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How to Grow Pumpkins Successfully

If you’re anything like me, Fall comes around and you start searching for how to grow pumpkins, only to find out that by then it’s too late! So in this post, you will learn how and when to grow pumpkins for a successful harvest!

Full grown pumpkins

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How to Grow Pumpkins Successfully 

Most pumpkins have a pretty long growing season. So the first important step is choosing a variety that will have plenty of time to mature.

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.

As you continue further through the post I will go in-depth on how to plant and care for your pumpkin plants.

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Choosing the Right Pumpkin Variety

There are so many different pumpkin varieties out there it can often be overwhelming to choose which type to plant.

But try not to overthink and just be sure to choose a variety that has plenty of time to mature based on the length of your growing season.

Shorter Season Pumpkins

The varieties below are a few great options if you have a shorter growing season.

Medium – Long Season Pumpkins

The varieties below need more time to mature and so here are a few varieties to try if you have a long growing season.

When to Plant Pumpkins

The recommended first outdoor transplanting date is 2 weeks after your last frost. The pumpkin seedlings you start indoors prior to planting should be ready to transplant outdoors in about 4 – 6 weeks.

Pumpkin seedlings growing in a container

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 85° F.

The last recommended planting date varies depending on the pumpkin variety and climate.

However, on average most pumpkins take 90 – 120 days to reach maturity which means if you are wanting pumpkins for a Halloween harvest you should plant them no later than the beginning of June.

How to Grow Pumpkins from Seed

Pumpkins do not tolerate root disturbance and so planting them directly by seed is the best option if possible.

You can directly sow the seeds into the soil on hills or in rows. Or you can get seedlings started ahead of time and transplant them into the garden.

But if you do transplant them just be sure to handle the pumpkin seedlings with extra care and don’t break up their roots.

The benefit of planting on hills is that it allows the soil to warm faster for quicker germination, it provides better drainage, and helps with pest control.

The benefit of planting in rows is that the plants could potentially use less space depending on where you plant them. For example, along a back fence or around the perimeter of your garden.

It’s always important to refer to each variety for specific spacing requirements but here are the general requirements.

If you plant on hills, plant seeds one inch deep with 4 – 5 seeds per hill and space hills 4 to 8 feet apart.

If you plant in rows, plant 2 -3 seeds 1 inch deep, 3 to 4 feet apart, and in rows 4 to 6 feet apart.

Planting pumpkin seeds in the ground

How Far Apart to Plant Pumpkins

It’s always important to refer to each variety for specific spacing requirements because smaller pumpkins can be spaced closer together and larger pumpkins need more space.

But in general, some smaller pumpkin varieties such as Jack Be Little pumpkins can be planted 3 inches apart in rows 6 inches apart. They can even be planted in a large container that is at least 18 inches deep.

The majority of larger pumpkin varieties such as Howden pumpkins which are the most common for Jack O’ Lanterns should be planted 3 – 4 feet apart in rows 4 – 6 feet apart.

Thinning Pumpkin Seedlings

Most seeds should germinate within 7 to 10 days. If you planted your pumpkins on hills, keep 2 to 3 of the healthiest growing plants and snip off the others when the plants are 2-3 inches tall.

If planted in rows, thin any extra plants so that you have one plant every 3 – 4 feet apart.

Pumpkin plants sprouting in the garden

Best Growing Conditions for Pumpkin Plants

Pumpkins require a long growing season with about 75 – 150 days with no frost and they need to be planted in full sun where they receive at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day.

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.

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Pumpkin Plant Care

Below I will go over pumpkin plant care such as how often to water them, how to fertilize them, how to mulch, how to treat and prevent pests, and a few other important tips.

How Often to Water Pumpkins

Pumpkins need at least 1 inch of water per week. The soil should never dry out completely in between waterings though. Keep it consistently moist but not overly saturated.

How to Fertilize Pumpkins

At planting time or when plants are about 1 foot long fertilize with a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer. Then once the plants start to bloom you should use a phosphorous-based fertilizer.

After the pumpkins start forming you can use a potassium fertilizer.

Mulching Pumpkin Plants

Mulching pumpkin plants is not necessary but it is a great practice. It helps the soil retain its moisture and helps keep the growing pumpkins from rotting on the side that would sit in the dirt.

Two great ways to mulch pumpkin plants are with plastic or straw.

