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Pumpkin - (Cucurbita spp.)

Including: giant, jack-o'-lanterns, pie, carving, miniature, white, red, and blue-green pumpkins


Zones 4 and warmer

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Full sun in a site with good air circulation

Likes fertile, well-drained; pH 6.0 to 7.0

Regular water will increase yield, keep soil evenly moist

Plant 2 to 3 seeds per hill, in hills 5 to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.4 m) apart


Harvest when fully colored, and the shell is hard enough that it cannot be dented with a fingernail

Comments:Pumpkins are really just winter squash, but have a distinctive pumpkin shape, and are used to make pies, baked goods, and carved for jack-o'-lanterns. Their seeds are usually removed before cooking or carving, and can be roasted and eaten as well. Pumpkins now come in so many colors, shapes and sizes it can be hard to keep up. They come in giant varieties that can get over 1,000 lbs. (454 kg), to miniatures that are no more than 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. They come in traditional orange, but also red, white, blue-green, and some that are half green and half orange like the variety 'batwing'. Pumpkins are a favorite for just about every gardener, because they are beautiful and fun to grow, but there are some that take growing giant pumpkins very seriously, and competitively, which we will talk about below.

Planting Site: Plant in full sun in an area that has good air circulation. Pumpkins grow best in moderately rich soil, but for best results, plant them in hills enriched with compost or lots of good organic matter like well-rotted manure.

Planting & Growing Guidelines: Pumpkins grow best in warm soil, 60° F (16° C). In short-season climates, start seeds indoors in individual containers 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost. Plant in soil that has been prewarmed with black plastic for a week or two. When the soil is warm enough, remove the black plastic and plant seedlings. Set out carefully and try not to disturb the roots. In warmer climates, sow seeds 2 weeks after the last expected spring frost, or when soil temperatures reach 60° F (16° C).

Plant seeds 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) deep, in predampened hills. Plant 2 to 3 seeds per hill, in hills 5 to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.4 m) apart. You can use the same spacing when planting out seedlings or transplants.

A good trick when planting seedlings is to hill the soil up around the stem if it is more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the soil line to the first set of leaves. This is one time it's OK to mound soil up around a plant's stem, it won't rot, and a stronger healthier root system will develop. If you have had problems in the past, cover the seedlings with row covers to protect them from squash bugs and cucumber beetles, but remove the covering when the plants start to flower.

Pumpkins need regular water to keep the fruit producing, and like to be mulched until the plants start to vine.

Keep in mind, because pumpkins take longer to mature, when the fruit is in contact with moist soil for long periods of time, rot can happen on the underside of the fruit. Soft sunken spots form where the pumpkin touches the soil, and if the conditions are right, can cause complete collapse of the fruit. To minimize the problem, prop pumpkins up off the ground with bricks, pieces of wood, or tile, so they are not in contact with the moist soil. Use care when doing this and don't break the vines or crack the stems. If that happens, you will lose the fruit.

A Note About Growing Giant Pumpkins
All of the pumpkin growing information on this page applies to giant pumpkins too, but here are a few more specifics if you want to grow a huge pumpkin:

There are three main properties needed to ensure giant pumpkin growth:

1. Good seed stock
2. Good fertile soil
3. Good weather

1. Having good seed, with a good set of genetics, is critical. 'Atlantic Giant' has set many world records. 'Prizewinner', 'Big Max', or 'Big Moon' also can produce winners. Just don't plan to make pumpkin pie from one of these varieties, they are not much on taste and texture. To help determine good, strong seed, germinate the seed yourself to see which plants are the strongest growers.

Here's how:

1. Take a plate, paper towel, your seed and some plastic wrap.

2. Place the paper towel on the plate and put the seed, or multiple seeds, on the towel and be careful to label the seeds so you don't mix them up. Don't put the seeds from different plants on the same plate.

3. Next cover the seed with another sheet of paper towel.

4. Pour a bit of warm (not hot) water about 75° to 85° F (24° to 29° C) on to the paper towels. Use just enough to get everything moist; there is no need to totally drench the seed.

