Nothing quite says fall like seeing your pumpkin patch ready for harvest. From the earthy sweetness of fresh pumpkin pie to carving a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern, pumpkins are a quintessential autumn staple. In this article, you’ll find out all about how to grow pumpkins in your home garden, along with the best ways to harvest and store them in the fall.
Have you ever wondered, “How long do pumpkins take to grow?” Since they don’t get harvested until mid to late fall, pumpkin plants have a long growing season. Depending on the variety, pumpkins take between 75-100 days to mature but the results are worth the wait.
In addition to providing colorful fall decorations, pumpkins are incredibly nutritious vegetables. They’re an excellent source of antioxidants, beta-carotene, fiber, potassium, protein, and vitamins A and C.
Essential Tips and Tricks for Growing Pumpkins
Adding pumpkin to your diet can reduce inflammation, enhance immunity, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Pumpkin is also beneficial for eye, heart, and skin health.
Read on to discover the best gardening tips for growing pumpkins at home and keeping them flourishing throughout the growing season.
Growing pumpkins is incredibly easy as long as you provide the right conditions for them. Like most other types of squash, pumpkins thrive in full sun where they receive at least six hours of direct sunlight every day, whether you have a garden plot for them or are growing pumpkins in containers.
Pumpkins are thirsty plants and need consistently moist soil. Give your pumpkin plants approximately one inch of water per week or more during periods of hot or dry weather.
Pollination is crucial for a plentiful harvest of pumpkins in the fall. Pumpkin plants grow separate male and female flowers. The male flowers typically emerge first and have a central stamen that produces pollen.
Female flowers have a pistil to receive the pollen and a small, swollen node at the base that eventually develops into the fruit. Plant aromatic herbs and flowers near your pumpkin patch to attract pollinators.
Most pumpkin varieties grow sprawling, long vines that sometimes reach up to 25 feet. If you don’t have the space in your garden for a large pumpkin patch, choose cultivars with a more compact growth habit or train the vines to grow on a trellis.
Pumpkins are a type of winter squash native to Central America and Mexico. They are in the Cucurbita plant genus, along with cucumbers, gourds, melons, and squash.
These plants tend to be fast growers and take up a lot of space unless the long vines get pruned or trellised.
There are over 50 different types of pumpkins to choose from, including miniature pumpkins, giant pumpkins, and unusual colors like white and green.
Select the types that suit your available garden space and have fun trying out uncommon kinds of veggies that aren’t available at the grocery store. Here are a few of the top pumpkin cultivars to grow in your garden at home.
How to Grow Pumpkins from Seed
Knowing when to plant pumpkins is important so you can harvest them at the right time. In mild climates, it’s best to sow pumpkin seeds directly in the ground once the last danger of frost passes and the ground is consistently 70℉ or warmer.
However, in most northern regions, gardeners plant seeds indoors two or three weeks before the average last frost date to get a head start on the growing season.
If you’re starting seeds indoors, you’ll need a few supplies before planting gourds like pumpkins. These items are available online or at your local home and garden supply store if you don’t already have them at home.
Fill up your seedling trays with a well-draining and nutrient-rich potting soil blend. Some growers prefer peat pots or a cardboard egg carton to avoid disturbing the seedlings’ sensitive roots when transplanting.
Plant seeds about an inch deep, then loosely cover them with soil. Gently saturate the soil using a spray bottle. Top your seedling tray with a humidity dome or sheet of plastic to retain moisture.
Germination usually takes between five and ten days, as with a spaghetti squash plant. The ideal soil temperature for germinating pumpkin seeds is between 80-85°F. The seeds do not germinate if the soil is colder than 60°F.
Consider using a heat mat to keep the soil at a consistent temperature during germination and while the seedlings develop.
As soon as your pumpkin seedlings begin sprouting, move them to a south-facing windowsill that gets a minimum of six to eight hours of bright light daily. If you don’t have a sunny window available, use a grow light to prevent the seedlings from becoming elongated or “leggy.”
Preparing Your Planting Site
Pumpkins grow best in fertile, well-draining soil that’s free from large rocks and other obstructions. Many gardeners opt for planting pumpkins in mounds or hills of raised earth to keep the soil warmer and provide better drainage.
