Have you got a hankering for deliciously plump pumpkins?
These orange balls of joy are a main staple come the autumn. They look perfect in any kitchen table arrangement, or smiling brightly as a Halloween jack-o-lantern. But these treats are for more than decoration.
You can bake them in a pie, cook them in a stew, or roast them with a bit of butter in the hot oven. Full of nutrients, these fruits will have you frolicking with flavor and energy.
So, you know you want to eat pumpkins. You know you want to munch on some toasted pumpkin seeds, and maybe carve up a pumpkin for display on the 31st.
But how to grow pumpkins? Luckily, it isn’t too difficult to plant a pumpkin garden and reap the rewards come harvest time. However, it can be daunting if it’s your first time.
That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide for all you aspiring gourd gourmands out there. Read on to discover everything you need to know about growing pumpkins, including where to plant, proper care, and how to eliminate common problems.
How to Grow Pumpkins: When to Plant
The first step in figuring out how to grow pumpkins is determining when exactly they should be planted. It’s important to realize that there is no one “magic month” to plant. It depends more on where you live, because it’s all about temperature.
We all know that pumpkins are a fall thing, what with jack-o-lanterns being so popular. And if you aren’t planning on eating your pumpkins, you can plant them outside after summer has passed. As soon as the temperature reaches 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re good to go.
If, you do plan on consuming your pumpkins, you’ll want to factor in the climate around your area. That’s because pumpkins grow faster in warmer climates. For people residing in the northern regions, plant your pumpkins in late May.
If you live in the southern part of the country, you’ll be safe planting your pumpkins a little bit later. Feel free to wait until mid-July to sow the seeds of deliciousness.
How to Grow Pumpkins: Picking Your Site
Now that you know when to plant, it’s time to figure out the where to plant. You’ll want to pick a site with full sunlight, since pumpkins adore warmth and heat. A shady pumpkin patch doesn’t make for optimal pumpkins.
You need a large area to grow your pumpkins. These are large gourds, and even if you aren’t planting a giant variety, they still need space. Consider utilizing between 20 and 30 square feet for your patch. The more pumpkins you plan to grow, the bigger the space needs to be.
You’ll also want to pick an area with good drainage, so as not to drown your pumpkins when the rain comes. Make sure your patch also has good soil. The ideal soil for pumpkins has a pH of around 6 to 6.5. It’s rich, loamy, and sheltered from chilly autumn winds.
How to Grow Pumpkins: Preparing Your Patch
It isn’t enough to simply pick a site and stick some seeds in the ground, especially if you want to learn how to grow pumpkins the right way. If you want a good harvest with healthy, strong pumpkins, you need to prepare the soil and beds for optimal growing. What does that look like?
Most farmers agree that planting pumpkins on raised hills or mounds (about the size of a pitcher’s mound) is better for drainage. It also gives the pumpkin’s leaves a chance to spread down and outwards, promoting larger growth. Remember to space the hills far apart from each other, as the pumpkins need lots of room.
How far apart you make the mounds is dependent on which variety of pumpkin you are planting. Larger types need mounds which are further apart, while the smaller varieties may be placed closer together.
It’s also a good idea to integrate pumpkin fertilizer into the soil. This will ensure an environment which fosters healthy growth and large pumpkins. Choose a compost-based fertilizer or manure-based fertilizer to start with.
How to Grow Pumpkins: Seeding and Planting
You have two options when it comes to actually planting pumpkins. You can choose to germinate the seeds indoors and replant them outside, or you can choose to plant them directly outdoors.
If you live in a warmer area, you have enough time to plant the seeds directly in the ground. About 1 inch down in the soil is the perfect depth. However, those living in colder climes may find that they simply don’t have the window of time necessary for outdoor growing.
In that case, you can germinate the seeds indoors about 2 weeks before the warmer planting season begins. Use rich soil and biodegradable pots to germinate the seeds, so as not to disturb the roots when you bring them outdoors.
Once the seedlings are around 3 inches tall and the weather permits it, you can transplant them easily to your mounds. Dig a hole large enough for the biodegradable pot, and plant only one pumpkin per mound. Nothing ruins a good crop like overcrowding.
How to Grow Pumpkins: Proper Care
Despite what you may have been led to believe with Cinderella, there’s no such thing as a magical pumpkin. They require care and maintenance just like every plant, so make sure you give them all the love they need to grow up big and strong. What exactly does that mean?
Proper Feeding and Watering
First of all, you have to water them properly. That means concentrating on the soil around the plants rather than the leaves and stems themselves. Too much water will cause rot and fungal diseases to spread like wildfire. To further reduce the risk of rot, place a piece of wood or plastic under each pumpkin to keep it separated from the soil.
Every 10 to 14 days, your pumpkins will get hungry. You need to keep on fertilizing them, especially after they begin to flower. Use a high-potash liquid fertilizer for bigger leaves and plumper pumpkins.
Protection from the Elements and Disease
It’s also smart to use row covers in the early stages of growth to trap heat for the pumpkins and protect them from nasty predators who want to eat them even more than you do. However, once your plants begin to flower you need to remove the covers so that the flowers can be pollinated.
You’ll also need to clear away weeds and dead leaves from your patch periodically. Keeping your garden clean reduces the risk of slugs and other pests homing in on your harvest.
You can also spread mulch around the base of your pumpkin plants, which reduces weeds in the first place. Use a weed barrier under the mulch to further prevent weeds.
Pruning and Turning
It’s a good idea to prune your pumpkin vines once you have a few flowers growing. That way the pumpkin will focus more of its energy on growing the fruit, rather than expanding its vines and conquering the garden.
Once you have little pumpkins growing happily in your garden, you need to keep an eye on them and turn them regularly. This helps keep growth even on all sides.
How to Grow Pumpkins: Pest and Disease Control
You aren’t the only one who thinks pumpkins are delicious. Unfortunately, there are a lot of creatures out there who want to get their hands on your crop. Common pests include cucumber beetles, aphids, squash vine borers, and squash bugs.
It’s important to keep these pests at bay. This can be accomplished partly by using row covers, as well as organic pesticides and keeping a clean garden.
Not only do pests eat your hard-earned pumpkins, they encourage the spread of diseases like bacterial wilt. If you notice wilting leaves and holes bored into the leaves and stems of your plant, treat with pesticides immediately — it’s likely you have cucumber beetles.
Any plant or pumpkin affected by bacterial wilt or any other disease will need to be removed from the garden entirely. The good news is that you can control pests and many diseases by using the prevention techniques mentioned above.
How to Grow Pumpkins: Harvest Time
So, how do you know when your pumpkins are ready to pluck? There are several ways to determine ripeness:
- Color Test: Normally, a pumpkin will achieve a rich, deep color when ripe. Normally this means a nice and hearty shade of orange, but it could be another color if you plant other types of pumpkins.
- Sound Test: Slap your pumpkin. Not hard, but hard enough to determine the sound quality. If a hollow sound emanates from the pumpkin, it may be ready to pick.
- Hardness Test: If the skin and stem right above the pumpkin is hard to the touch, this is another good indicator that your gourds are ready.
Learn How to Grow Pumpkins for Delicious Fall Treats
Now that you know how to grow pumpkins, you’ll be swimming in bright orange yumminess by the time autumn comes into full swing.
No matter what you want to use your pumpkins for, you won’t regret planting them. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and get growing.