Growing Giant Pumpkins

Harvest tons of fun by growing giant pumpkins in your own backyard. Learn secrets to success from our garden experts.
Leave Pumpkins on Vine for Maximum Size and Color

Leave Pumpkins on Vine for Maximum Size and Color

Pumpkins and squashes can be left on the vine during the fall to reach their maximum size and develop brightly colored skins. Once cured in the sun for 10 days, they can be stored in a dry, well ventilated, frost free place.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Growing a pumpkin the size of a Volkswagen Beetle isn’t intensely difficult. If you’re the kind of person who relishes a challenge, enjoys a little DIY finagling, and can handle details, you can tackle giant pumpkin growing. While you may not grow a record-breaker your first time out, you’ll have the thrill of raising your own mammoth pumpkin. More than that, you’ll also have a chance to enter the world of competitive pumpkin growing, which means you’ll attend fun fall festivals and fairs and meet some folks who are passionate about pumpkins.

The current world record pumpkin title, awarded in 2012, belongs to an orange orb weighing 2,009 pounds. Experts predict that record will hold for years until another perfect pumpkin-growing season arrives. That gives you time to hone and finesse your giant pumpkin growing skills.

A ribbon-winning fruit starts with the right seeds. You need giant pumpkin seeds to grow giant pumpkins. Look for Atlantic Giant or Goliath Giant pumpkin seeds in typical seed-selling outlets. These seeds will get you started—and may even earn you a local title. But to compete at the national level, you’ll need to get seeds from the top giant pumpkin growers. Those seeds aren’t available commercially.

Pumpkin-palooza! 10 Pumpkin Varieties

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'Jack-Be-Little'

'Jack-Be-Little' pumpkins will have you jumping at just how adorable they are. These tiny pumpkins grow to 3-inches in around 85-90 days: plant a couple rows for a bountiful, bright harvest.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

The First Pumpkin

Old Timey Cornfield pumpkins are an heirloom variety, used early on as feed for cows. Nowadays they serve as delicious pie pumpkins.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

Jack-o'-Lanterns

These round, medium-sized pumpkins are perfect for carving. Growing your own is fun and rewarding (especially for kids), but requires careful planning: these season-sprawlers take 90-120 days to mature, so start planting in late spring to early summer.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

'Sugar Pie' Pumpkins

'Sugar Pie' pumpkins are a smaller, sweeter variety used for baking cookies, cakes and pies, of course. 'Sugar Pie' is also easy to handle, weighing in from 6-7 lbs.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

'Baby Boo'

These ghostly-white pumpkins get their "Baby" title from their size: they grow to a mere two-inches tall and 3-inches in diameter, and retain a bright, white color if picked before they mature.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

'Prizewinner'

Watch out county fair, this pumpkin's a big one! Cucurbita maxima 'Prizewinner' can produce pumpkins that weigh anywhere from 75-150 lbs, and with proper care and conditions can grow even larger.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

'New Moon'

'New Moon' is a large, white pumpkin with thick, white flesh. The vines grow vigorously and can produce fruits that are 35-75 lbs.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

'Goosebumps'

These medium-sized pumpkins have true Halloween spirit: 'Goosebumps' start off with smooth skin and develop ghoulish "warts" as they age.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

'Porcelain Doll'

'Porcelain Doll' features fruits with an unusual, beautiful pink hue. This medium-sized squash has a bright orange flesh that can be used for baking and cooking.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Jessica Yonker

'Lumina' Pumpkin

Like 'New Moon', 'Lumina' produces smooth, white pumpkins that are great for carving or decorating. 

Average autumn carving pumpkins need about 100 days from start to finish. For giant pumpkins growing, you need 140 or more days. If you garden where frost threatens in April and May, start seeds indoors. Pumpkins don’t transplant well; for best success, you need a pot you can bury, like a peat or homemade newspaper pot. Pumpkins are heat-loving crops and won’t tolerate any frost. Once you tuck pumpkin seedlings into the garden, keep an eye on the weather. If frost is predicted, protect seedlings.

A giant pumpkin is a giant drinker, guzzling up to 30 to 40 gallons of water weekly. Most champion growers rely on soaker hoses or drip irrigation to deliver water directly to soil. Watering this way also avoids wetting leaves, which can lead to disease outbreaks. You’ll also need to juggle fertilizer through the growing cycle. Early in the season, fuel vine growth with nitrogen (N). As flowers start appearing, switch to a high-phosphorus (P) fertilizer. As fruits form, use a high potassium (K) fertilizer.

After the first pumpkins appear and reach softball size, mentally divide your plant into thirds. Remove all but one pumpkin on each third of the plant. Pamper and protect these remaining fruits. Shade them during the hottest part of the day to prevent the rinds from hardening, which can hinder growth. For a true giant, allow only one pumpkin to mature. Also, don’t let vines root along the stem where your pumpkin is growing. A rooted, anchored stem can prevent a giant from enlarging freely. Fruits enlarge overnight, gaining up to 2 inches nightly.

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the rind is hard and fully colored. Take plenty of pictures of your giant pumpkin, and research local competitions where you can see how your efforts measure up.