be one of the easiest vegetables to grow in a garden. Just be sure to give them plenty of room to grow.

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This post is all about tips on how to grow pumpkins.

One summer, we planted pumpkin seeds in the garden as an afterthought, just to see what would happen. After a week or so, the seeds germinated into healthy little plants that quickly grew to take over the yard.

The plants grew big and beautifully, with large mottled leaves that added an exotic look to the yard. Mowing became a challenge as the vines began to creep out of their allotted garden space and made their way across the lawn.

Neighbors wanted to know what we were growing. “Pumpkins,” we answered, even though the first fruit stayed green for months and looked like watermelons.

As summer came to an end, the days grew shorter and cooler and the pumpkins finally started to change color. We picked the buff orange fruit just as the first serious fall frost threatened to put an end to the summer vegetable garden for good.

We have been growing pumpkins ever since, finding them to be a plant that is happy to grow in almost any circumstance–so long as there is just enough sunlight, warmth, and water. Curcubita moschata pumpkin varieties seem to be particularly resilient in our garden.

Here are some tips that we have learned over time, that may help you to grow pumpkins in your own home vegetable garden.

Growing Pumpkins: What to Know

Here are a few things to know about growing pumpkins.

1–Pumpkins like four things: rich soil, sunlight, water, and space.

Getting a pumpkin plant to grow can be as simple as planting a seed in the ground and providing it with water. As long as they are not faced with insects or disease, pumpkin vines may grow eagerly throughout a garden.

Start with fresh pumpkin seeds from a reputable seed company or source. Plant the pumpkin seed in the ground, about 1/2-inch deep. Cover the seed, water it in, and wait. Often, growers will plant pumpkin seeds in hills, placing about 3 to 5 seeds in each hill, and thinning the seeds out to grow the strongest seedlings once the plants emerge.

Pumpkins are generally not cold tolerant plants, and they often grow best at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil should be rich in organic matter, with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. Pumpkin plants grow best in full sun. Provide the plants with plenty of room to grow and sprawl.

If you have a long growing season, then pumpkins can be directly seeded as soon as the ground warms up. Otherwise, start seeds indoors or buy pumpkin plant seedlings, and set the transplants outdoors after the last frost date in your gardening zone. Try not to disturb the plant roots while planting the seedlings in a new pot or garden.

Add aged compost or organic matter to the soil to help provide nutrients for the plants. Most pumpkin and winter squash varieties need between 90 and 120 days to become mature. Harvest pumpkins and winter squash when the rinds become hard.

Pumpkin plant vines can stretch up to 10 to 12-feet or more in each direction. Make sure your pumpkin plants have enough space to grow without crowded out other plants in the garden.

For a space-saving option, grow smaller varieties of pumpkins up a sturdy trellis. Jack Be Little pumpkin is a mini pumpkin that may be grown up a trellis. These small pumpkins are great to use for fall decorating at the end of the growing season.

2–Pumpkins can be easy to grow—with some exceptions.

Pumpkins are often one of the easiest vegetables to grow in a garden, especially if you choose to grow a hardy, Curcubita moschata pumpkin variety.

Curcubita moschata (C. moschata) pumpkins and winter squash may be more resistant to squash vine borers than other squash plants. They may also show more resistance to hot, humid conditions and some diseases. Varieties of C. moschata squash include Dickinson pumpkin, Long Island cheese pumpkin, Musquee de Provence (Fairytale) pumpkin, Seminole pumpkin, and Waltham butternut squash.

If you have trouble with squash vine borers, or you garden in a place that is prone to having them, then you might consider growing Curcubita moschata pumpkins to test their resistance to challenges in your gardening area.

Curcubita pepo pumpkin varieties may be more susceptible to pests, but many favorite pumpkins are found in this category. This include popular types of pumpkins used to make Jack ‘o Lanterns and pumpkin pie, many types of summer squash, and winter squash varieties like acorn squash.

Connecticut Field pumpkin, New England Sugar Pie pumpkin, and the Winter Luxury Pie pumpkin are all types of C. pepo pumpkins.

Curcubita maxima pumpkins include varieties like Big Max pumpkin, the grayish blue Jarrahdale pumpkin, and the beautiful, warty Marina di Chioggia pumpkin.

Keep an eye out for pumpkin pests and diseases. Know how to recognize them and have a plan for managing them. Common pumpkin pests include aphids. squash bugs, squash vine borers, and snails and slugs.

