Few things say sweater weather more than a bright orange pumpkin! Making a trip to your local pumpkin patch to pick your spooky season gourds in anticipation of Halloween is a favorite, fall activity. But have you ever considered growing pumpkins yourself?
Of course, to grow pumpkins, you’ll have to learn all about caring for pumpkins. With time, dedication, and a little love, anyone can have healthy pumpkin plants that result in a plentiful harvest.
Keep reading to learn all about caring for pumpkins!
Caring for Pumpkins
Can anyone grow pumpkins, no matter where they live? Unfortunately, no, so make sure you check off these boxes before diving into your caring for pumpkins adventure.
- have ample gardening space?
- live somewhere with a long growing season?
Then the answer is most definitely yes. If you live in colder conditions, you might have to adjust your planting schedule, or think about growing pumpkin plants indoors or in a greenhouse. For expert advice, check with your local nursery.
Choose a Pumpkin Variety
Now that you’ve confirmed you have the space and climate to grow pumpkins, let’s start with the true first step in caring for pumpkins: choosing a pumpkin variety!
The good news is there’s a pumpkin out there for everyone. There are hundreds of varieties in different sizes, colors, textures, and tastes, so the options are endless!
Whether you’re looking to grow miniature pumpkins to line your picket fence, or giant pumpkins to attract this year’s trick-or-treaters, one of our favorite seed retailers, Hoss Tools, offers lots of pumpkin seeds you can purchase online.
But because the pumpkin options are endless, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. My advice is to think carefully about your garden layout and exactly why you’re growing pumpkins.
For example, are you growing pumpkins primarily for cooking purposes? For pumpkin carving? Answering these questions will help narrow down your choice of pumpkin varieties to grow.
Of course, you can’t learn about caring for pumpkins without first planting your pumpkins!
Like most plants, pumpkins can either be grown from seeds or from transplants. If you choose to plant pumpkin transplants, feel free to skip to the next section! But for those of you starting from seed, carry on here.
Because most pumpkin plant varieties grow long vines (up to 20 feet long!) that can become unruly, most gardeners prefer to grow them directly in the ground rather than in containers. That means the first step to planting your pumpkin seeds and caring for pumpkins is finding a location.
The location should be:
- in full sunlight
- ideally on the edge of a garden (so you can direct the growth away from other plants)
- two to five feet away from other plants, depending on the size of your pumpkin variety
Once you’ve selected the location, it’s time to get to work. For more experienced gardeners, you could consider planting seeds in soil hills – small piles of dirt that sit higher than the rest of the garden.
Because they’re elevated, the soil absorbs heat faster and has better water drainage. If you’re a beginner gardener, however, you can skip this.
When to Plant
When it comes to timing your planting, the only really important factor is that you plant them after the last frost.
If you want to harvest pumpkins at a certain time, you should check the information listed on the seed packets for the amount of time it takes your pumpkin variety to mature. Using that number of days, count backward from your desired harvest date to know when to plant the seeds.
If your desired harvest date and the date of the last spring frost aren’t compatible, don’t worry! You can always start your seeds indoors a couple of weeks before the last frost, and then transplant seedlings outdoors once the weather has warmed.
I suggest you plant four or five seeds per spot chosen for a pumpkin plant. This will ensure that at least one seed germinates. If more do, when the plants are still less than 4 inches tall) you can pull out all but the strongest seedling per spot.
For all methods, plant seeds about one inch deep, and wait for the magic to begin!
Caring for the Soil
Pumpkins thrive in slightly acidic, loamy soil. To keep the soil rich, you can mix in organic material, like compost or peat moss. I suggest you run a soil test every year to make sure your pumpkins have what they need to thrive.
Fertilizer and Food
Pumpkins are hungry plants and should be fed regularly with continuous-release plant food.
During the early stages of plant life, use 10-5-5 fertilizer to promote foliage health, and then a 5-15-15 fertilizer right before the blooming period to promote healthy fruit production.
Light, Temperature, and Humidity
If you’ve planted your pumpkins in the ground, there’s not much you can do about light, temperature, and humidity once they’ve started growing. Hopefully, you followed the instructions mentioned earlier when you picked the location!
But there’s a lot about caring for pumpkins that you can control and moisture is one such area. It’s good to keep in mind that lots of humidity could create conditions for mold or fungi.
So what can you do to reduce the risk of disease? Once your pumpkin plant starts producing pumpkins, turn the gourds a little bit each week so that each side gets more or less the same amount of sun. During very humid weather, check your pumpkins often for signs of problems.
Pumpkins are thirsty plants. Drip irrigation or a similar watering tool is a great way to give them one to two inches of water a week, depending on the rainfall.
As with watering any plant, the best pumpkin watering practice is to water the soil and not the plant’s foliage. You should also water in the morning so that any water on the leaves can evaporate during the day.
Moisture on leaves can breed fungi, and mold that can spread between plants.
Pruning is not required in caring for pumpkins, but it’s still a useful skill to learn. There are different methods to bring about different outcomes for your pumpkin and pumpkin plant.
If you want a more bountiful harvest in exchange for smaller pumpkins, pinch off the tips of the biggest vines, or cut off the female flowers that bloom during the first three weeks.
If you want bigger pumpkins (and a smaller harvest), then cut off all flowers after you’ve spotted around four pumpkins growing.
Even if you don’t have any particular demands of your harvest, it’s a good idea to trim vines at about 10 to 15 feet to stop them from taking over the rest of your garden! Shorter vines mean they’re also easier to take care of. Don’t trim until you have some fruit production.
Caring for pumpkins also means giving them a hand with pollination – pumpkins aren’t self-pollinators!
Pumpkin flowers are only open for a few hours each day, so there’s a limited window for doing this.
The first step in pumpkin pollination is identifying the male and female flowers.
To transfer the pollen, take the stamen from the male flowers and rub it against the pistil of the female flowers. You should be able to see the transfer of pollen with your naked eye.
Voila! Your pumpkin plants have been pollinated and pumpkins will grow on the female flower stems.
Pest and Disease Control
Like all plants, caring for pumpkins includes pest and disease prevention in order to avoid having to do pest and disease control later on. But if your pumpkin plants do contract a nasty disease or bug, you need to know how to take care of it.
The best thing you can do on the prevention front of caring for pumpkin plants is to keep your garden clear of weeds and debris. Weeds and debris retain rainwater and become breeding grounds for mold, and fungi, as well as habitats for pests.
Regular clean-up in your garden prevents leaf blight, leaf spot, powdery mildew, yellow vine, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and more.
Organic insecticides and pesticides can be used as prevention and treatment measures. But there will be situations where the only thing to do is remove and dispose of an affected plant to protect the rest of your pumpkin plants – just don’t add it to your compost pile!
Now You Know About Caring for Pumpkins!
I hope this post has inspired you to dive into caring for pumpkins on your own! Pumpkins are a great source of gardening satisfaction, food, and of course, holiday celebration.
Want more pumpkin content? Then visit out Pumpkin Plants page for growing guides, purchasing advice, and more!
- About the Author
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Margherita Bassi is a freelance writer, journalist, and editor. She grew up between the US and Europe, and nurtured her love for nature and the outdoors in both countries.
In the US, she went on dozens of RV trips with her family, scouted out the best restaurants in every city she visited, and learned how to grow herbs and veggies of all kinds by watching her mother.
In Europe, she experimented with gardening in small spaces, like the small balcony of her apartment in France. With an MA in International New Media Journalism, Margherita is also a skilled researcher in a wide range of topics, and has extensive experience interviewing both individuals and experts.