Pumpkins are a really fun crop to grow for carving and baking. Kids love them and adults enjoy seeing how large they can get on the vine. While pumpkin planting might seem like a daunting task, there are some tips and tricks you can use to get a great harvest out of these famous cucurbits.
Pumpkins require several things to grow successfully. They include:
A Frost-Free Growing Season
Pumpkins do better in places with long, frost-free growing seasons. Specifically, about 75 to 100 days of the season should be free of frost. This means that pumpkin farmers in northern areas will have to get them planted by late May, while southern growers need them in by early July. Still, you need to be sure to wait until the danger of frost has passed in your region before putting a single seedling in the ground because they are rather tender. If they're hit by frost early on, your pumpkin plants might rot or get injured.
To create a booming pumpkin patch, you're also going to need a decent amount of space. To maximize a relatively small growing area, consider planting your pumpkins along the edge of your garden and allowing the vines to extend out onto the lawn or a nearby walkway. No matter where you choose to plant them, you'll want to give your pumpkins frequent access to full sunlight. If you can't seem to find an ideal spot for them (or have limited gardening space in general), you can always try container gardening some smaller pumpkin varieties.
Pumpkin plants must be fed water and nutrients on a regular basis. Before you start planting, you'll find it beneficial to amend the soil in your designated pumpkin area with aged manure and compost. Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer to this area when your seedlings start to take off and again when they're about a foot tall. Once your plants have started blooming, you’ll want to switch to a fertilizer that contains a higher amount of phosphorous.
You’ll need to give your pumpkin plants about an inch of water every week. However, it's important to keep their foliage as dry as possible, as it can start to rot if left damp. To keep moisture in the soil around your pumpkin plants, try using mulch. Mulch will also eliminate the weeds that would otherwise try to steal water and nutrients away from your pumpkins. Any weeds that do pop up should be carefully weeded out and removed as soon as you notice them. Remember that pumpkins have shallow roots that can easily be damaged if you’re too hard on the soil around them when removing weeds.
Pest and Disease Problems
There are a few different pests and diseases to look out for when it comes to pumpkin gardening. Cucumber beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borers, aphids, anthracnose, and powdery mildew are all potential concerns.
Once you’ve got several pumpkins forming on your vine, you’ll want to pinch off the vine's fuzzy end. This tells the plant to stop growing the vine and redirects its attention to the fruit. You'll also want to prune some of them, as less productive vines take up energy that would be better off going to their more productive counterparts. Plus, pruning will help clear some much-needed garden space.
If you’re trying to grow a impressive giant pumpkin, you’ll want to focus your efforts on a few potential candidates on the plant. Once you’ve selected two or three, remove the remaining fruit and vines from the plant. This gives your pumpkins the best chance at getting bigger.
Each pumpkin should be regularly turned to help maintain its shape. If you’ve ever seen a pumpkin with a flat side, it's probably because it wasn't turned enough and left to lay on that same side. Nonetheless, you need to be careful when attempting to move a pumpkin, as damaging its stem or vine could cause it (and the entire plant) to die. You may also want to put a piece of plastic mesh or a thin board under your pumpkins to increase air circulation and help them grow nicely.
Wait until your pumpkins are mature and have achieved a desired size before harvesting them. Once they're off the vine, they aren't going to get any bigger. Ripe pumpkins are typically a solid orange color. The rind should feel hard under your finger, and if you hit the side, it should have a hollow sound. If you can press your nail into the pumpkin’s rind to the point where it goes in, it's probably not mature enough, so give it a little longer on the vine. When it's ready to come off, use a sharp knife or pruners to remove the pumpkin from the vine. Make sure to leave a decent-sized stem on each fruit, as pumpkins whose stems are too short are harder to store successfully.
As long as you're willing to properly care for them, pumpkin plants can make a great addition to your garden — and they can yield you some enormous fruit! Read over the specific requirements for the variety you’re planning on growing to ensure that you're giving it everything it needs to thrive.