Check plants, especially underneath leaves, for signs of pests or eggs. Organic sprays and dust, and homemade sprays, may help to keep pests and diseases in check.

Powdery mildew can become a problem during mid- to late summer in some places. Downy mildew is another common disease in pumpkins. Cooler temperatures and moist conditions may bring on some diseases.

3–Curcubita moschata pumpkins may be the easiest type of pumpkin to grow in some places.

In a garden that deals with everything from the occasional squash vine borer to a family of hungry bunnies, we have found that Curcubita moschata pumpkins tend to do best.

Curcubita moschata pumpkin varieties include Dickinson pumpkin and different types of cheese pumpkins, like Long Island cheese pumpkin or tan cheese pumpkin.

Curcubita pepo pumpkin varieties, like acorn squash, summer squash, and zucchini, also grow well, but these need more time and attention in our garden, given certain pest and environmental pressures. Covering plants with insect cloth and checking plant stems and under plant leaves at least once per day helps to identify and manage pest problems when they occur.

Even with the extra work that is required, it can be worth it to grow beautiful orange and white pumpkins that are perfect to use for making pumpkin pies and creating unique fall decorations.

C. pepo pumpkin varieties and C. maxima include many types of pie pumpkins, field pumpkins, Red Kuri and Potimarron squash, patty pan squash, summer squash, and zucchini. They also include the field pumpkins and uniquely shaped or colorful pumpkins that make great fall decorations for the front porch.

Many pumpkin varieties need about 100 to 120 days to grow to maturity. Check that the pumpkin rind has become very hard before harvesting the pumpkin.

Use a pair of garden clippers or a garden knife to carefully separate the pumpkin from the vine, leaving about 2 to 3 inches of stem attached to the pumpkin.

Rinse the harvested pumpkin of with water to remove dirt and debris. Use a 10% bleach solution to wash the outside of the pumpkin, then dry it, and place the pumpkin in a warm, dry place to cure.

4–Pumpkins should be cured for longer storage.

Curing pumpkins and winter squash are harvest may help them to last longer. The curing process helps to harden the skin, which helps to protect the flesh inside the pumpkin.

To cure pumpkin, start with a pumpkin whose skin and stem are intact. Split stems, bruises, and other damage to the pumpkin may shorten the shelf life of the pumpkin, as mold can enter and ruin the pumpkin. Curing may help the pumpkin to heal small cuts and scratches that could shorten the storage life of the pumpkin.

Some gardeners prefer to leave the pumpkins “as is” to cure after harvesting, leaving small amounts of dirt (dust off the pumpkin to remove large clumps of soil) or “bloom” on the pumpkin. Others prefer to wipe the skins down with a 10% bleach solution before curing the pumpkins to store in the house. This is a method that has worked well for us in the past.

Place the pumpkins in a dry place to cure, with an ambient room temperature of about 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Many types of pumpkins need about 10 days to cure. If setting the pumpkin on a shelf or table, rotate the pumpkin daily to help it cure evenly. In general, the larger the pumpkin, the longer that it takes to cure.

Ideally, pumpkins to be stored for winter should be stored in a dark place where temperatures range from 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity of about 50%. When possible, place the pumpkins in a single layer in a place with good air circulation. Check the pumpkins often for signs of spoilage.

Depending on different factors, like the variety and how well they cured, pumpkins may last from a few weeks to a few months in storage.

Different pumpkin and winter squash varieties will vary on how long they last in storage. Environmental factors, including temperature, humidity, and how successful a pumpkin or winter squash cured, may also impact how long and how well pumpkins and winter squash are able to be stored.

5–Growing the right pumpkin variety is important.

Some pumpkins have better flavor for baking and cooking purposes than others. Pie pumpkins tend to be best for making pies and baked goods.

Other sweet-flavored pumpkins and winter squash can be used for making pumpkin pies, muffins, breads, and other baked treats.

Savory pumpkins are great for making pumpkin curry and pumpkin soup. Jarrahdale pumpkin is a great variety for making pumpkin soup, pumpkin curry, and pumpkin lasagna. Red kuri squash and potimarron squash are also great to use for making pumpkin soup, roasted pumpkin and other great pumpkin dishes.

This post included tips on how to grow pumpkins and how to cure pumpkins for winter storage.

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Credits
  • Photo by Megan Lee / Unsplash
  • Photos are for illustrative purposes only.

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