Are you ready to become a pumpkin pro? Growing and harvesting pumpkins is easier than you think and can be a fun and rewarding experience.
In this article, you’ll learn all the tips and tricks for growing and harvesting pumpkins like you’ve been at it for decades.
From selecting the suitable pumpkin variety, such as giant pumpkins or small baby pumpkins, to finding the perfect location for your pumpkin patch that receives full sun and has rich soil, we cover it here.
We’ll also outline when to plant your pumpkin seedlings or seeds and how to identify female pumpkin flowers so you can maximize pollination and deal with pests like cucumber beetles.
Finally, we’ll discuss harvesting and storing your pumpkins for maximum freshness and flavor.
Let’s jump in!
Table of Contents
What Do Pumpkin Plants Look Like?
Pumpkin plants are a sight to behold! They typically have either dark green or pale green-white vines that slither and creep along the ground as they grow, with fluorescent orange baby pumpkins growing at the base of the flower.
Pumpkin plants need plenty of space to spread out their long, spindly vines and generally thrive in large planters, raised flower beds, or other enclosures that help maintain adequate soil temperature. These types of planters also allow for good drainage and protection from frost on those exceedingly cold fall nights.
Pumpkin vines are covered in tiny, prickly hairs, which almost feel sticky to the touch. The leaves growing along the vines are typically large and lobed and provide a huge surface to capture sunlight.
It is typical for primary pumpkin vines to produce just one or two big-papa pumpkins, while smaller secondary vines normally produce a few or several baby pumpkins.
How to Care for Pumpkin Plants
Pumpkin plants prefer soil with good drainage and lots of organic matter – as with most other crops grown in similar conditions. Make sure to mix in plenty of compost before sowing your pumpkin seeds or seedlings, as this will provide the necessary nutrients for optimal growth.
Organic matter not only helps the soil retain moisture, but it allows for better oxygen flow and increases the soil’s capacity to hold nutrients. It’s also essential to ensure the soil is adequately compacted and has enough space for the pumpkin’s roots to grow.
If you plan to grow your pumpkins in a pumpkin patch, you can maintain ideal soil conditions by testing the soil annually or seasonally for nutrients and adjusting your feed and fertilizer accordingly. Typically, the soil’s pH level should be between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimal pumpkin growth.
With suitable soil, pumpkin plants can produce healthy, delicious pumpkins that will start to appear in October or November, usually around the same time as the first true leaves.
Pumpkins need to be watered on a consistent basis if you want to reach a top-notch harvest. However, it is essential not to drown the plants, as too much water can easily cause problems like root rot and soggy leaves or stems.
Soggy leaves and overly wet soil can quickly lead to nasty fungal infections and other diseases that can completely destroy your harvest.
The amount of water needed for your pumpkins will depend on a variety of environmental factors, including the variety of the pumpkin, soil and water conditions, climate, and time between rainfalls.
Generally, it’s best to water the soil to a depth of around six inches and give the plants about an inch of water each week. You may need to increase the amount of water for larger pumpkins and larger pumpkin varieites, such as big max.
When watering, it’s best to use a soaker hose or drip irrigation system to ensure that the water reaches the base of the plant and not just the surface. Further, you should try and check your soil’s moisture every day or two to ensure it is draining and drying properly.
Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop, so they love long days in natural sunlight. Since they are geared towards growing through the summer, you shouldn’t have any trouble showering them with sunlight during the long growing season. The ample sunlight will also help maintain adequate soil moisture!
If you have a particularly short growing season, you can use row covers or other protection to help keep the soil warm and protect the plants from low temperatures.
Be sure to measure the amount of rain your plot is getting, and water the land accordingly during a drought.
With the right amount of water and other care, you can enjoy delicious pies and treats made with your own pumpkins.
When it comes to pumpkin care (and most other plant care), the right amount and intensity of light are key to a bountiful harvest.
Pumpkin plants enjoy full sun and warm weather, so make sure they are growing in areas that get at least 6-8 hours of sun every day. Doing so will ensure you get the best results out of your harvest.