Like many other fruiting plants, pumpkins prefer a slightly acidic soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8. Adding coffee grounds or wood ash to your garden soil gently lowers the pH level. They also provide essential nutrients like calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
A week or two before planting your pumpkins, apply several inches of organic compost or well-rotted manure to your soil and cover it with a dark-colored mulch. This adds valuable nutrients to the earth and warms the ground ahead of transplanting.
Make sure your pumpkin plants have adequate space to grow. Refer to the seed packet or plant label for variety-specific planting recommendations. In general, the spacing between pumpkin mounds should be at least 24-36 inches or more for larger cultivars.
How Long Do Pumpkins Take to Grow?
How fast does zucchini or pumkins grow? It depends on the variety, but zucchinis are much faster growers. Larger pumpkin types ordinarily take longer to mature than smaller cultivars. Most kinds of pumpkins are ready to harvest 75-100 days after planting seeds.
If you transplanted nursery-grown seedlings, subtract two or three weeks from the days to harvest listed on the plant label.
In most northern regions, the best time for transplanting pumpkin seedlings is in late May or early June, after the last danger of frost has passed. In the southeastern United States, many gardeners wait until early July before planting pumpkins.
Choosing the Best Fertilizer for Pumpkin Plants
Pumpkin plants are heavy feeders that require regular applications of fertilizer throughout the growing season. Plant fertilizer contains three principal macronutrients: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Nitrogen boosts leaf growth, phosphorus promotes strong root systems, and potassium encourages fruiting and flowering.
When transplanting pumpkin seedlings into your garden beds, place a tablespoon of organic pumpkin plant fertilizer in the bottom of the planting hole.
Once the pumpkin plants begin flowering, switch to an organic gourd plant fertilizer with higher levels of phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen.
If you prefer using slow-release granular fertilizer, apply every three to four weeks until the plants begin to go dormant in late summer or early fall.
For a liquid plant food, combine it with water according to the instructions listed on the product label and fertilize the plants every two weeks.
Pumpkin Plant Care
Once they become established, pumpkin plants are relatively straightforward to care for. For the first few weeks, protect the tender seedlings from insects with a floating row cover.
These also safeguard the plants from unseasonably late spring frosts. Remember to remove them as soon as the plant begins flowering to allow pollination.
It’s also highly advantageous to use organic matter like bark chips, grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, or straw as mulch around the base of your pumpkin plants. Mulching helps to keep the soil insulated and protected, retain moisture, and minimize weed growth.
Pumpkin plants have shallow roots and suffer when competing with weeds for space, nutrients, and water. Be careful when weeding to avoid damaging the sensitive roots.
Be sure not to let your pumpkin plants dry out, as wilting leaves and vines lead to inferior fruit. However, it’s equally vital to avoid overwatering. If the soil stays oversaturated too long, the plants’ root systems cannot absorb adequate amounts of nutrients and oxygen.
Some growers prune the ends of the pumpkin vines off after the plant develops three or four fruits per branch to encourage fruit production.
This practice directs the plant’s energy to the developing fruit instead of producing longer vines. Similarly, pinching off the first few sets of flowers helps the plant focus on its vines and roots until they’re ready for fruit-bearing.
Once the pumpkin fruits begin growing larger, it’s helpful to place a thin board or layer of cardboard underneath them to reduce the risk of insect damage or rot. It’s also beneficial to gently rotate the pumpkins every few weeks to encourage a more uniform shape, taking care not to damage the stems or vines.
How to Grow Pumpkins on a Trellis
If you don’t have a lot of space for a pumpkin patch, or you’re growing them in containers, consider training your pumpkin vines to grow up a trellis.
Growing pumpkins vertically not only saves space in the garden but also reduces the risk of your precious pumpkins rotting or developing fungal diseases while sitting on the ground.
Be sure to construct your trellis frame from sturdy materials that can support the weight of the pumpkin fruits. While smaller varieties are ideal for trellising, it’s also possible to grow medium-sized pumpkins on a trellis.
Use flexible plant ties to loosely secure the vines to the trellis as they grow and encourage the curly tendrils to wrap around the lattice.
