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How and When to Grow Pumpkins

pumpkin plant

Whether you use them for decoration or cooking, pumpkins are an iconic plant in North American gardens. This squash is the poster child of autumn, the mascot of Halloween, and a versatile ingredient in both savory and sweet meals.

If you have the space, planting pumpkins before the fall season will give you a wealth of this nutritious squash variety for your holiday décor and meals. Here’s how and when to grow pumpkins on your own.

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Pumpkin Horticulture

All pumpkins are winter squash, but some may be grown as decoration. Most commercial varieties are cultivated hybrid types.

Like other squash, pumpkin is a low-growing vining annual with large leaves. The plants have yellow blooms in July and August, then the fruit grows and ripens on the vine for the fall harvest.

Pumpkins need a long period of frost-free weather, roughly 75 to 120 days, to mature, and thrive in warm soil temperatures. They are best when seeded into the garden when the soil warms in the spring.

Supplies
  • Pumpkin seeds or seedlings
  • Top soil
  • Compost
  • Fertilizer
  • Black plastic (optional)
  • Garden tools
  • Hose
  • Soil pH test

How to Plant Pumpkins

1. Start in Spring

digging soil
Image Credit: Goumbik, Pixabay

Pumpkins should be planted in the early spring. If the ground still has frost, you can start seeds indoors a few weeks ahead of the last frost of spring.


2. Prep the Soil

planting pumpkin seeds
Image Credit: FotoDuets, Shutterstock

Pumpkins demand warm, fertile soil for optimal growth. Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 6.8. Each pumpkin vine should have at least a three-foot diameter mound of warm, enriched soil.

If your soil isn’t optimal, improve it with compost or commercial compost-enriched soil with a few inches of native soil.


3. Plant the Seedlings

pumpkin seedling
Image Credit: ArtActiveArt, Pixabay

If the climate is cool, warm the soil a week ahead of planting by covering it with black plastic. Cut a hole in the plastic and plant the seedling through the hole but keep the ideal distance between vines.


4. Use a Drip System or Soaker Hose

watering pumpkin plants
Image Credit: Aleksandr178, Shutterstock

Plants need a lot of water while the flowers and fruits are growing. Use a drip system or soaker hose to water the soil at the base of the vines, avoiding the foliage. Water each day in the early morning.

Avoid soaking the foliage, which makes it susceptible to fungus. The vines will wilt in the afternoon, but if you find that they’re wilting in the morning, they need more water.


5. Use Fertilizer

blossoming pumpkin plant
Image Credit: AxxLC, Pixabay

Feed pumpkin plants throughout the season with a continuous-release fertilizer. This provides steady, adequate nutrition for good growth. Young pumpkins should have a high-nitrogen fertilizer to support good foliage growth.

Before the plants bloom in summer, switch to a high phosphorus and potassium fertilizer to feed the fruit. Pumpkins should be fed every two weeks.


6. Prune the Pumpkins

pumpkins ready for harvest
Image Credit: Alexey_Hulsov, Pixabay

Pruning your pumpkins is vital to remove any fruits that aren’t healthy and may compromise the rest of the plant. You should also trim back excessive growth to control the size of the plant.

Ideally, the vine should be at least 10 feet long before you prune. Use clean gardening shears to snip off everything except the developing fruits to provide space for the remaining pumpkins.

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How to Harvest and Store Pumpkins

Once you have some ripe pumpkins ready for harvest, you want to do it properly. Here are some important tips to keep in mind when harvesting and storing pumpkins.

  • Once pumpkin fruits form, you can put newspaper or cardboard between the fruit and the soil to prevent wetness and rot. Near the end of the season, remove leaves that throw shade on ripening pumpkins.
  • Harvest pumpkins before the frost. The fruit is ripe when the outside is a vibrant color and firm. The stem will begin to shrivel and dry.
  • To harvest, cut the stems with a sharp knife, leaving at least an inch of stem on the fruit—more if possible—and lift pumpkins by the bottom.
  • Never lift by the stem! If the stem breaks, the pumpkin won’t store adequately.
  • Before storing, cure pumpkins by keeping them in the sun for 10 to 14 days. This hardens the skin, seals the stem, and improves the taste.
  • Dry, warm weather is ideal for storage. Protect pumpkins from frost by storing them in cool, dry areas or covering them with a blanket. Don’t allow pumpkins to touch.
  • In ideal conditions, pumpkins can be stored for two or three months.
large pumpkin on the vine
Image Credit: Max Lindenthaler, Shutterstock

What Pests Affect Pumpkins?

Insect pests of pumpkins included spotted and striped cucumber beetles, which transmit bacterial wilt disease. This causes the vines to collapse and die off. Adult beetles can be treated with neem or pyrethrum, but bear in mind that this pesticide will eliminate all insects—not just pests.

Other pests include squash bugs, which can be devastating to pumpkins, and squash vine borers. Powdery mildew, a fungus that produces white spots on beetles, also plagued pumpkins.

How Long Does It Take to Grow Pumpkins?

Pumpkins take around four months to reach maturity, and they can’t grow in periods of frost. Because of this, pumpkins should be planted early in spring once the ground thaws.

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Conclusion

Pumpkins are versatile plants that are easy to grow, harvest, and store as long as you prepare for them. Once you get the hang of them, you can grow large, Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins for holiday dishes and Halloween carving.


Featured Image Credit: KleeKarl, Pixabay

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