The weather’s getting crisper. Cinnamon is being added to everything. The leaves are just beginning to fade to yellow, orange, and red. Porches are filled with pumpkins… and now you’ve got the wild idea that you could fill your porch with your own pumpkins if you just had the right pumpkin-growing tips.
You’ve come to the right place! While the fall isn’t the right time to start growing pumpkins, it’s the perfect time to research so you’ll be ready to start next year.
Read on to learn some of the best pumpkin-growing tips!
While it may sound simple, one of the essential pumpkin-growing tips we can give you is to ensure you’re starting with the right pumpkins in the right place. No amount of advice can make the wrong kind of pumpkins grow in poor conditions!
Choosing the Right Pumpkin Variety
Awareness of your climate and growing season is important when choosing the correct variety of pumpkins to plant.
Different types of pumpkins have varying levels of heat tolerance. Some have a shorter growing season than others. These seemingly minor differences can make or break the health of your pumpkins, so it’s necessary to understand them!
If you don’t even know where to start, check out this list of 11 pumpkins to grow in your backyard.
Pumpkins you use to carve a jack-o-lantern and pumpkins you puree and add into a delicious treat are typically two different varieties.
Make sure you’re growing pumpkins ideal for the use you have in mind!
Selecting the Perfect Location
Growing pumpkins need at least six hours of full sunlight daily.
The earlier in the day the sun gets to the leaves, the better. The sun’s heat will help dry up dew left on the leaves, protecting the leaves from moisture-loving diseases.
Use a testing kit to determine the soil quality where you plan to plant pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkins do best in soil with a pH range between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil isn’t naturally within that range, you can adjust the pH level of your soil.
Planting Your Seeds
Once you’ve got your seeds, it’s time to get them in the ground. Here are a few pumpkin-growing tips to start your seeds on the right foot.
Planting the Seeds
When to Plant
Pumpkin seeds need the soil to be at least 60°F to germinate successfully, which won’t be until after the season’s last frost.
If you live in a colder climate and don’t have a growing season long enough to plant pumpkin seeds directly into the ground, you can start the seeds inside and transfer them later.
Be sure to check your package for the days to harvest. While it’s tempting to plant your pumpkins as soon as the weather warms up, that may be too early for a fall harvest.
How to Plant
You will plant pumpkins differently than most other plants in your garden. While most plants have you dig a hole to plant the seed, a big pumpkin growing tip is to mound the soil up instead! This will help your seedlings have the drainage they need to thrive.
The small mounds you form should have between three and six feet between them, depending on the size of the pumpkins you’re planting.
Plant three seeds in each mound. Once the seedlings are established, thin them down to only the strongest, healthiest-looking one.
Check out our guide on how to plant pumpkin seeds for step-by-step instructions.
Caring for Pumpkin Seedlings
Your pumpkin seedlings should be watered daily while sprouting and developing their first true leaves. Once they’re established, you can back down to every other day unless you’re in a drought season.
Once your pumpkin seeds have germinated, lay six inches of pine straw all around them. As the plants get higher and vines stretch out, it will keep the growing pumpkins from touching the ground, where sneaky fungus loves to hide.
Pine straw mulch also attracts ground beetles. While you wouldn’t think you’d want to attract beetles to your pumpkins, these particular bugs are a natural predator of squash bugs. And you definitely don’t want squash bugs anywhere near your pumpkin patch.
Mulching around your seedlings will also keep weeds at bay. Those get harder to pull as the vines grow since most pumpkin plant leaves grow to be huge!
Maintaining Your Pumpkin Plants
Once your seedlings are established, you’re well on your way to growing healthy pumpkins in your backyard! Here are a few pumpkin-growing tips to care for mature plants.
Pumpkins are relatively hardy, but if you want the biggest, prettiest pumpkins the plant can produce, it won’t hurt to give them a boost with some fertilizer.
Fertilizer will give your pumpkins extra nutrients, like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, that work together to grow beautiful fruit.
Check out our post for specific pumpkin fertilization growing tips, including our picks for the best fertilizer.
Pumpkins are full of water, which means they need a lot!
Pumpkins need an inch of water every week. Suppose they get that from rain; excellent. If not, you will need to ensure they’re adequately watered.
Here’s a bonus pumpkin-growing tip: water your pumpkins early in the morning. That way, the sun will help the leaves dry.
The plants are much more susceptible to nasty fungal infections if moisture is left to sit on the leaves.
