How To Grow Pumpkins

A Quick Guide to Starting Your Own Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin is a staple of the fall season, used for pies, jack-o-lanterns, decorations, and much more! But have you considered growing pumpkins in your garden? Pumpkins come in many different varieties, so it’s easy to find one you’ll enjoy growing. Some pumpkins such as Jack-Be-Little stay small and sweet while other varieties like the Atlantic Giant can grow to be over 200 pounds! Many pumpkins like the ever popular Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin are the favorite orange color, but this gourd also comes in shades of yellow, green, red, white, and even blue.

Step 1: Find the Right Time and the Right Spot

Pumpkin plants take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to reach harvest (depending on the variety). They need warmer temperatures - between 65°F and 95° F. Pumpkins cannot be planted until after the last spring frost and must be harvested before the first frost in fall. If you want ripe pumpkins in time for Halloween, mid-June through early July is the ideal time to plant. For those who love pumpkins anytime, they can be planted from mid-Spring through late summer. You can estimate the last date to plant in your area by subtracting the number of days to harvest from the average date of the first fall frost. You can also reduce the time to harvest by purchasing starter plants or by starting seeds indoors several weeks before you plan to plant in the garden. Pumpkin plants grow long, leafy vines that may try to take over your garden. These plants also love sunshine. Planting pumpkins in a sunny spot along the edge of your garden gives them room to grow and makes controlling the vines easier.

Step 2: Plant Your Pumpkins

This squash variety prefers moist, compost-rich soils. Amending your garden soil with Miracle-Gro® Organic Raised Bed & Garden Soil enriches the native soil and has the added benefit of a quick-release natural fertilizer that feeds plants for up to 2 months. To grow pumpkins from seeds in your garden, the soil should be at least 65° to 70° F before sowing. Create a mound of soil that is several inches high and at least one foot across. Flatten the surface of the mound, and then plant 3-5 seeds about 1 inch deep. Space mounds 2-5 feet apart—the bigger the fruit, the more space the plants will need. Once the seeds have sprouted, thin your seedlings to 2 plants per mound. You can also start seeds indoors or purchase starter plants. When starting plants indoors, place seeds in a container with potting mix. Once the weather warms up, harden off seedlings by taking them outside and bringing them back at night for about 7 days. Leave seedlings out for a little longer each day. This process helps your plants adjust to outdoor conditions before moving into their new home. When the seedlings are ready, follow the same directions as above for planting in the ground. Be gentle when handling roots to prevent damage to the plant.

Step 3: Care for Your Growing Pumpkin Plants

Pumpkins are heavy feeders and require lots of nutrients. Feeding with plant food regularly helps your pumpkin plant stay healthy and growing. Miracle-Gro® Shake 'N Feed Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food is specially formulated with micronutrients to help plants grow strong and produce more fruits (vs unfed plants). In addition to feeding, your pumpkin plants need to be watered regularly. Pumpkins need about 1 inch of water per week, more on hot, sunny days. Plants should be watered in the morning, and try to avoid wetting the leaves as much as possible. Wet leaves, particularly when it's hot and humid, invite fungal diseases. Adding a thick layer of mulch around your pumpkin plants will help keep moisture in the soil.

Let the bees do their job! Pumpkin plants have both male and female flowers and require pollination for a successful harvest. Unfortunately, pumpkins can also attract pests that you don’t want. If you must use pest control products, wait until after sundown when bees are less active.

A common concern for pumpkin plants is yellow leaves. Older leaves turning yellow is normal and not a reason to worry, but pay attention when yellowing is occurring all over the plant or in younger leaves. While this can be a sign of disease, it’s also a common symptom of stress such as hot weather, over or under watering, or nutrient deficiency. Adjust waterings and make sure you are feeding your plants according to the label directions on the plant food container. Remove dead and severely damaged leaves to protect the rest of the plant.

Once your pumpkin fruit starts growing, watch out for signs of rot. Place cardboard or

newspaper between the pumpkins and the soil to limit contact and moisture. You can also trellis

the vines of smaller pumpkins, using slings as needed to help with the weight of growing fruits.

Step 4: Enjoy the Harvest!

Pumpkins give a number of signs when they’re ready for harvesting. First, watch the color of your pumpkin. Pumpkins become their ideal color, deep or bright orange for many popular varieties, when they’re ripe. The rind or skin of the fruit will also be firm. If it’s easy to pierce the skin with a fingernail, the pumpkin needs more time on the vine. The stem also hardens and starts to wither when pumpkins are ready to harvest. The final test is to give your pumpkin a little tap—ripe pumpkins have a hollow sound.

Use a sharp knife to cut your pumpkin off of the vine, leaving several inches of stem on the pumpkin. Let the pumpkins cure for 10 to 14 days in a warm, dry spot or indoors if the weather isn’t ideal. This gives the rind and stem a chance to harden more, which helps preserve your pumpkins for longer.

Pumpkin plants won’t last long in a frost, so harvest pumpkins before cold weather arrives. Check your local forecast and stay aware of temperature drops in your area once fall comes around.

When stored in a cool, dry place, properly cured pumpkins can last for 2 to 3 months. The ideal temperature for storage is 50°F to 55° F. Even off the vine, pumpkins can be prone to fungus and rot. Prevent moisture by arranging your gourds in a single layer without letting them touch.

Now all that’s left is to make pumpkin pie, jack-o-lanterns, and fall decorations! Have you considered trying a pumpkin smoothie or adding leftovers to your compost pile? You can even roast pumpkin seeds for a fall treat. Just rinse off all the pulp, add your favorite seasonings, and roast in the oven. However you prefer your pumpkins, enjoy the autumn season with a festive harvest.