5. Cover the plate completely with the plastic wrap and put the plate in a warm dark place. Pumpkin seeds germinate best at temperatures of about 80° F (27° C), but keep them out of the sun. If it gets any hotter you are in danger of killing the seeds. Some people will put them on top of the refrigerator because it is consistently warm up there.

6. If all goes well you should see the seedling beginning to sprout in about 4 to 7 days.

7. Pick out the fastest germinating and strongest growers of the bunch to transplant into pots or if warm enough, out into the garden. This gets the selection process off to an early start.

8. It is important to keep a very close eye on the germination process. Once the plant starts to grow it grows fast. You are going to want to get your germinated seeds into pots of soil, or out into the garden as soon as they start germination. Missing this opportunity by even 4 hours can affect future growth and performance.

9. Water your seedlings with warm water mixed with liquid seaweed and hydrolized fish fertilizer. It is important to get the plant started right and to get the proper nutrients to it early and consistently. Be sure not to over water them, or to give them very much fertilizer at this early stage of development. Keep the seeds evenly moist, because any stress put on the plant at this point, will affect the size of the pumpkins produced.

Once Out in the Garden Giant Pumpkins Need:

1. Give them plenty of room to spread out, 25 feet (7 to 8 m) from each other. They are vigorous growers and heavy feeders, and good soil is important.

2. To achieve really huge pumpkins, you must select one or two of the first pumpkins on the vine, usually those with the best shape and remove the others. Remove any that form in the future.

3. During the next 30 to 60 days, the fruit may grow 9 to 20 pounds (4 to 10 kg) per day. To feed that kind of growth, feed weekly with manure tea or compost tea after the fruit is set.

4. Do everything you can to protect the plant's leaves, because they supply nutrients to the pumpkin. If you're growing in a windy location, provide a wind screen of some kind.

5. Pumpkin leaves need lots of sun, but direct sunlight on the pumpkin itself will harden its skin, limiting growth. You can construct a shade tent out of shade cloth, or some other lightweight material to cover the pumpkin.

6. Temperature is important, too. Daytime highs around 80° to 90° F (27° to 32° C) are ideal for growing giant pumpkins, Places where the daytime temperatures consistently hit 110° F (43° C), are better suited to growing large watermelons.

7. Water as needed, daily in some areas.

8. Feed composted cow manure or compost tea on a weekly basis.

That's it for giant pumpkin specifics. The continuing information is back to general growing conditions for healthy, regular-sized pumpkins that gardeners normally grow, but can also be applied to giant pumpkins.

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    Fertilizing: Make sure the soil has already has lots of good compost and organic matter worked in. Lightly broadcast some 10-10-10 over the area, till in, and then plant transplants or sow seeds. When the plants just start to vine, side-dress with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) per plant of 5-10-10, or one large handful of good compost which generally equals the same. Sprinkle around the base of the plant, but not up against the stem, and water in.

    Pest and Disease Prevention: Use row covers to protect young pumpkin plants from cucumber beetles, and squash bugs that can carry and spread bacterial wilt, a common disease that causes plants to wilt and die suddenly. Remove the covers when the plants begin to flower. Radishes or basil interplanted with pumpkins helps repel beetles and squash bugs. Don't plant where pumpkins or its relatives, such as squash, melon and cucumber, have grown the previous year. Provide good air circulation to avoid mildew. If plants do develop mildew, spray the foliage thoroughly with a mild baking soda solution of (1 teaspoon (5 ml) per quart (liter) of water). To reduce the chance of many squash diseases, plant resistant cultivars.

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    Common Problems: Fruit that turns black and rots before reaching picking size has not been pollinated. This often happens early in the season before male flowers appear, or in cool weather when pollinating insects are not as active. Pumpkins also won�t pollinate successfully in temperatures above 90° F (32° C). Many pumpkins produce only male flowers at first, followed by a mixture of male and female flowers a week or so later. If female flowers are opening and withering without setting fruit, they may not be getting enough pollen. If bees are low in your area, you can pollinate the flowers yourself. Simply pick a male flower, and place it over a female one and tap it to release the pollen. To see an example this read the "Squash and Pumpkin Section" in the "How to Maintain a Vegetable Garden" article listed in next Helpful Articles. Keep in mind however, poor pollination is seldom a problem if you have four or more plants flowering at the same time.

