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

See All Photos

Shop This Look

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.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Where Do Pumpkins Grow?

Transform your yard into a pumpkin paradise. Get started by learning what kind of soil pumpkins like to sink their roots into.

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.

Growing Pumpkins

These autumn favorites are one of gardening’s most fun plants to grow—and they’re really a cinch. Set your sights on growing a bumper crop of pumpkins.

Storing Pumpkins

Grow your own pumpkins, and you’re raising food you can store for up to three months. Learn tips for curing and storing pumpkins.

Growing Giant Pumpkins

Harvest tons of fun by growing giant pumpkins in your own backyard. Learn secrets to success from our garden experts.

How to Grow Large Pumpkins

Learn how to grow big pumpkins to carve a homegrown jack-o’lantern or stage your own autumn harvest display.

Pumpkin Growing Tips

Follow our easy-grows-it tips to take the guesswork out of growing everyone’s fall favorite: pumpkins.

When to Plant Pumpkins

Get the scoop on when to plant pumpkins in your garden. The right timing depends on where you live and what kind of pumpkins you’re growing.

How to Plant a Three Sisters Garden

Native Americans devised the ingenious Three Sisters garden, a method whereby beans grow up corn stalks while squash plants serve as ground cover.

Planting Pumpkin Seeds

Learn how to plant pumpkin seeds with our expert advice—and you can grow your own pumpkins for pennies a pound.

On TV

Desert Flippers

7:30am | 6:30c

Desert Flippers

8:30am | 7:30c

Desert Flippers

9:30am | 8:30c

Flip or Flop

10am | 9c

Flip or Flop

10:30am | 9:30c

Flip or Flop

11am | 10c

Flip or Flop

11:30am | 10:30c

Flip or Flop

12pm | 11c

Flip or Flop

12:30pm | 11:30c

Flip or Flop

1pm | 12c

Flip or Flop

1:30pm | 12:30c
2pm | 1c

House Hunters

2:30pm | 1:30c

Fixer Upper

3pm | 2c

Fixer Upper

4pm | 3c

Fixer Upper

5pm | 4c

Fixer Upper

6pm | 5c

Fixer Upper

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Love It or List It

8pm | 7c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.