How to Grow Pumpkins: Pumpkins on vines in a pumpkin patch

How To Grow Pumpkins

Since we’re coming up on fall, we, here at MinnetonkaOrchards.com, want to inspire others to grow their own pumpkins. With that being said, it’s important to understand that growing pumpkins requires care, time, and energy. 

However, it can be very rewarding, considering pumpkins can be used in a variety of tasty dishes (pumpkin pie, soups, cheesecake, etc), used as an aesthetic fixture, or, of course, carved for a fun Halloween project. 

Pumpkins range from small to big, and come in a variety of colors; from white to orange, blue to green, and anything in between! Pumpkins (and pumpkin seeds) are beautiful, taste great, and you can start growing them today. 

Here’s a step-by-step introduction on how to grow pumpkins, including what to look out for, warning signs, signs you’re on the right track, and more. We’ll show you the way to grow pumpkins on your own. 

Types of Pumpkins

Let’s start by determining the kind of pumpkin you’d like to grow. That is an important factor, since they require different care, depending on the type. 

There are many different types of pumpkins to choose from! Here are 10 varieties that are easy to grow at home:

1. Jack-Be-Little 

These little guys are the kinds you’ll often find within a home for decoration, or maybe even for a little kid to keep in his or her room. They are tiny (about 3 inches) but relatively quick to grow and great for families to grow together. 

2. Old Timey Cornfield

These heirloom pumpkins are delicious in pumpkin pie and make a fantastic substitute for zucchini. 

If you happen to live somewhere with a warmer climate during the fall season (i.e. Florida or Texas) and are worried about growing pumpkins in the heat, Old Timey Cornfield Pumpkins are ideal for you. They can withstand high temperatures and will continue growing without missing a beat.

3. Jack-o’-Lanterns

Jack o Lantern Pumpkins

These are medium-sized pumpkins that we know best as Halloween decorations. While they are great for carving, it’s important to note that Jack-o’-Lanterns do take a little over three months to grow.

With this in mind, you’ll need to plan carefully when thinking about growing Jack-o’-Lanterns on your own. These pumpkins also require special care, which makes them a bit more difficult for novices than other pumpkins on this list

4. Sugar Pie 

Known in the botanical world as “Cucurbita pepo”, Sugar Pie are medium sized pumpkins (with a weight range of 2-6 pounds) that are widely grown to be used in baking. Sugar pie pumpkins are ideal for an array of sweet fall desserts — such as cookies, pies, and cakes — due to their sweet and rich flavor and smooth texture.

Like many pumpkins on this list, the Sugar Pie is grown on vines and belongs to the same family as squash and gourds (known as the Cucurbitaceae family).

5. Baby Boo

Also known as “Mini White Pumpkins”, Baby Boos are quite unique due to their white appearance and tiny size (½ – 1 pound) before they mature. 

Inside, Baby Boos can range in color, from white to orange, and has a distinct nutty, yet sweet flavor that is similar to acorn squash. While they’re great for many dishes, you can also grow Baby Boos specifically for decoration. Because they are white, they are ideal for painting, making them the perfect spooky or adorable art project.

6. Prizewinner

Like the name suggests, Prizewinner pumpkins are massive. In fact, they can grow to be anywhere from 75-150 lbs, making them ideal for pumpkin growing competitions.

While novices (or those who aren’t trying to win a grand prize) likely won’t grow these pumpkins, if you do, you should know they can take 120 days to harvest; so plan accordingly and plan ahead. Experts recommend growing only one per vine for optimal (or biggest) results.

7. New Moon

Ranging from 35 to 75 pounds, New Moons only have one trait in common with Baby Boos and that’s their color. These white pumpkins grow uniformed on sprawling vines and can take up to 90 days to fully mature.

Inside, New Moons have white flesh and their outside (known as the “rine”) is known to turn off-white or yellowish after maturity. To grow New Moon pumpkins, you should have even and sufficient soil moisture. For the best results, you should use a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus.

8. Knuckleheads 

Given their bumpy exterior (which resembles warts), Knucklehead pumpkins make for the perfect spooky Halloween decoration. Ranging in size from small to medium (12-16 pounds), these oval shaped pumpkins offer a sweet and mild flavor when cooked.

With that being said, these pumpkins typically aren’t grown to be used in cooking, and are generally used as unique fall accents or decorations. However, you can use them in a variety of dishes, including soups, salads, and a slew of baked goods such as pies, custards, and cakes.

9. Porcelain Doll

Porcelain Dolls are the first pink pumpkins. The distinct color of these medium sized pumpkins, along with their smooth and waxy rind, make them beautiful decor items for Halloween, Thanksgiving or just fall in general. 

The thick flesh inside of a Porcelain Doll is sweet and tender, and makes the ideal ingredient for a variety of fall dishes and baked goods. With full sunlight, Porcelain Dolls will mature in about 120 days. 

10. Lumina

Yet another white pumpkin on the list, Luminas grow on long trailing vines and can weigh up to 15 pounds.

On the outside, Lumina pumpkins are smooth and have a white (and sometimes ivory) color that makes them easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing pumpkins you can grow. They can even be used as unique accents for weddings.

For more types of pumpkins, you can check out this Martha Stewart article

Where To Begin

Depending on what variety of pumpkin you’d like to plant, you’ll need to choose your seeds accordingly. It’s quite easy to obtain pumpkin seeds, and you can actually have them delivered right to your door! 

Just order through Amazon or Johnny Seeds to get started. You may try to use seeds that come from within an existing pumpkin to grow your own, but there is more of a gamble on whether your pumpkins will actually grow, due to maturity. 

As a result, it is more effective to use seeds you buy through these providers. They will take you through the type of pumpkin, how many seeds, and how many you’ll need in order to grow the desired quantity. 