Light is also essential to the promotion and growth of female blossoms and the overall development of young pumpkins. If pumpkin plants don’t receive enough light, the main vine can become thin and weak, and the pumpkins may take longer to mature – or could never mature fully.
The lack of light may also cause the female blossoms to wilt and the young pumpkins to develop jagged edges or bumps. Additionally, consider hand-pollinating the female blossoms if the flowers don’t receive enough direct sunlight.
Temperature is also a crucial element of pumpkin care. Pumpkin plants need warm weather to grow and thrive and will not typically succeed in cold weather.
Generally, the soil temperature should be at least 60-95 degrees Fahrenheit before planting your pumpkin seeds or seedlings. This is the best time to plant, as the danger of frost has passed, and the soil has had enough time to warm up.
You can also use ground cover or cover crops to maintain a suitable soil temperature!
Growing cover crops on the surrounding soil can help retain heat and drive up the soil temperature faster. If the soil temperature is too low, the pumpkin sprouts may not emerge, or the plants may become stunted and fail to produce fruit. Cool temperatures can also lead to fungal infections and other diseases.
To find the best time to plant your pumpkins, you should look at the average last frost date in your area and consider the outdoor conditions.
Nutrition. It’s essential for nearly every living thing – especially plants.
To ensure your plants are getting all the nutrients they need, consider adding a balanced fertilizer to your pumpkin patch every few weeks. This will help the plants stay healthy and produce large, delicious fruits.
Additionally, consider adding a few other elements to your pumpkin patch, such as compost and other organic matter. Compost and other organic matter will help the soil retain moisture, increase its capacity to hold nutrients, and allow for better oxygen flow.
Remember, if in doubt, get your soil tested, or do it yourself with a simple and affordable at-home test kit!
Cover Cropping for Pumpkins (The Scoop)
Cover cropping on pumpkin plots is sooo underrated.
One of the biggest issues with growers in the midwest US or northeast US is that winter weather is sporadic and unpredictable at best. If the harsh cold settles in too early in the growing season, your pumpkin plants will not be happy.
This is where cover crops come into play. Cover crops help hold heat in the soil when cold weather sets in and will give you that little bit of extra time to finish out your harvest.
Cover crops don’t only help keep the soil warm enough for optimal pumpkin plant growth, though. They also drive up organic matter and help maintain soil structure. This is especially true when used alongside agricultural methods like no-till and low-till.
As soil health and structure improve year after year, cover crops are broken down by soil microbes, insects, and earthworms, providing a massive amount of organic matter and nutrients that your pumpkin plants can use.
Suitable Cover Crops for Pumpkins
- Winter Wheat
- Winter Rye
Growing No-Till Pumpkins (Sustainable Farming at its Finest)
No-till farming is a relatively new agricultural production method that works particularly well with pumpkin patches.
If you’ve noticed a decline in soil health or have run into problems like soil erosion on your plots, you can introduce a mid to long-term solution like no-till or low-till!
Basically, no-till farming is a method of sustainable farming that does not disturb the soil at any point in any year. The idea is that the soil will increase in structure and retain more vital nutrients, and the form and structure are never disturbed.
Farmers that use no-till farming collect numerous long-term benefits – some of the most advantageous being earthworm and microbial production!
Soil microbes drive almost every process that’s essential to plant growth and harvests. Similarly, earthworms work with soil microbes to break down organic matter into easily digestible food for epic plant growth.
Since pumpkins thrive in sunny spots, with well-fed conditions, their growth rate can be incredibly high, and having an increased amount of useable organic matter to promote vegetative and fruit/flower growth makes no-till an ideal solution.
Next year, and the year after, and so on, you’ll see major improvements in your soil and overall plant production.
Potted Exotics Pro Tip: Avocado trees make great companion plants for pumpkins, and each will love a no-till or low-till environment. However, you will need to choose a warm-tolerant pumpkin variety to do this, as avocados typically prefer warm climates.
How to Choose the Right Pumpkin Variety
When you’re ready to pick a pumpkin variety, you need to choose one that suits your climate. Not every pumpkin variety grows best in the same region or USDA hardiness zone, so careful selection is key.
