When to Harvest Pumpkins

Learn the secrets to harvesting pumpkins so they’ll stage a strong holiday display—and last long enough to fill a pie, too.
Carving pumpkins is a crafty (and fun)  Halloween tradition.

Carving pumpkins is a crafty (and fun) Halloween tradition.

Carving pumpkins is a crafty (and fun) Halloween tradition.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Mick Telkamp

Image courtesy of Mick Telkamp

Growing a pumpkin is a fun summer adventure, and as that fruit gets bigger and bigger, you’ll probably wonder how to know when your pumpkin is ripe for picking. Seasonal signals, like shorter days and chilly mornings are common clues that pumpkin harvesting time is near. Or you might spy those first orange fruits at your local farm stand. Here’s how to know when to harvest pumpkins in your own garden.

First of all, understand that as long as there’s no frost in the forecast, your pumpkin is fine and actually better off left on the vine. It will continue to grow as long as the leaves and vine are healthy. If the leaves are under severe insect or disease attack and have all nearly died, then consider harvesting your pumpkin. It won’t grow if there aren’t any leaves to feed it.

If the vine and leaves are healthy, the first clue to knowing it’s pumpkin harvesting time is skin or rind color. A pumpkin that’s ready for harvest should be fully colored—whatever that hue might be. The rind should also be firm. If your fingernail easily pierces or creates an indentation in the skin, the pumpkin isn’t ready to harvest. Pick a pumpkin that’s too soft, and it will shrivel within a few days. Do your fingernail test on the back of a pumpkin—somewhere you won’t see any mark you might create.

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.

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'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. 

Check the vine and stem. Sometimes you’ll notice that the vine has actually started to dry off and pull away from the pumpkin stem, which may shrivel, twist a bit, and become more dry. If you see this on your vine, the pumpkin is fully colored, and you’ve tested the rind with your fingernail, it’s probably pumpkin harvesting time. But you can pick your pumpkin based on rind color and firmness alone, without seeing any of these vine or stem signs.

The exception to fully-colored rule is if a hard frost threatens and your pumpkin is only partially colored. As long as a pumpkin has started to turn its mature color, it will continue to ripen off the vine (but it’s always best to allow pumpkins to ripen naturally on the vine). Frost harms pumpkins and shortens storage life.

Ideally, harvest pumpkins on a dry, sunny day. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the prickly vines. Use hand pruners or a sharp knife to cut the vine on either side of the stem. Give your pumpkin at least a few inches of stem—up to 6 is fantastic. You can trim off excess vine pieces later. Never carry a pumpkin by its stem. If the stem begins to pull away from the pumpkin, the fruit will rapidly start to spoil. The stem acts as a seal, if you will, to keep the pumpkin free from attack by organisms that cause decay.

Pull your vine as soon as you harvest all the pumpkins. If the leaves had any disease, such as powdery mildew, do not add them to your compost pile. Instead, bag them and send them out with your trash or to a municipal composting facility where the compost piles get hot enough to destroy fungus spores.

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