It may be overwhelming at first to decide the color, size, texture, style, taste, and quantity that you need, but once you’ve sorted through the varieties listed above, it should narrow down the process and make it a little easier to get your hands on the seeds that are right for you. 

When to Plant

How to grow pumpkins: Planting pumpkin seeds

Pumpkins most commonly used for Halloween take about 3-4 months to mature (you will find “days to maturity” listed on the packet containing the seeds). Because they take a while, and vary based on variety, you’ll need to plan out your calendar days to accommodate for their maturity time. 

This can be a fun exercise in organization and planning with the whole family! Create a communal calendar that tracks the date of planting to around the time of maturity, then continue to track the pumpkin’s growth on that calendar. 

Depending on the region you live in, you may or may not be exposed to cold, harsh winters. It is important to time the planting of your pumpkin seeds sometime after the last frost, giving your pumpkins enough time to grow and arrive around autumn. 

Where to Plant

The keyword here is SUNLIGHT! Pumpkins need a lot of sunlight to grow, so you’ll definitely want to find a sunny spot to grow your pumpkins. You can sow pumpkin seeds directly into the ground, or you can even grow them in a container! Pretty amazing. 

If you choose to grow pumpkins in a container, you can use a half-barrel planter. If you choose to grow them directly from the ground, you should either find a relatively contained space, or have lots of room for them to grow! Pumpkin vines stretch far and wide, so the bigger they grow and the more that grow, the more space they will require. 

Again, the key is sunlight, so be sure to plant your pumpkin seeds in a spot where they will be fully exposed to the sun. As long as you’re taking care to monitor the soil and water the plants, the sun shouldn’t dry out the plants. The sun is a friend to most plants, and pumpkins are no exception! 

Pumpkins are Thirsty

Pumpkins in a pumpkin patch

This is the most exciting part about growing pumpkins—waiting to see your first pumpkin emerge from the vines. This requires care and attention, although the good thing is that pumpkins are relatively low-maintenance. 

You’ll need to water them once a week, with about one inch of water. Pumpkin plants are considered thirsty plants when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but make sure not to over-water them (an inch, once a week, is perfect). 

Try a soaking method, with a lower water pressure, and avoid touching the fruits or foliage with the water, as this can affect their growth. Even if the leaves look like they’re shriveling up in the afternoon, when the sun is at its highest point, be sure to not add extra water than the recommended weekly dose, as they will most likely bounce back as evening time approaches. 

This Almanac article is great for describing how much to water pumpkins and why. Try taking turns between family members and coaching each other during the process. When the pumpkins finally begin to grow, it will definitely feel like an amazing group effort that requires teamwork! 

Feed Your Pumpkins

Pumpkins aren’t just thirsty plants; they’re also big eaters! Like humans, these fruits require food and water to supplement sunshine in order for them to grow. It’s important to fertilize the soil to optimize how they grow. 

The right kind of fertilizer is definitely a major key to successfully growing pumpkins. According to this article in Gardening Know How, there are three types of fertilizer to use while growing pumpkins: 

  1. First, use nitrogen-heavy fertilizer on a weekly basis. 
  1. When the flowers start to form, use a phosphorus-heavy type to help them bloom (so they’re even more beautiful!). 
  1. The final step is to switch to a potassium-rich fertilizer when the actual pumpkins start to appear.

This will properly feed your pumpkin plant and make the growth process run more smoothly. 

Time to Harvest!

Harvesting Pumpkins

You’ll know when it comes time to harvest your pumpkins based on a variety of factors. First off, look for the right shade or hue. Based on the stage of maturity, you’ll know when you’ve reached the right stage based on the shade of orange, white, or pink hues that color your pumpkins. 

Secondly, you want to make sure the texture is correct, usually when the rinds have hardened. That’s the part that is going to make carving and cutting that much more fun! You can use a variety of tools to harvest your pumpkins, but pruning shears are your best best. 

Here’s a helpful Good Housekeeping article that describes how best to use your pruning shears. This is the time to enjoy the fruits (literally!) of your labor. Enjoy! 

A Few Extra Tips

Here are a few extra tips from Rosie Lerner (Extension Consumer Horticulture Specialist at Purdue University) to get the best results from your pumpkin-growing experience: 

  • You can put a layer of straw underneath your pumpkin plants to help protect them from harsh heat 
  • Pumpkin plants have both male and female flowers. If you start to see the flowers falling off, you can look for specific things: the female flowers have an ovary, which looks like a mini fruit, right below them. The male flowers may fall off, but the important part is that the female flowers are getting pollinated. 
  • You can cover your plants with floating row covers to provide extra protection from garden pests, but remove them when they start flowering to allow bees into the mix! 
  • Although this article centers around a 90-day growth cycle, it can vary depending on the type of pumpkin, so be sure to check the label before deciding when to plant your new crops. 

Certified Pumpkin-Grower

Congratulations in advance on being a certified pumpkin-grower! If you follow these instructions, you should be able to get the most out of growing pumpkins, and, in the process, have some quality gardening time! 

Whether you choose to grow these crops solo or with some help, they are fun, versatile fruits that are sure to provide a multitude of great results. You can make soup, pie, cookies, casserole, curry, or even put some pumpkin cubes in your pasta.

 It’s an amazingly diversified crop as well, as there are hundreds of types, variations of each other, colors, and sizes. Regardless of what you choose, it’s worth the process; based on when you choose to plant it, the timeline for cultivation works perfectly, so that you have your pumpkins in time for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other fall-centric festivities. 

Speaking of fall festivities, we will be opening up our U-Pick apple picking very soon, so be sure to stop by with the whole family for this fun outdoors experience in our apple orchards! 

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