The variety you choose should take well to summer conditions, which typically means being able to withstand a lot of direct sunlight throughout the day, accompanied by hot, arid weather.
Your pumpkins may also need to endure periods of drought, depending on the region.
Planting your pumpkin seedlings or seeds in early June is a good idea, and you can maximize pollination efforts by identifying female pumpkin flowers and ensuring they are pollinated by male flowers. You can also do this by hand, which is a fun process that we cover below.
Do Pumpkins Self Pollinate?
Not a chance! But to enjoy a full harvest of bright orange pumpkins, miniature pumpkins, and other pumpkin varieties, you’ll need to lend a helping hand!
Male flowers produce nectar and pollen, while female flowers have higher quantities of nectar but no pollen. Bees visit the male flowers and take the large, sticky granules of pollen back to the female flowers, completing the transfer.
The quality of the pumpkin fruit is improved by increased pollinator activity, and it’s up to you to make sure that happens. But don’t worry, hand-pollinating pumpkins isn’t as hard as it sounds – especially with mini pumpkin varieties.
How to Pollinate Pumpkins by Hand
If you ever find yourself in a situation where the bees have abandoned your pumpkin patch, don’t worry!
Hand-pollinating pumpkins is easier than you might think. All you need is a bit of patience and some soft, dry paper towel.
- First, look for male pumpkin flowers that have full yellow petals with a slight bulge in the center.
- Next, find the female blossoms at the base of the flower or the bloom’s bottom.
- Finally, take your paper towel and brush the pollen from the male flowers onto the female blossoms. You can also use a small paintbrush or a cotton swab if you find that easier.
Once you’re done, sit back and enjoy the show – or, you know, daydream about the delicious pumpkin pies and other treats that are coming your way!
Just remember, a little bit of effort goes a long way. So, don your bee suit and get to work!
How to Grow Pumpkins: 7 Stages of the Pumpkin Life Cycle
Who knew pumpkins were so high maintenance? It takes them a whopping 90 to 140 days to grow up and become full-fledged pumpkins.
Ready to grow the biggest and baddest pumpkins on the block? First thing, it’s time to get those seeds in the ground.
Late spring is the perfect time to plant, so your pumpkins will be ready for Halloween gadening fun. But don’t just throw those seeds out willy-nilly – make sure to put two or three in each hole, about an inch deep.
This little trick is called overseeding, and it’ll give you the best chance of those seeds actually sprouting.
But let’s say you just can’t wait for those little guys to grow and want to get them in the ground at the drop of the growing season. No problem!
Just start the process indoors by planting those seeds in a soil-filled container. Give them a good watering, and store the container in a warm, dark place.
Before you know it, those seeds will be sprouting in 5-10 days. Pumpkins, here we come!
It’s time to get your pumpkin patch in shape and ready for the big show! After planting your pumpkin seeds, you’ll need to watch the soil temperature, as germination can take 5-10 days.
Finally, you’ll be rewarded with two oval cotyledons emerging from the ground–the first set of pumpkin seedlings!
But the fun doesn’t stop there–after a week or so, the first true pumpkin leaves appear, and the seedlings start to look like baby pumpkins!
3. Growing Vines
After planting your pumpkin seeds and waiting for the soil temperature to be just right, you’ll soon be rewarded with two oval-shaped cotyledons sprouting out of the ground–the first set of adorable baby pumpkins!
But don’t be fooled by their cuteness because these little guys can quickly become a handful! Pumpkin vine growth can easily jump to 10-20 feet (3-6 meters) long and may even grow over the edge of a raised bed, creating a pumpkin patch-style obstacle course!
For best results, plant your pumpkin patch in May or June when the danger of frost has passed, and Stake the young plants to support them as they grow.
After 8-10 weeks, you should see bright yellow flowers popping up between the big stems, thin stems, and runner vines. Female flowers have a small fruit behind them and look like a bigger version of a cucumber flower, while male flowers don’t have any fruit.
