Be it for decorative or culinary purposes, pumpkins are great for home gardens, provided you have the space. They take a bit of time and attention to grow but are relatively easy to care for. Here’s how to grow pumpkins in a few simple steps.
Pumpkins come in bush, vine and miniature varieties. The type of pumpkin you choose to grow may depend on the space you have available but most will require a good amount of space, even for a medium sized crop. Another factor to consider is whether you are growing pumpkins simply for carving and aesthetics or for consumption.
When To Grow
Pumpkins should be grown between the last frost of winter and the first frost of fall. They should be planted only after the danger of frost is long gone and they will need 75 – 120 days to mature for most varieties. For areas with shorter growing seasons, pumpkins can be started indoors about 2 – 4 weeks before the last frost date. Soil temperatures should be 60° F – 65° F for ideal germination.
Where To Grow
Pumpkins need lots of space and lots of sun. They can handle light shade but the more sun the better. Vine pumpkins should be grown in hills with about 50 – 100 square feet per hill. Pumpkins need long hot summers to thrive and will likely only grow in hardiness zones 3 – 9.
Pumpkins can also be grown along the edges of a garden if the vines can be directed across a long flat space like a yard or driveway.
Some types of pumpkins can even be grown in large containers, such as 5 – 10 gallon buckets. Miniature pumpkins are great for container growth.
Best Soil For Growing Pumpkins
Pumpkins can grow well in any type of soil. The soil should drain well and be enriched with aged manure or mature compost.
Planting varies based on which type of pumpkin you intend to grow. When in doubt, closely follow the instructions on your seed packet, but here are some basic guidelines:
Vine Varieties: Vine pumpkins are best grown in hills, dug 12 – 15 inches into the ground and enriched with aged manure or a 2 – 4 inch layer of mature compost. Sow 4 – 5 seeds per hill about 1 inch deep. Each hill should be about 5 feet apart. If you have multiple rows, space them about 12 feet apart. Thin to the best 2 – 3 plants per hill once they become established.
Bush Varieties: Bush pumpkins can be planted in rows spaced 6 feet apart. Sow 2 seeds 1 inch deep every 12 inches. Thin to 1 plant every 3 feet.
Miniature Varieties: Plant in rows spaced 6 – 8 feet. Sow 2 – 3 seeds every 2 feet. Thin to the strongest plant every 2 feet once seedlings develop their first set of true leaves.
You can also sow pumpkin seeds indoors a few weeks prior to the last frost date for your area. Be sure they get plenty of light once they emerge. Transfer seedlings carefully (space as described above) once outside temperatures permit. As with any indoor grown seedling, harden them off before transplanting them into the ground. Bring them outside during the day only for about a week. Be sure to water them before transplanting into moist soil.
Watering & Care
Pumpkins are heavy drinkers and ravenous feeders. Give them about 1 inch of water per week. Avoid overhead watering, which can foster disease and mold in the foliage.
Feed pumpkin crops regularly with compost tea. An organic fertilizer that is rich with nitrogen is good too, just after planting and again once the plants reach about 1 foot tall. Just before the plants bloom, switch to a high phosphorus fertilizer.
Use mulch and very delicate hand weeding to fight root competition. Pumpkins have a shallow root structure that can be damaged by aggressive cultivation.
Once a few pumpkins have developed, you can pinch off the fuzzy ends of each vine. This will allow the plants to focus their energy on the fruits they have formed, not into producing more fruit.
Pumpkins are best if harvested when they reach their intended size. They will last longer and taste better. For this reason, you should grow a smaller variety if you want small pumpkins. Pumpkins develop a dark, solid color (orange for most varieties) once they begin to ripen. Give them a thump: they will feel hard and sound hollow.
Carefully cut or shear off each pumpkin with at least 3 – 4 inches of stem attached.
Cure pumpkins in the sun for a week after harvesting. They will develop a thick outer layer and then can be stored in any cool, dark space.
Tips & Advice
Some common conditions that can lead to poor pumpkins: not enough light, too much fertilizer and poor pollination.
Bees are essential to proper pumpkin yields. Be careful when fighting other invasive insects so as not to disturb the bees.
Both male and female pumpkins will flower but only females will yield fruit.
Train small vine varieties to grow up a trellis.
Turn each pumpkin very carefully as it develops to promote even growth.
Slide a thin board under each pumpkin to help protect it from insects and rot.
Do you have tips to share on how to grow pumpkins? Let us know in the comments section below!