How To Grow Pumpkins

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As the weather turns to fall and the days grow cooler, bright orange pumpkins burst into the season. Pumpkins make a colorful and stunning addition to an autumn inspired porch décor. Pumpkins are the center of a Halloween party. Pumpkins can be carved, painted or adorned in fall leaves and silk flowers. Pumpkins are also part of a nutritious eating plan and are high in potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and iron.

Selecting a Pumpkin Variety

Pumpkins range in size from the small varieties that weigh as little as a pound to the giant types that can grow to 200 pounds or more. For most uses, the small and medium size pumpkins are perfect for the home garden. Here are several varieties of pumpkins that can be grown in most any garden:

  • The small varieties can be turned into a filling for a pumpkin pie, oven roasted for a side dish or mashed for a potato substitute. Examples include Small Sugar, Baby Bear and Early Sweet Sugar Pie.
  • A popular heirloom that looks like Cinderella’s coach and can be used to decorate a porch or entryway is the Rouge Vif D`etampes. Another decorative pumpkin is Galeux D’Eysines which displays a skin embroidered with warts.
  • To carve a Halloween jack-o-lantern, look for varieties that have a softer skin. Jack O’Lantern and Triple Treat are easy to carve, have a tasty flesh and edible seeds.
  • White pumpkins (such as Lumina, Baby Boo and Cushaw White) can be used for cooking and for painting.

Growing Tips for Pumpkins

Before planting pumpkin plants, look for a location that has the following qualities:

  • Sun during most of the day.
  • Well-draining soil that has been amended with composted organic matter. Work about 4 inches of compost into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil.
  • Plants that grow vines on the ground require a large area. Pumpkins grow on mounds that are 3 to 4 feet across and the plant can produce vines as long as 10 feet.
  • If garden space is limited, grow pumpkins on a trellis or an arbor. Large fruits will require support. A burlap sling can be attached to the trellis to cradle the pumpkin.
  • Pumpkins can be planted in containers and placed in a sunny location. Use large containers (at least 12 inches deep and 24 inches across) to grow 2 plants.

Here are a few pumpkin planting tips:

  • When starting plants from seeds, plant4 to 6seeds in each mound. Plant seeds 1 to 2 inches deep. After the seedlings have emerged, keep the best 2 or 3 plants.
  • When purchasing transplants, select plants that have 3 or 4 mature leaves and a well developed root system.
  • Extend the growing season by sowing seeds every 3 weeks.
  • Spread mulch over the pumpkin mound, but keep the mulch 2 inches away from the plant. This retains the moisture in the soil and keeps weeds under control.
  • Plants require infrequent but deep watering. Allow the soil to dry slightly between watering. Also, provide water to just the roots, do not water the leaves. This helps reduce fungus and other diseases.
  • Pumpkins are susceptible to aphids and squash bugs. Aphids can be sprayed off the plant with a mixture of 1 quart water and 1 teaspoon mild dishwashing soap. Hand pick squash bugs off the plants.
  • In areas with a short growing season, extend the growing season with cold frames and row covers. Seeds can be started indoors 6 weeks before the last frost and transplanted outdoors when the weather warms up.

Harvesting the Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the pumpkin fruit has attained its mature coloring and the vine begins to die back. The skin becomes hard and cannot be broken by applying pressure with a fingernail. Here are a few more harvesting tips:

  • When harvesting pumpkins, leave 2 to 3 inches of stem attached to the fruit.
  • Cure pumpkins for 7 to 10 days at 80 degrees to toughen the skin for long-term storage. Pumpkins can be cured outdoors in dry and sunny weather. Cure pumpkins indoors in a warm and well-ventilated spot.
  • After harvesting, store whole, cured and unblemished pumpkins in a cool (between 40 and 45 degrees) and dark space. The pumpkin will keep for two months.

Here are some easy ways to prepare pumpkin:

  • To cook pumpkin, cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut each half into 4 pieces. Pumpkin can be boiled, baked, broiled or grilled. It is easy to peel off the tough skin after the pumpkin has cooled.
  • Save the pumpkin seeds. The seeds can be baked to make a healthy snack.
  • Freeze pumpkin for later use. Cook the pumpkin, mash it and freeze in freezer bags or containers.

Pumpkin varieties and growing conditions vary from region to region. When growing pumpkins in the garden, look for varieties that are resistant to local pests and diseases. Also look for cultivars that match the length of your growing season.

Last Updated: September 16, 2012
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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