To ensure your pumpkin patch is happy and healthy, give them the nutrients they need at this stage. Well-composted manure or organic fertilizers will help your plants grow bigger and stronger.
From now on, water your patch regularly and give them a good inch of water every week.
5. Flower Pollination
The blooming of the female flowers marks the beginning of pumpkin pollination. When your plants take off, the first flowers (male flowers) will appear and bloom before the female flowers arrive. Once the female flowers show up, it’s time for the pumpkin pollination dance party!
Pollinators, such as bees and bumblebees, will flock to the flowers to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. After the pollen is successfully transferred, the female flower will shut itself off and start growing the fruit.
If you need more pollinators in the area, you can still help out. Using a tiny paintbrush, you can manually transfer the pollen from the male to the female. However, this process is lengthy and tedious, so inviting pollinators to your garden is best.
The best time for this is when the weather is warm and frost is impossible. If you try Hand pollination, you’ll know you’ve done it right when you see small green fruits with a slight bulge at the base of the bloom or the base of the flower.
6. Fruit Growth Stage
Now that the pollination party is over, it’s time for the real fun to begin. The female flower petals will close up, and the pumpkin fruit will start to take shape. This stage usually takes about 45-55 days, during which the pumpkin will grow larger and rounder.
As it continues to mature, the skin will become thicker and more rigid. Eventually, the vines will start to brown and wither, and the pumpkin will turn its natural color (whatever that may be). And let’s be honest; we all have our favorite pumpkin hues.
And there you have it, the complete growth journey of a pumpkin plant. Congrats, you’re a certified pumpkin expert now.
Get ready, folks, because it’s time for the main event: pumpkin harvest time! And don’t worry; there are a few key signs to look for to know when it’s go-time.
First, check the color of the skin. Does it match the variety of pumpkin you planted? If so, that’s a good start. Keep an eye out for the long vines starting to die back, the skin becoming hard, and a hollow sound when you tap the pumpkin.
And don’t forget about the stem – when it becomes tough, it’s a surefire sign that your pumpkin is ready to be picked.
But here’s a pro tip! Use clippers or pruners to cut the stem, leaving about 2 inches attached to the pumpkin. This’ll help extend its shelf life and keep it fresher for longer. Happy harvesting!
Common Problems with Pumpkin Plants
While powdery mildew on pumpkins looks unpleasant, the good news is that a mild case isn’t fatal. That said, if left untreated, the disease will likely spread.
Powdery mildew first appears as white, powdery spots. These spots gradually spread, and a pumpkin that is severely affected may have a reduced yield, shorter growth time, and pumpkins with little flavor.
If the powdery mildew on the pumpkins is minimal, you can take action to prevent it from causing further damage.
- Start by removing the infected leaves, vines, or blossoms.
- Depending upon when the infection sets in, this may give the plant enough time to complete the production of its pumpkins.
- To prevent the disease from reappearing, you can plant pumpkins in full sun and allow for good air circulation.
- You should also avoid using too much fertilizer and opt for a slow-release fertilizer to reduce the risk of powdery mildew.
If the disease persists, you will likely need an application of fungicide. Fungicides fall into the categories of protectants, eradicants, or both.
Try using neem oil or jojoba oil, which typically work as well as eradicant fungicides but also have some protectant qualities
You can use sulfur to manage powdery mildew during your 7 pumpkin growth stages, but make sure to apply it before the symptoms appear. Adding sulfur after pumpkin fruits are growing can cause some hard-to-handle problems.
Fungal Diseases and Fungal Infections
Good hygiene is essential in keeping fungal infections from overriding your pumpkin plants.
If you have a bunch of unnecessary junk in your garden, remove it! Keep your garden or pumpkin patch clean and free of debris and unwanted organic material, and avoid handling plants when they’ve received too much water lately.
Plant-resistant pumpkins vary by variety and environmental conditions, but some types are known to be exceptionally resistant to fungal infections – which can be perfect for you if the variety matches your growing zone.
You can also use a preventive fungicide to keep the plants from becoming infected and practice proper watering techniques. Try to avoid overwatering (which is easy to do when your land is getting a lot of rain), and water your pumpkins at the base of the plant, not on the leaves.