Pumpkin Plant Mulched With Plastic
Pumpkin Plant Mulched With Straw

Trellising Pumpkin Plants

Not all pumpkin plants should be trellised but it is really great to do so with smaller pumpkin varieties.

It helps keep the plant off of the ground which helps the pumpkins grow more uniform in shape and it makes harvesting and controlling pests much easier.

It is best to have the trellis in place before planting and then as the plants start growing you can train them to grow up the trellis and use ties if needed to help hold the vine in place.

Pumpkin Plant Growing on a Trellis

Treating and Preventing Pests & Disease

A few common pests that show up on pumpkin plants include,

  • Squash bugs
  • Cucumber beetles
  • Aphids

The best method for controlling these bugs is to check your plants frequently and spray them off as soon as you notice them. Another great practice is planting beneficial plants that will help deter the pests.

If you catch the pests soon it is much easier to get rid of them and keep them under control but sometimes you need to use a pesticide.

A couple of products I use when needed are Garden Safe Insect Killer and Diatomaceous Earth.

Read more about how to use diatomaceous earth in the garden here. 

Some other common pumpkin plant problems include,

  • 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 turn 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 are the ones that turn into pumpkins.

A pumpkin plant blossom

How to Grow Bigger and Healthier Pumpkins

After there are a few pumpkins growing from a vine you can choose to pinch the fuzzy ends off of the end of the vine which will make the plant put its energy into the pumpkins versus continuing to grow the vine.

You don’t need to do this with small pumpkin varieties but it is beneficial for larger pumpkin varieties that you want to grow big.

As the pumpkins grow 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 more uniform shape.

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When and How to Harvest Pumpkins

Eventually, the time you’ve been waiting all season for will come around, harvest time!

It is best to harvest your pumpkins when they are fully 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 it is ripe. You can also thump the pumpkin and it should sound hollow.

Another sign that the pumpkins are approaching harvest is that the plants will start to die back.

So once you notice your plants dying back and the pumpkin stems starting to dry out test each pumpkin to see if it has tough skin and sounds hollow.

Once you’ve reached that point harvest on a warm dry day.

Use a sharp knife or scissors and cut the pumpkin off the vine leaving at least 2 inches of the stem attached. The more stem you leave will increase the pumpkin’s shelf life.

During harvest make sure you are gentle and handle the pumpkins with care because they can easily bruise.

Then after harvesting, you need to cure them before storing them.

Pumpkins that are ready to harvest

How to Cure & Store Pumpkins

Before storing the pumpkins you need to cure them which hardens the skin to protect the flesh. To cure your pumpkins set them out in a sunny and dry place for a minimum of two weeks.

After the pumpkins cure, you should store them in a cool and dry area around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some common questions related to growing pumpkins.

Can you grow pumpkins in a pot?

Some large pumpkin varieties take up so much space and should not be grown in a pot.

However, smaller pumpkin varieties such as Jack Be Little pumpkins, can grow great in containers and you can use a trellis to help the plants grow upward.

How many pumpkins do you get from one plant?

Larger pumpkin varieties produce 2 to 5 pumpkins on average and smaller varieties can produce up to 10 or more pumpkins.

Do pumpkins like shade or sun?

Pumpkins need to be planted in full sun so that they will receive 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day.

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Growing pumpkins is so much fun and after harvest, there are so many ways that you can use them up.

You can bake them and make delicious desserts such as pumpkin bread, you can make succulent topped pumpkins, carve them into Jack O’ Lanterns, set them out as decorations, or simply roast them in the oven.

The ideas are endless! But whatever you do, don’t forget to save your seeds for planting next year!

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The different phases of pumpkin plant growth

One Comment

  1. Thank you, Audrey.

    I am growing pumpkins for the first time in my planting zone 9b. It was great to get your delightfully written take on planting pumpkins.

    I did have an aphid infestation and I was able to get it under control by spraying the undersides of the leaves with soapy water. I used diatomaceous earth at first, but it was hard to get it on the undersides of the leaves. I also realized that diatomaceous earth was also killing some lacewings that had been laying eggs under the leaves. What do you think?

    I am attempting organic gardening for the first time. What fertilizer do you recommend? I live in the foothills outside of Chico, CA, and there is not organic gardening store.

    Thank you.

    Lori

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