What’s one of the most wonderful pre-Halloween traditions you can remember? Was it visiting your local pumpkin patch (or perhaps driving miles to find one)? You can recreate this experience in your very own back yard. Here’s the scoop on growing your very own pumpkin patch.
What You’ll Need
- Pumpkin vines often spread 7-10 feet in all directions, so unless you’re going to be container or trellis gardening (see the bullet below), you will need about a 10’X10′ area to plant.
- A climbing trellis and garden wire, and pots/containers, if you will be container gardening and/or if you’ll be training your vines upward.
- Pumpkin seeds. Try a small (such as Jack Be Littles), small/medium (i.e. sugar pumpkins) or carving (such as Howden) variety rather than an oversize variety unless you have significant area in which to plant.
- An area that receives sunshine for at least six hours a day.
- Fertlizier or fertile compost.
Preparing Your Garden
Pumpkins are a fast-growing fruit and require plenty of nutrients. Purchase enriched fertilizer from your local garden store, or if you have a compost heap (good for you!), use self-made compost.
You will want to give your garden plenty of area room: at least 10’X10′ if possible. If not, you can grow pumpkins in large pots, though smaller varieties of pumpkins, as well as decorate gourds, will do better in this kind of growing environment.
There are also tiered gardens at Lowe’s, Home Depot and other locales. These save space by growing your plants “upward.” Be aware that there may be some tangling of the vines, and you may have to train your vines in an upward direction.
When to Plant
When to plant your pumpkins depends upon what climate zone you are in. DO NOT plant pumpkin seeds outdoors nor transplant seedlings outdoors until all danger of frost has passed.
In general, in the northern hemisphere, you will be growing your pumpkins between spring and early fall. Although temperatures may be quite warm in the daytime throughout the winter in certain regions, often, a danger exists of the nighttime lows dropping too much for your pumpkin plants’ comfort. They are traditionally a summertime vegetable and do not do well in cold conditions, even overnight.
This page has an easy zip code lookup that takes you directly to planting schedules for your growing zone.
Direct Seeding v. Starting Your Plants Indoors
You can plant pumpkin seeds directly into the soil, or you may wish to start your seeds and grow them to about 2.5” in height (with the two cot leaves – or the first two leaves – unfurled) indoors. Plant your seeds near a window or other source of bright light. Water when the soil begins to feel dry.
Grow your seedlings to about 2.5″, and until the cot leaves (the first two leaves) have grown and unfurled.
Transplant carefully when ready into pot containers or directly into your fertilized garden.
How Long Does it Take?
Depending upon the variety, gourds and pumpkins can take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to mature.
Fertilizing Your Females
As your vines grow, you will begin to see flowers developing. Pumpkins produce two types of flowers: female and male. The females are the ones that will hopefully develop into pumpkins; the males fertilize them.
You can tell a male from a female flower in the following ways:
- Generally, the male flowers bloom from a 1-3” stem. Females stay closer to the vine and have hardly any stem.
- Females will have what looks like a tiny pumpkin underneath.
ALL flowers – both male and female – will shrivel by the end of the day. This is no cause for concern and is not an indication that your female has not fertilized. If your female does not appear to grow and begins to turn yellow, it probably did not fertilize. This is not uncommon; just try with the next females.
Insects should be sufficient to transfer pollen from males to females, but you can give your plants a boost:
- Usually, vines will produce many males before a single female is produced. You will probably see males blooming two or more weeks before any females form. This is not cause for concern. You can not save the pollen from these males, so just let them bloom, then shrivel throughout the day as they typically do.
- When you do get a female, watch it closely. You want to catch this process on the morning that the female flower opens.
- Try to check in the early morning if possible.
- When a female flower blooms, take a dry, unusued, soft paintbrush. GENTLY brush the pollen from the inside of one of the male flowers and then AS GENTLY AS POSSIBLE, brush it inside the open female flower.
This will increase your chances of a female fertilizing and growing into a mature pumpkin.
Dry or Overly Hot Conditions
Pumpkins grow fast. For that reason, they not only need lots of nutrients, they need plenty of water. Check daily during the blooming/fertilizing process and water the soil (but do not flood it) if it appears completely dry. After this point, check every two days if you aren’t experiencing any rain.
However, if you have a very hot or very dry spell, check daily again. Pumpkins will need more watering at 90F and up, and females may not be produced at all under very hot conditions, so be patient and wait it out.
Training Your Vines
You can train your vines by GENTLY lifting the tendrils (the little curly parts that cling to the ground or to surrounding vegetation) by the ENDS (do not pull the stem and yank them away!), and then tying the vine however you want it to train. For example, you can gradually encourage a vine to grow up a trellis this way.
Harvesting Your Pumpkins
Many, but not all, pumpkins will turn from green to another color when ripe (check your specific variety). The outer shell will also feel hard, and the stem will be hard.
Cut the stem as long as possible, close to the vine, using a sharp knife. DO NOT pull the pumpkin off the stem.
Storing Your Pumpkins
Store cut pumpkins in a cool, dry place. Keep them up off the ground, as dampness underneath them may cause them to begin to rot. Many pumpkins will last for months that way.
That’s it! Your quick and easy starter guide to growing pumpkins. Enjoy – this can be a rewarding and fun experience for you and the entire family!