What could be more quintessentially fall than the sight of pumpkins adorning a front porch?
Bright white pumpkins, deep orange jack-o-lanterns, or petite pumpkins ready to be turned into a pie: there are many varieties to choose from. But, in order to be prepared for your fall decorations, you need to plan ahead and plant pumpkins at the appropriate time.
When to plant pumpkins: The best time to plant pumpkin seeds in your garden is the middle of June, as the last spring frost should happen by the middle of May. However, you may want to start your seeds indoors to give the tiny plants a better chance of survival. If this is the case, you can plant the seeds at the end of April and then transplant them outside in June.
Pumpkin plants need warm soil so the ground temperature should be at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you can wait until it is above 90 degrees, your pumpkins will be even happier. Once planted, pumpkins will be ready in about 100 days.
Planting Pumpkins in Different Climates
Growing pumpkins in a tropical climate will produce large fruit as the plant really likes warm soil. They will respond well to the humidity in the air.
Tropical climates usually have a dry season and a wet season. However, it is best to grow pumpkins in the dry season to avoid mold and rotting issues.
While growing pumpkins in a dry climate is a bit more difficult, it can be done. Normally pumpkins require full sun, but if the climate is too dry, they will appreciate a bit of shade.
Be sure to monitor your pumpkins and give them plenty of water on those hot days, although this should be done early in the morning or at night so that the water doesn’t boil the plants.
A temperate climate is perhaps the easiest area to grow pumpkins in. Once all risk of frost is eliminated and the soil is above 75 degrees in temperature, you can plant pumpkin seeds outside.
The nice aspect of continental climates is that their summers are very hot, meaning pumpkins will enjoy the warm soil.
However, the winter season can be quite harsh, and thus the threat of frost can linger well into spring, so it may be best to start seedlings inside.
Pumpkins love warm soil and a polar climate is not conducive to growing them. If you have a green thumb then you may want to invest in a greenhouse which may be able to sustain warm-loving plants.
Choosing Pumpkin Seeds
While we may think of the iconic, bright orange pumpkin, there are actually many different varieties to choose from.
Deciding which seeds to plant can be pretty exciting. In order to start your decision-making process, first think if you intend on eating the pumpkins or using them for decorative intentions.
If you love pumpkin pie, then you should try Baby Bear pumpkins. Small in size, their flesh is nice and fine and easy to scoop out.
Another option for pies is the Autumn Gold variety. It weighs about 10 to 13 pounds and its deep orange color makes for quite a spectacular dessert.
For Halloween pumpkins, the obvious choice is the Jack O’Lantern pumpkin. It weighs about 12 to 16 pounds and is easy to scoop out.
Finally, if you love a competition, why not see if you can grow the biggest pumpkin? The Big Moon variety can reach a whopping 100 pounds, so be sure you have enough space for it to grow.
Another large variety is the Prizewinner. Amazingly, while it is actually easy to grow, it can become a 200-pound pumpkin.
How to Plant Pumpkin Seeds
The first step to planting pumpkin seeds is actually finding the right place to plant them. Pumpkins need full sun, although if you have a space with a bit of light shade, this will be fine as well.
Furthermore, pumpkins have very long vines which require a lot of space. On average, pumpkin vines need between 50 to 100 square feet of space to grow.
While this space may seem like a lot, remember that the plant’s roots only need a smaller amount of space. In fact, pumpkin vines are perfectly happy to grow along sidewalks or pathways, so you don’t need to give up precious garden space for all that vine growth.
If you are really short on garden space, you can actually grow pumpkins in 5-gallon buckets. As the plants grow, the vines will move out of the buckets but the roots will still receive all the nourishment they need within the bucket’s soil.
Once you have selected the best place for your pumpkins to grow, it is time to actually plant the seeds. Unlike other seeds, which just need shallow holes, pumpkin seeds need hills.
In your garden, be sure to use plenty of compost or manure, to provide enough nourishment for the seeds. Then, create the hills with a mound of dirt about 1 foot in height, but space the hills 4 to 6 feet apart.
With each pumpkin hill, you can actually plant 4 to 5 seeds. They should be planted at a depth of 1 inch into the hill.
The shape of pumpkin hills acts to warm the soil better, leading to faster germination. More nutrients are available for the pumpkin seeds to access, and your plants will be a lot happier with this set up.
How to Water Pumpkins
Pumpkins are hungry and thirsty plants and they need to be watered regularly. Aim for at least 1 inch of water per week, and if it is an especially hot summer, don’t be afraid to double this amount.
While it can be tempting to water the entire plant, only the roots of the pumpkins need to be watered, so just aim for this area. Too much dampness on the plants means that rot can set in.
How to Grow Pumpkins
Watch your pumpkin seeds carefully because in just 6 to10 days you should see tiny sprouts emerging.
While multiple seeds have been planted together, once the sprouts emerge, it’s time to thin them out so that there are either only 2 pumpkin plants per hill, or if you have them in a more traditional row, one plant every 18 inches.
Too many plants in one area means not enough room for root growth and not enough nutrients for all the plants. Just be careful when you pull out a seedling so you don’t disturb the other plants.
While not mandatory, if you are worried about insects in your garden you can always place a light mesh cover over top of the seedlings.
This gives them an extra layer of protection so they have time to properly grow. However, the cover needs to be removed before the pumpkin plants grow flowers, in order for insects to come and germinate the plants.
If weeds are a problem in your garden, a layer of mulch can help with this. Pumpkin roots are sensitive so you don’t want to be digging next to them.
Unlike some plants, such as tomatoes, which are self-germinating, pumpkins have both male and female flowers and thus rely on bees and other insects for pollination.
If you are worried about this process happening, do your best to foster a bee-friendly yard, including bee houses, available fresh water, and the lack of pesticides.
In order for pumpkins to grow such large fruit, they need a lot of nutrients. In addition to a garden full of compost or manure, be sure to regularly feed your pumpkin plants once they start growing.
A fertilizer with a high nitrogen content should be used when the plants are about a foot in length. Then, before they start blooming, use a fertilizer with phosphorous.
Ideally, you will have 1 to 2 pumpkins per vine. While you may be excited if more grow, these extra pumpkins can gobble too many nutrients.
After the second pumpkin has started to form, locate the fuzzy end of the vine and pinch it off so that the vine can no longer grow.
Finally, after all your hard work, your pumpkins should be fully developed and starting to grow larger. If you have a damp fall, you can place cardboard under the pumpkins to prevent rot, and even gently turn them over for a full, even color and shape.
How long do pumpkins take to grow?
On average, pumpkins take between 90 and 100 days to grow to maturity. They need very warm soil so if you live in a climate with a short growing season, it’s best to start the seeds indoors and then transplant them to your pumpkin patch once the soil is warm enough.
Pumpkins are a real delight as there are so many varieties to choose from. Whether you want a large, smooth carving pumpkin, one with warts, or even a white pumpkin, together they will create the perfect fall arrangement.
Growing pumpkins takes a bit of time and skill, but as long as you are patient and give your pumpkins plenty of food and water, you won’t be disappointed.