For step-by-step watering instructions, check out our pumpkin watering guide.
Once your plant is established and the primary vine is prominent, secondary and tertiary vines will sprout off the main one.
Tertiary vines will look like little ribbons coming off the main vines. Trimming those off as soon as you see them is best because pumpkins will grow from the primary and secondary vines.
Not pruning your backyard pumpkin plants won’t kill them, but proper pruning will help grow bigger, healthier pumpkins because the plant will send nutrients to those instead of unnecessary vines.
Pests & Diseases
Pesky pests like aphids, squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and more love pumpkin plants.
Read our guide to pumpkin pests to learn more about possible pests and how to treat or avoid them altogether.
Mildew and blight are a couple of prevalent diseases you may fight while growing pumpkins in the backyard. We’ve got a guide to pumpkin diseases that will walk you through the signs of different diseases and how to treat them.
Harvesting Your Healthy Pumpkins
You’ve followed these pumpkin-growing tips, and now it’s time to gather them and enjoy the fruit of your labor! Go, you!
Signs of Ripeness
Once you’re ready to use the pumpkins for a carving party or a decadent dessert, there are a few signs to look out for.
- The rind should be firm enough to withstand gentle pressure from your fingernail. If it’s easily indented, it’s not ready to pick.
- Pay attention to the color. The exact color will depend on your chosen variety, but the color should be bright and uniform.
- If you notice the vine is starting to dry and shrivel, that’s a good sign it’s ready to chop!
Use a sharp knife to cut the vine at least 5-6 inches up from where it connects to the pumpkin. The pumpkin rots much faster if the vine is too short or cut off altogether.
Never, ever, ever carry your pumpkin by the stem after you’ve harvested it. They’re delicate and could easily snap off, leaving your hard work vulnerable to the elements.
There are things you can try to increase the longevity of your pumpkins, like curing them or giving them a bleach bath.
Check out our guide to learn more about how long pumpkins last, and get some tips to make them last longer, even after they’re carved!
Troubleshooting Common Issues
Even if you follow every one of these pumpkin-growing tips, you may still experience some bumps in the road.
There are many reasons the leaves on your pumpkin plant may be turning yellow.
Sunlight, too little and too much, can lead to yellow leaves. There’s not much you can do to create sunlight if they’re not getting enough besides trimming vegetation blocking the sun. If you suspect they’re getting too much sunlight, you can add a shade structure to protect them for a bit during the day.
Missing nutrients may also cause yellowing leaves. Adding fertilizer should help.
Some pumpkin diseases cause yellowing leaves. Our guide to pumpkin diseases (linked above) will help you determine if that’s what your pumpkins are facing and how to fix them.
Outside of squash borers, which we’ll discuss momentarily, poor pollination is a leading cause of underdeveloped pumpkins. To prevent this, you can help pollinate by clipping off male flowers and gently rubbing them in the center of female flowers.
Mold & Mildew
Mold and mildew come from prolonged exposure to moisture. Avoid causing the problem by keeping the leaves as dry as possible.
Water plants early in the morning to give leaves time to dry and avoid watering from above. Use drip irrigation or take the time to put the hose or watering can close to the ground to keep leaves as dry as possible.
Squash vine borers are notorious for messing up backyard pumpkin patches.
These moths lay their eggs at the base of a plant, and the larva dig and live inside the vines, eating them from the inside out.
Since the moths live in cocoons underground during the winter, the best way to avoid these pests is to move your pumpkin patch every year so you’re not starting the year with extra, uninvited guests.
Wrapping Up the Best Pumpkin Growing Tips
Now that you’ve learned all these pumpkin-growing tips, you’re ready to plant your patch. Who knows, you may love it so much that you turn out to be the talk of the town with a pick-your-own patch down the line!
To learn more about pumpkins, including nutrition information, recipes, and more, visit our page All About Pumpkins.
- About the Author
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Stephanie Lamberth is a writer who gained most of what she knows about gardening from summers spent on her family’s farm tending, picking, and storing the produce they grew.
Her family started and ran a thriving farm that fed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the community with fresh, naturally grown produce. She learned the effort and the reward of growing your own food!
Stephanie now lives in Tennessee with her husband and three kids. Their schedules don’t allow for a large garden, but she loves incorporating herbs from their flowerbeds in her kitchen and using her knowledge to help others.
Stephanie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org