Set a gardening goal to learn how to grow a pumpkin. This sign of the autumn season can be one of the most rewarding plants to grow for several reasons. It’s an easy crop to tend and versatile in the home. Use a pumpkin to decorate a porch or mantle, whip it into any number of tasty dishes, or store it for garden-fresh flavor in the depth of winter. Growing pumpkins is also fun, watching the small, golf-ball sized orbs ballooning through the growing season.
If you want to learn how to grow pumpkins, you really only need to understand basic gardening techniques: seed sowing, watering, and fertilizing encompass the main tasks of pumpkin growing. In the early days, you might have to tackle a weed or two, but once vines are steadily spreading, those big pumpkin leaves easily shadow weeds that might manage to sprout.
Pumpkin vines run and sprawl, and it’s worthwhile to map out a potential growing area mentally before planting pumpkin seeds or seedlings. If you have a small yard, consider planting bush or miniature pumpkins, which don’t need as much elbow room to bear fruit. If your heart is set on growing giant pumpkins, you’re going to need a large growing area—a couple hundred square feet. No matter what kind of pumpkins you grow, you need a spot with full, direct sun for at least six hours each day. Pumpkins love sun.
Figuring out when to plant pumpkins might be confusing if you’ve never grown a long-season crop before. Pumpkins need, on average, 90 to 120 days to mature. Make sure your growing season has that many frost-free days from the time you plant pumpkins to the time they mature. Many gardeners pick a day they want their pumpkins ready, such as October 1, and count backwards to figure out the correct planting time.
Growing pumpkins in containers is an option if you’re short on in-ground planting space or if your soil is too hard, rocky, or otherwise impossible for planting. The most important thing about raising pumpkins in pots is that you need a large pot—20 gallons or larger. You also want to be sure to choose the right variety. Smaller bush pumpkins and miniature types are better suited to container gardening than traditional carving pumpkins.
The trickiest part is knowing when to harvest pumpkins. Ultimately, you want to pick all pumpkins before frost, which damages pumpkins if it settles on them. Otherwise, once a pumpkin begins to turn its mature color, you can harvest. Pumpkins that have started to turn their mature hue will finish coloring off the vine. But you’ll get the best pumpkins when you leave them on the vine as long as possible to ripen as fully as possible.
Research different varieties of pumpkins before choosing what you want to grow. There’s a host of colors, skin textures, and sizes. You can even select pumpkins based on what you intend to do with them—display, cook, or store. If neighbors garden, consider assigning different types of pumpkins to each neighbor and share the harvest so you’ll each have a variety of pumpkins for displaying and eating.