Keep an eye on your plants for signs of fungal infections. Fungal infections can lead to yellowing or wilting leaves, and they should be carefully removed from any infected plants to prevent the spread of the disease to other pumpkin plants or nearby crops.
When treating cucumber beetles on pumpkin plants, it’s crucial to have a plan of attack!
- Start by rotating vine crops with grains, tomatoes, or a non-host cover crop to help delay the inevitable beetle onslaught.
- Consider planting blue Hubbard squash at the edges of the pumpkin patch, as this variety is particularly attractive to cucumber beetles and will act as a trap crop.
- Consider using floating row covers for smaller plantings. It is the best way to keep the beetles away. And when it comes time to uncover the plants to allow for pollination, be sure to do it in the late afternoon or evening to avoid harming beneficial insects or pollinators.
- Lastly, if beetle populations are exceptionally high, chemical treatments may be necessary – but use them cautiously, as it is not ALWAYS a great way to handle pests!
With the right action plan, you can help keep your pumpkin patch beetle-free!
If you’re a pumpkin patch owner and want to keep the dreaded squash bug at bay, don’t worry; here’s how to proceed.
- Start by inspecting your pumpkin plants once a week and handpicking any squash bugs you see. Remember to destroy any egg masses you spot to prevent them from hatching.
- To make the bugs’ job even harder, keep the area around the base of the plants free of weeds, fallen leaves, and other plant debris. Removing plant debris during the growing season and cleaning the area after harvest also help prevent future invasions.
- If all else fails, an insecticidal soap may be necessary, but follow the directions on the label. So with a little preparation and a lot of vigilance, you can keep your pumpkin patch healthy!
Be sure to inspect your pumpkins regularly for squash bugs! If you find them lurking around your plants, pick them off and drop them into a soapy death trap. Another natural way of repelling them is by planting natural repellents like garlic or catnip with them.
Keep an eye out for their light green-colored eggs, which may be found in clusters on the lower surface of leaves – if you spot any, get rid of them quickly to avoid a full-blown invasion.
Try to repel them naturally by planting smelly plant like garlic and cartnip.
With vigilance, you can keep your pumpkin patch free of stink bugs and enjoy your pumpkins all season!
How to Grow a Giant Pumpkin
If you are ready to take your pumpkin game to the next level? Get your Giant seeds variety and start your pumpkin growing season right!
Did you know that someone set the world record for the largest pumpkin in 2021 at a whopping 2,700+ pounds in Italy!? A true monster!
If you want any chance of competing with that, you better be sure you have what it takes – along with all the essential info that will get you through harvest.
To grow a truly massive beast of a pumpkin, you’ll need a big plot of land with a lot of space, a ridiculous amount of fertilizer, plenty of sun, and plenty of water. These things are heavy feeders!
One of the best larger varieties to grow is “Dill’s Atlantic Giant” pumpkin seeds. But be aware; these things cost a pretty penny! One single acre of this variety can run you upwards of $1500! Just imagine how much a large scale cultivation would cost you.
Remember these details:
- Make sure to germinate the seeds at the right temperature and start them indoors!
- Move the pumpkin seeds to your garden after five to seven weeks, and be aware of super moist soil or soil compaction.
- Compost, compost, compost!
- It is imperative that you plant these in a location with FULL SUN. Even the slightest shade can hinder their productivity, so growing them near shade-loving vegetables like carrots, chard, and cabbage is not advisable.
- Give your pumpkin plenty of room to spread and provide it with shade as it gains size to prevent scalding and reduce overheating.
- Stake down the leaves and vines to prevent wind-roll.
- Make sure to harvest your pumpkin at the end of the season just before the first frost, and check that the surface area is shaded red, pink, or yellow rather than blue, gray, or green.
With some luck and dedication, and the right amount of time growing, you’ll soon have the biggest and baddest pumpkins on the block! No room for small pumpkins for those growing giants. So what are you waiting for? Get to growing those pumpkins!