For heavier pumpkins, tie large pieces of stretchy fabric to the frame supports like hammocks to hold the fruits. Repurposing old t-shirts or pantyhose works well.
Harvesting and Storing Homegrown Pumpkins
Pumpkins are harvested in late summer or early fall once they’ve reached full maturity. Ripe pumpkins have a hard rind, and the stem should begin to pull away slightly from the top of the fruit. The plants will have begun to wither and die back at this point.
A great way to test whether your pumpkins are ripe yet is to tap the rind firmly. If it feels rigid and produces a hollow sound, it’s ready to get picked. Another method is to press your fingernail into the rind. If you can pierce it, wait a bit longer.
Be sure to harvest pumpkins before the expected first frost date in your area. It’s best to harvest on a day with dry weather if possible.
Using a sterile, sharp knife or pruners, cut the stem a few inches above where it meets the pumpkin. Leaving the stem intact extends the potential storage time.
For the best results, handle your pumpkins gently and avoid bruising them. Pumpkin vines are often prickly, so wear gloves and a long-sleeve shirt when harvesting to prevent skin irritation.
For long-term storage, pumpkins must be cured to toughen their rinds and seal the stem. If possible, leave your pumpkins outdoors in the sun for seven to ten days. If you’re experiencing a wet fall, cure them indoors in a warm, dry location.
Store pumpkins in a cool, dry location. It’s best to arrange them so that the rinds don’t touch. Under ideal conditions, cured pumpkins last for up to three months. How long does yellow squash last? Summer squashes don’t last nearly as long as winter squashes. Refrigerating or freezing are your best options.
Once sliced open, use fresh pumpkin within three days and store it in a sealed container in your refrigerator. Freezing is a magnificent way to extend the shelf life of your fresh pumpkin. Use frozen pumpkin cubes or purée within eight months.
Don’t forget that pumpkin seeds are also edible and highly nutritious. They’re full of antioxidants, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Pumpkin seeds are delicious when incorporated in baked goods, used as a soup or salad garnish, crushed for a fish or meat crust, or roasted as a quick and flavorful snack.
It’s even possible to make healthy and delicious pumpkin seed butter, a tasty and unusual nut-free spread with a rich green color.
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Spread your pumpkin seeds out evenly on a baking sheet and toast them for seven to ten minutes or until lightly golden.
Let the pumpkin seeds cool for around five minutes, then transfer them to a blender or food processor. Purée for four or five minutes until the seeds begin to form a thick paste.
Scrape down the sides, then purée for another two to five minutes while gradually adding the oil. Once the pumpkin seed butter reaches your desired consistency, pulse in any of the add-ins you’d like.
Store your pumpkin seed butter in an airtight container in your refrigerator and use it within two months.
Solutions for Pest and Disease Issues
It’s crucial to regularly check your plants for signs of damage from pests and plant disease. Stressed plants are far more susceptible to attacks from insects and pathogens. Providing your pumpkins with adequate amounts of light, nutrients, and water is their best defense.
Some of the most frequent insect pests that feed on pumpkin plants include aphids, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vine borers.
At the first sign of a new pest infestation, spray all parts of the plant with organic insecticides like neem oil or horticultural oil. Use row covers to prevent insects from laying eggs on the tender seedlings at the beginning of the growing season.
However, keep in mind that pollinators and beneficial predatory insects are also affected by insecticides. Try to be mindful of targeting only infested plants and use cultural controls to minimize pest populations when possible.
Squash plants are susceptible to fungal diseases like leaf spot, powdery mildew, and rust. These diseases persist in warm, damp conditions, and the spores often spread through water droplets. Ensure adequate air circulation, and use drip irrigation or a soaker hose to keep the leaves dry when watering.
If you thought you didn’t have enough space to grow pumpkins in your own backyard, think again. Whether you want to grow prize-winning giant pumpkins or keep adorable miniature pumpkins in a patio pot, the options are endless.
If you’ve ever wondered how long do pumpkins take to grow, the answer is that it depends on the variety. All that’s required is fertile soil, plenty of water and sunshine, and a little bit of patience.
We hope that you found these gardening tips helpful and that you’ll share this article about how to grow pumpkins with all of your green thumb friends and family on Pinterest and Facebook.