How Do Pumpkins Grow?

If you’re thinking about raising your own crop of pumpkins, you’re probably asking the question, “How do pumpkins grow?” Learn all you need to know to grow this autumn icon.
Pumpkins are Variety of High Yielding Cucubits

Pumpkins are Variety of High Yielding Cucubits

Curcurbita is the family of plants that the pumpkin belongs to. There are hundreds of varieites of pumpkins and are a late summer crop in the garden. Pumpkins need lots of room to grow.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Pumpkins, along with their winter squash cousins, are often referred to as a “garden gorilla” because they are large plants. These vines sprawl and crawl their way through the growing season, gobbling garden real estate. As you watch these plants stake out their territory, you may wonder how do pumpkins grow? Like all plants, it’s a blend of simple ingredients that fuels the growing frenzy: sunshine, water, and carbon dioxide.

The process of photosynthesis provides the oomph behind a pumpkin vine’s enormous growth. Pumpkin leaves convert sunshine, water, and carbon dioxide into food the plant can use to produce leaves, roots, flowers, and pumpkins. Pumpkin plants grow as a vine, which can easily reach 20 to 30 feet long in the course of a growing season. By harvest season, a single hill of jack o’lantern-type pumpkins can cover 50 to 100 square feet.

In a typical suburban backyard, finding room for a full-size pumpkin vine can be challenging. Many gardeners tuck pumpkin plants along the edges of a vegetable garden and direct the vine along the edges of the garden. This works well—just remember to allow entry points into your garden, or you’ll be wading through pumpkin vines to tend your garden.

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. 

Another option is to allow vines to scramble across your lawn. Continue to mow the grass near pumpkin vines, but take care not to damage vines, leaves, or pumpkins. As the main vine starts to establish its path across the grass, lay out a line of compost three to four inches deep along the vine’s trajectory. Vines grow pretty straight, so it will encounter and follow the compost layer.

As the pumpkin vine grows along this path, the stem will sink secondary roots into the compost, anchoring itself to the lawn. These secondary roots help feed the growing pumpkins. At the end of your pumpkin harvest, pull up the vines, mow the grass, and rake the compost into the surrounding lawn. Overseed the areas where the pumpkin vine ran through the compost. Using this method, the pumpkin vine won’t really damage your lawn. Your turf will be as good as new next spring.

You can avoid the problem of lawn-eating pumpkin vines by choosing varieties that grow in a semi-bush or bush formation. These pumpkins take up less space and produce smaller fruit in a shorter timeframe. Some are true miniatures, but others yield pumpkins in the 10- to 15-pound range. The pumpkins on bush and semi-bush plants often have more concentrated sugars than carving pumpkins, making them a wonderful addition to your kitchen pantry.

A semi-bush pumpkin covers 30 to 35 square feet. Semi-bush plants that yield pumpkins in the 2- to 5-pound range include Baby Pam, Oz, and Sugar Treat. Spirit is a semi-bush type that produces 8- to 15-pound pumpkins. A bush pumpkin grows even smaller, needing as little as eight feet. One bush pumpkin is Wee Be Little, which produces miniature pumpkins weighing one-half to one pound. The bush pumpkin variety Bushkin bears 8 to 15-pound fruits.

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