Growing Pumpkins in Containers

Raise a crop of pumpkins on a deck or patio—with no garden bed in sight. Learn how to grow pumpkins in pots no matter where you live.
Small Ornamental Pumpkins Need Support to Climb

Small Ornamental Pumpkins Need Support to Climb

Support pumpkins using canes or place heavier fruits in net bags and tie these to sturdy canes to prevent the stems from snapping.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Pumpkins are one of those plants that everyone should grow at least once for the pure fun of watching the orange fruits balloon in size. No matter where you garden—on a small acreage, an urban rooftop, or a suburban backyard—you can grow pumpkins in pots. These autumn icons actually thrive in containers, provided you start with a large enough container and the right soil blend.

Get started by choosing your container. Think big—containers in the 20- to 25-gallon range work best. You might squeak by with a 10-gallon container for a single vine of miniature pumpkins, but bigger is better. If you’re unsure the volume of a potential container, look for ones that are 36 inches across. Some gardeners grow pumpkins in a typical 6-foot-wide plastic children’s swimming pool.

Unless you’re using a self-watering container, make sure your pot has drainage holes. Irrigation water should be able to flow freely from the container to avoid creating soggy soil. If your container lacks drainage holes, add them. Several smaller holes work better than one large hole.

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.

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'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. 

Purchase a commercial, bagged soilless mix specifically recommended for container growing. When filling your pot, combine equal parts of this mix with compost. Work the compost into the bottom half of the pot. If you’re using homegrown compost, strain it to make sure you’re not adding insects to your container. They’ll most likely move in later, but as seedlings emerge, you don’t want insects munching on your plant.

The reason to add compost is twofold: first, to improve the soil’s ability to hold water. You can also add a single shovelful of good garden loam to the container, along with some water retention crystals. Both actions help the soil to retain water, which your thirsty pumpkin vine will appreciate.

The second reason to add compost is to enhance the soil’s fertility. Pumpkins have big appetites, and while compost helps take the edge off, so to speak, you should also mix slow-release fertilizer into soil prior to planting. Keep soil about two inches below the pot rim, and add a layer of mulch to help slow water loss from soil.

Sow 3 to 4 seeds per pot, and thin seedlings to one or two, depending on how large your pot is, once they have their second set of true leaves. If you can’t allow pumpkin vines to sprawl, build a sturdy trellis and train vines to it. Create some kind of sling to hold developing fruits. Many people use pieces of panty hose for this task.

Pumpkins have a huge thirst, so plan to water frequently. Fertilize every few weeks with a complete fertilizer containing trace minerals. Avoid over-fertilization with nitrogen, which yields vines with lots of leaves but few fruits. Pumpkins growing in containers can’t support a heavy fruit load. A full crop of miniature pumpkins should mature fine on a container-grown pumpkin, but for larger fruits, remove two out of three blossoms to limit fruit set.

Grow smaller pumpkin varieties in containers, such as Spooktacular, Baby Bear, Baby Pam, and Small Sugar, which yield 2- to 5-pound fruits roughly 6 to 10 inches across. Wee Be Little, Baby Boo, and Jack Be Little, miniature pumpkins, also grow well in containers.

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