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    Days to Maturity: 100 to 115 frost-free days depending upon the cultivar grown.

    Harvest and Storage: Make sure to leave a minimum 2-inch stem (5 cm) attached for best storing, and harvest when color is good, and the shell, or rind, is hard enough that it cannot be dented with your fingernail.

    Harvest all pumpkins as soon as their skin is tough enough, or after a light frost has killed the vines; more than a light frost will shorten storage life. Leave on the ground to "cure" in the sun for 10 to 14 days; cover them if frost threatens. This curing will sweeten the flesh and toughen the skin for storage. Wipe the skin with a cloth dipped in a weak bleach solution (1 part bleach to 6 parts water) to help prevent rot. Store in a cool, well-ventilated area where temperatures will range between 50° to 55° F (10° to 13° C). Pumpkins keep for several months, but will lose some of their flavor in long storage.

    The growing pumpkins information above applies to the following :

    Giant Pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima) - Common varieties are 'Atlantic Giant' and 'Prizewinner'. Giant pumpkins commonly grow from 200 lbs. (91 kg) to over 1,000 lbs. (454 kg). Coloration for the largest pumpkins is usually cream to light orange but some growers have managed to coax a good orange color from them. The amount of sunlight seems to be the key.

    Orange Pumpkins, Large and Medium (Cucurbita moschata) - Common varieties are 'Connecticut Field' and 'Howden'. Prior to Howden, Connecticut Field was the standard Halloween pumpkin, averaging 20-25 lbs. (9 to 11 kg) with slight ribbing, a solid orange color, and flesh that is good for canning. Howdens come in several closely related varieties and are, as a group, the commercial leader for jack-o'-lanterns. They tend to be fairly large weighing more than 20 lbs. (9 kg) and often up to 60 lbs. (27 kg). They often produce pumpkins that are more elongated than round, only lightly ribbed, and with a deep orange skin. Excellent choice for carving, with sturdy stems.

    Orange Pumpkins, Small and Miniature (Cucurbita pepo) - Common varieties are 'Baby Bear', 'Jack Be Little', 'Munchkin', and 'Sugar Pie'. Ranging from 2 to 5 inches (5 to 13 cm) in diameter, these smaller pumpkins also range from cooking pumpkins with great tasting flesh, to those that are only passable as edibles, but great for decoration, painting, and crafts. Most small to miniature varieties keep extremely well.

    White Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) - Common varieties are 'Baby Boo', and 'Casper'. These beautiful pumpkins have bright white skin color, and come in miniature varieties up to quite large. Like their sizes, they have multiple uses. Many have very sweet, orange flesh that are excellent for pies and baking, while many of the miniatures are great for painting, crafts, and decoration, but not very good to eat. Many can be carved and actually glow when lit like the variety 'Lumina'.

    Red Pumpkins (Cucurbita maxima) - Common varieties are 'Cinderella' or 'French Rouge', and 'Lakota'. Cinderella pumpkins are a deep red to orange color, and are flattened, and deeply ribbed. These pumpkins were used as the carriage in the Cinderlla fairytale. They are great for decorations, difficult to carve, but have semi-sweet flesh that is good for pies. Lakota is an heirloom variety from the American Midwest and mostly pear shaped, but with a wonderful butternut-like flavor.

    Blue and Green Pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) - Common varieties are 'Jarrahdale', 'Kabocha', 'Blue Lakota'. The Jarrahdale is a pumpkin that is an Australian heirloom variety and was developed as a cross between the Blue Hubbard Squash and the Cinderella Pumpkin. The flesh is golden yellow with a mild, only slightly sweet, flavor. Some say this is the best pumpkin for pumpkin pies. Kabocha is very popular in Japan and is produced in many nations for export to Japan. It has a very tough green rind which makes it difficult to carve but its sweet and nutty yellow flesh makes it an excellent choice for cooking, plus the flesh remains firm and holds its shape after cooking.

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