If you’re anything like me, Fall comes around and you start searching how to grow your own pumpkins only to find out that by then its too late!
So read here to learn the right time of year to plant and exactly how to grow pumpkins successfully!
Starting Seeds Indoors and Direct Sowing Seeds
If you live in an area with a longer growing season it is best if you plant your pumpkins by seed directly into the soil. But if you live in an area with a shorter growing season you can start your pumpkins indoors and plant them as transplants.
The recommended first outdoor transplanting date is 2 weeks after your last frost. The starts grown from seed should be ready to transplant in about 3-4 weeks.
The recommended first outdoor direct seeding date is after all danger of frost has passed and when soil temperature has reached a minimum of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Although the ideal soil temperature for germination is about 86-95 degrees.
The last recommended planting date varies depending on pumpkin variety and climate.
How to Direct Sow Seeds
You can plant your pumpkin seeds on hills or in rows.
The benefits of planting on hills is that it allows the soil to warm faster for quicker germination, it provides better drainage, and helps pest control.
Benefits of planting in rows are that it is more efficient since you can plant more plants closer together. The plants also act more as a ground cover and will naturally choke out weeds.
If planting on hills plant seeds one inch deep with 4-5 seeds per hill and space hills 5-8 feet apart.
If planting in rows you should still plant seeds 1 inch deep but you can sow seeds 6-12 inches apart in rows 6-10 feet apart.
Thinning Pumpkin Seedlings
Seeds should germinate within 7 days and should be coming through the soil within 10 days.
If grown on hills, when plants are 2-3 inches tall, keep 2-3 plants per hill growing and snip off the extra with scissors.
If planted in rows, thin plants to having one plant every 18-36 inches, snipping off the extra with scissors.
Best Growing Conditions for Pumpkin Plants
Pumpkins require a long growing season of 75-100 days with no frost.
They are big feeders that like well drained sandy loam type soil. If your soil is more clay-like you can add amendments such as leaves and compost to provide better drainage.
Either way, before planting you should prepare your soil by mixing in aged manure or compost.
They should be planted in full sun to light shade.
Pumpkin Plant Care and Tips
Pumpkins require lots of water and should be watered deeply, receiving about 1 inch per week. They need to especially be watered deeply and consistently as they are first setting fruit.
While watering, try to keep pumpkins and foliage dry if possible. If you have an irrigation system set up that waters just at the base of each plant it’ll make that much easier.
Then you should add in mulch around each plant to help lock in the moisture.
Since pumpkins are heavy feeders you should fertilize on a regular basis. Early on in plant growth use a high nitrogen fertilizer and as plants begin to spread out before the blooming period use a fertilizer higher in phosphorus. Once plants begin to get pumpkins, use a potassium rich fertilizer.
After there are a few pumpkins growing from a vine you can choose to pinch the fuzzy ends off of the vine which will make the plant put its energy into the pumpkins versus continuing to grow the vine.
As the pumpkins get bigger you can place a small board or something similar underneath each pumpkin to help prevent them from rotting. You should also gently turn them every so often which will help give the pumpkins an even shape.
Common Pumpkin Plant Problems
A few common pests for pumpkins are:
- Squash bugs
- Cucumber beetles
The best method for controlling these bugs is to check your plants frequently and begin spraying as soon as you notice a problem. Usually if you catch the pests soon it is easy to get rid of them,
If you catch them after the plants are infested it’s really hard to get them under control.
A few common problems:
- Powdery mildew
- Downy mildew
Both mildews should be able to be treated with a fungicide such as Garden Safe Fungicide (amazon)
You may also notice that not all blossoms are turning into pumpkins. Don’t worry though because there are male and female flowers and the male flower is needed to pollinate the female flowers which will then be the ones that turn into pumpkins.
Harvesting the Pumpkins
When Is the Right Time to Harvest?
On average it takes 90-120 days to maturity from planting pumpkin seeds until harvest time. Which means if you are wanting pumpkins for a Halloween harvest you should have the seeds planted no later than the beginning of June.
It is best for you to harvest your pumpkins when they are mature because if you pick them too soon they will have a very short shelf life.
The easiest way to tell if they are ready is to press your nail into the skin and if no mark is left then it is ripe. You can also thump the pumpkin and it should sound hallow.
How to Harvest?
The first thing is that you should harvest on a warm dry day once the plants have started to die back and all of the pumpkins are ripe.
Do not pull the pumpkins off of the plant, instead use a sharp knife or scissors and cut them off leaving at least an inch or 2 of stem. The more stem you leave on will increase the pumpkins shelf life.
You want to also be sure that you are gentle with the pumpkins as you are handling them because they can easily bruise.
How to Store Them After Harvest
Before storing the pumpkins you need to cure the pumpkins. The way that you do this is by leaving the pumpkins in the sun for 1-2 weeks which will cure and toughen the skin.
Then you should store them in a cool and dry area around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pumpkin Varieties and Uses
- Jack Be Little
- We B Little
- Autumn Gold
- Jack O Lantern
- Dills Atlantic Giant
- Big Max
- Prize Winner
- Sugar Treat
- Baby Bear
How to Use Pumpkins
The great thing about pumpkins is that they can be used for so many things. All pumpkins are edible but some varieties are just better tasting which is why I listed a few varieties above and what they are best used for.
You can make:
- Pumpkin pies
- Use them as decorations
- Carve them for jack o lanterns
- Save the seeds to plant for later
- Bake the seeds to eat
- Make succulent topped pumpkins
The ideas are endless compared to most vegetables and plants that you can grow. So more than any other plant, learning how to grow pumpkins successfully will be a truly rewarding experience!