8 Surefire Steps to Growing Perfect Pumpkins

Whether you want festive Halloween jack-o'-lanterns or a tasty homemade pie, here's a guide to growing pumpkins. Follow the steps to grow your very own pumpkin patch right in your backyard in time for fall.

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    1. Choose Wisely

    Not all pumpkins are created equal. Select the right variety for your climate. In short-season areas, it's helpful to grow quicker-maturing varieties or start them early indoors.

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    2. Start Out Right

    Compost is a soil miracle-worker. By adding compost before you plant your seeds, you'll loosen the soil, giving pumpkin roots an easier time growing. Compost also feeds the soil as it decomposes and helps your soil retain moisture better. Increase the effects by using compost as a mulch after your plants are up and growing.

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    3. Pick the Right Spot

    Plant pumpkins in a spot that sees sun all day long. The vines hate shade and love heat, so try to plant where the sun shines at least 6 hours a day.

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    4. Thin Your Seedlings

    One rule of the pros is to plant generously, thin ruthlessly. The classic pumpkin hill is a slight hump planted with three to six seeds. Wait to plant until the daytime temperatures in your area reach the 70s and the nights are frost-free. Once the seeds germinate, pluck all but the most robust seedlings in each hill.

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    5. Water Well

    Water regularly: Pumpkins are up to 90 percent water, so give your vines frequent drinks, especially during hot summer weather. For best growth, water under the foliage with a soaker hose. This will also help deter leaf diseases such as powdery mildew, which can make plants look unsightly by season's end.

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    6. Keep Them in Check

    Prune the vines if you must. Feel free to lop off any shoots that are swallowing your yard. If you want the largest, highest-quality pumpkins, prune off extra fruits so each vine produces only a few.

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    7. Get the Perfect Shape

    For top-notch jack-o'-lanterns, make sure the bottoms (lower ends) of growing pumpkins rest on the ground. If you need to adjust your pumpkins, wait until the fruit has established itself for several weeks. Be gentle -- the stems are easily separated from the vine.

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    8. Harvest at the Right Time

    Be patient. Wait to pick pumpkins until they turn bright orange and the foliage looks tired and ready to retire for the winter. Harvest usually ranges from September through October.

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