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Pumpkins

When to Plant

  • Pumpkins do require 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.

Choosing a Planting Site

  • Pumpkins do best when the seeds are planted directly in the ground. Wait until the plant soil is 70ºF or more before sowing seeds outdoors. Optimum soil temperature is 95ºF. Pumpkins are tender plants which are very sensitive to the cold.

  • Pick a site with full sun (to light shade).

  • Pumpkins also need lots of space for 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.

  • Pumpkins are big, greedy feeders which need very rich soil that is well-drained and not too soggy. Mix lots of compost and aged manure into the planting site before you sow seeds or transplant.

How to Plant

  • 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. 

  • Your plants should germinate in less than a week with the right soil temperature (70 degrees F) and emerge in 5 to 10 days. 

  • 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.

How to Grow

  • 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 and other diseases more likely.

  • Add mulch around your pumpkins to keep in moisture, suppress weeds, and discourage pests.

  • 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.

  • 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 the late afternoon or early evening, when blossoms are closed for the day. To attract more bees, try placing a bee house in your garden.

  • Pumpkin vines, though obstinate, are very delicate. Take care not to damage vines, as this can reduce the quality of fruit.

Pests/Diseases

  • Squash bugs and cucumber beetles are common, especially later in summer. Contact your local Cooperative Extension for potential controls.

  • Aphids

  • Squash Vine Borer

  • Powdery Mildew

  • Anthracnose

  • Poor light, too much fertilizer, poor weather at bloom time, and reduced pollinating insect activity can negatively impact fruit set.

How to Harvest

  • Your best bet is to harvest pumpkins when they are fully 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 instead!

  • A pumpkin is ripe when its skin turns a deep, solid color (orange for most varieties).

  • When you thump the pumpkin with a finger, 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.

  • Harvest pumpkins and winter squashes on a dry day after the plants have died back and the skins are hard.

  • To slow decay, leave an inch or two of stem on pumpkins and winter squash when harvesting them. 

  • 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.