Harvest 101: How To Grow Pumpkins

Pumpkin Plant

Pumpkin on the Vine

Pumpkin, ready for harvest.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Kaya Shelest

Shutterstock/Kaya Shelest

With September just around the corner and the Halloween season not long after, your thoughts might be turning to the most traditional sort of hard squash: the pumpkin. Whether you’re shooting for huge carving pumpkins or smaller varieties for pie, it’s probably too late to start growing a crop for this fall: they won’t be ready by Halloween, and if they mature later than that, may be damaged by frosts. But if you’ve already started your seeds and just aren’t sure what to do now, this primer might help. (If you’re too late, print it out and save the instructions for next year!)

When to plant:

Pumpkins are rather delicate, and need a long time to mature. Most varieties will mature in 80 – 130 days, so planting in late May or early- to mid-June is common. But the seeds won’t germinate in cold soil, and seedlings often don’t survive a frost, so making sure not to plant too early is key. If you live in a warmer climate and choose a faster-maturing variety, a July or even August planting can work (but keep in mind that if you wait too long, you may not have pumpkins by Halloween!)

How to plant:

Vine pumpkins require 50-100 square feet per hill to thrive. Plant seeds four or five to a hill, one inch deep, allowing 5-6 feet between hills spaced in rows 10 -15 feet apart. Thin each hill to the best two or three plants once seedlings are established.

Caring for your pumpkin plant:

Hoe regularly to keep weeds from choking out your pumpkin plants. Pumpkins can withstand short periods of hot or dry weather, but make sure to water if your plants go too long without rain.

Harvesting your pumpkins:

Most pumpkins will turn a deep orange and display a thick, hard rind when ready for harvesting. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to remove your fruit from the vine, leaving 3-4 inches of stem. Store in a cool, dry place until ready to use.

Did you know? Before your pumpkin plants start showing fruit, you can harvest some of the flowers for a yummy dinner. Check out this article at the Frugal Mama blog for a pumpkin-blossom risotto recipe.

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