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How to Grow Pumpkins

Updated on December 13, 2017
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

Whether you are growing them for jack-o-lanterns, Thanksgiving pie or to enter in a contest, pumpkins are fun and easy to grow. Make sure you have a lot of space, though. Vines can grow to 8 feet or more.

Soil Requirements

Pumpkins, like most squash, are heavy feeders. The fall is a good time to get a soil test done to check for pH and nutrient levels. Pumpkins grow best in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.8. Add your amendments and adjust your pH in the fall so that your soil will be ready in the spring. Make sure you have chosen a spot that gets full sun, 6 to 8 hours per day.

When to Start Seeds

Pumpkins need heat to germinate and grow. They also need a long growing season, between 75 and 100 days. If you live in the north with a shorter growing season, you should start your seeds indoors, preferably in peat pots which can be planted directly into the garden when the soil has warmed up so as not to disturb the seedlings' roots.

Further south, wait until about two weeks after your last frost date when the soil has warmed to a temperature between 65°F to 70°F. Pumpkin seeds will not germinate in cold soil.

Plant in Hills

Pumpkin seeds should be planted in mounds in the garden to facilitate drainage. Pumpkins do not like wet feet. Plant your seeds 1 inch deep. For vines, plant 4 to 5 seeds per mound, spacing the mounds 5 feet apart. For miniature pumpkins, plant 2 or 3 seeds per mound, spacing the mounds 2 feet apart.

When the seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves, thin the hills to the best 2 or 3 plants using scissors to cut the stems near the soil so that you don't disturb the roots of the plants that you are keeping.

For seeds started in peat pots, sow seeds 3 or 4 to each pot and thin to 1 or 2 plants after they develop their first set of true leaves. The remaining plants can then be transplanted into the garden two weeks after your last frost date.

Cover Your Young Plants

It's a good idea to protect your young plants from cool weather and pests with floating row covers. You will need to keep them covered for about 6 weeks, until the plants have developed flowers.

Pollination

Pumpkins have male and female flowers. They depend on bees to get the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. When your vines start developing flowers, you should remove your row covers so that the bees can reach the flowers to pollinate them. The vines will develop male flowers first. This attracts the bees so that they are accustomed to visiting your pumpkin patch every day. Two weeks later, the female flowers will appear. You can easily tell male from female flowers. Female flowers are the ones with the tiny pumpkin at the base of the flower.

Insect Control

Cucumber beetles and squash bugs love pumpkins. You can keep them away from your seedlings in the spring using floating row covers. After the row covers have been removed, if you must use insecticides, treat your vines late in the afternoon or in the evening when the flowers have closed. The following day when the flowers open and bees visit them, they won't have insecticides on them that could kill the bees.

Weed, Weed, Weed and Water

Because pumpkins are heavy feeders, you want to keep your pumpkin patch well-weeded. Weeds compete with your vines for nutrients and water in the soil. Be careful weeding, though. Pumpkins have very shallow roots and don’t like their roots to be disturbed. Mulch works well to keep down weeds and preserve moisture.

Pumpkins require a minimum of 1 inch of water a week. Never, ever water from above your vines. This can lead to powdery mildew on the leaves which can kill them. Try to water at the base of each vine. Drip irrigation is ideal.

Harvesting Your Pumpkins

It’s a good idea to pamper your pumpkins a little by placing some salt hay or a piece of thin board under the fruit while it ripens. This keeps it away from wet soil which could cause it to rot. Pumpkins are ripe when they have reached a deep orange color. Press your thumb against the skin. It should feel hard. Harvest your fruit by cutting the stem from the vine, leaving a “handle” of 3 to 4 inches. Pumpkins need to be “cured” by leaving them in the sun for about a week after you have cut them from the vines. Then they can be stored in a cool, dry basement that maintains a temperature of 55°F.

Everyone loves to go pumpkin picking in the fall. If you have the space, you can grow your own pumpkins and go pumpkin picking in your own backyard!

© 2013 Caren White

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    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      3 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Thank you, teaches! Pumpkins are so much fun to grow, especially for children. Not many people know that their flowers are edible. Thanks for pointing that out. And thank you for reading and commenting.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      3 years ago

      I remember when we grew pumpkins in our garden up north. It was such fun to watch them grow. We also used to pick a few of the blooms to coat in batter and fry as a treat. Your advice is priceless and sure to produce an excellent pumpkin patch.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      4 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      It's so much fun to grow pumpkins. It's a great project for kids too.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The idea of picking a pumpkin from my own backyard makes me smile :)

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      4 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Flourish, I always say that the best thing about a garden is that there is always next year. And next year I know that you will have a fantastic pumpkin patch. Thanks for reading and pinning!

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      4 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Thanks for dropping by, Thelma! Good luck with your seeds.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 years ago from USA

      Now I know why I failed this past summer. Helpful hub. Thanks for the advice. Voted up and more, pinning.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      4 years ago from Germany

      I have just planted pumpkin seeds in a pot. I hope it will grow. Thanks for sharing this informations. Happy weekend!

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      4 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      thumbi, you can trellis pumpkins, especially the smaller ones. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 

      4 years ago from India

      I love any hub on plants. Unfortunately I don't have the space to grow pumpkins.

      Thanks for sharing this

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