This squash family member is an autumn favorite, with varieties that run the gamut from tiny fruits to scale-breaking giants.
From giant pumpkins that weigh hundreds of pounds to miniature pumpkins that fit neatly in the palm of your hand, there’s a pumpkin for every gardener. Growing pumpkins is easy, though it can require ample space. There’s a reason they call it a pumpkin patch: These autumn treasures need room and grow several feet out in all directions. Traditional orange jack-o’-lantern pumpkins are a top choice for carving, but it’s also fun to try other colors: white, buff, blue-green, and scarlet.
Pumpkins tend to be sprawling plants, but they can have a bit of charm with their large, dark-green, shield-shape leaves. Plan your pumpkin patch with care: Unless you select only the compact, bush-type varieties, you'll find your pumpkin plants will quickly take up quite a bit of garden space. If you don't have much in the way of horizontal space, you can let your pumpkins grow vertically on a sturdy trellis, arbor, or pergola.
Related: How to Grow Perfect Pumpkins
Because pumpkin plants are relatively deer-resistant, thanks to their bristly leaves and stems, they can be useful for planting around the perimeter of the vegetable garden as one way to help deter four-legged critters.
Pumpkin Care Must-Knows
If you want good harvests, be sure to plant pumpkins in full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun per day) with well-draining soil. If your ground has a high sand or clay content, amend it liberally with organic matter such as compost, peat, or coir to fuel your pumpkin plants' rampant growth. This is especially important if you're growing giant varieties.
Because pumpkins are heat-loving plants, place seeds or transplants outdoors after soil temperatures remain above 60 degrees F. If you put them out too early and it's still cold, your seeds or young plants will sulk in cool weather and potentially rot before they grow. If you're in a short-summer area, start your pumpkin seeds indoors three to four weeks before you'd normally plant them outdoors to get a head start on the season.
If you grow pumpkins in rows, space your plantings 3-6 feet apart. Protect pumpkins from pests like squash vine borers by using floating row covers in spring until the plants grow too large for them.
Related: All About Winter Squash
Leave pumpkins on the vine until the skin turns the appropriate color for the variety and the rind feels hard when pressed with your thumbnail. Harvest before a hard frost by cutting the stem from the vine with a sharp knife, leaving a 2-inch stub on the fruit. Place the harvested pumpkins at 80°F to 85°F for two weeks to cure them. For longer storage, place them in a dark location at 50°F to 55°F.
Pumpkin Harvesting Tip
Leave pumpkins on the vine until the skin turns the appropriate color for the variety and the rind feels hard when pressed with your thumbnail. Harvest before a hard frost by cutting the stem from the vine with a sharp knife, leaving a 2-inch stub on the fruit. Place the harvested pumpkins at 80° to 85°F for two weeks to cure them. For longer term storage, place them in a dark location at 50° to 55°F.
More Varieties of Pumpkin
'Baby Bear' produces 1-2 pound deep orange fruits just the right size for youngsters to handle. As a bonus, the semihulless seeds are excellent for roasting.
The 'Blue Doll' variety fruits a green-color pumpkin with bright orange flesh. This pumpkin grows to 20 pounds.
'Casperita' is a small variety of white pumpkin that tastes similar to acorn squash. These pumpkins are disease resistant and grow to 1 pound.
Also called Rouge Vif d'Etampes, this French heirloom pumpkin has short, squat fruits that can reach 15 inches wide and has a bold orange color. 110 days to harvest.
'Connecticut Field' bears light orange fruits that are a good size for carving. Fruits range from 15 to 30 pounds, so you'll have a choice of sizes for your jack-o'-lantern. The fruit 100 days to ripen.
'Crystal Star' is great for carving and decorating and is often used in county fairs and exhibitions. This pumpkin grows to 35 pounds and takes on a globular shape.
This cultivar looks exactly as the name indicates—flat and white. This pumpkin variety stretches wider than tall and weighs 10-15 pounds. The flesh is sweet-tasting and keeps well outdoors.
'Howden' is a good choice for a large (20-30 pound) pumpkin. It bears deep orange fruit with a strong stem. 110 days to ripeness.
Primarily grown as an ornamental rather than an edible, this little variety produces 4-inch-wide fruits that have a golden-yellow color. 105 days to harvest.
'Knucklehead' pumpkin gets its name from its warty appearance. While the fruit is orange, warts themselves will present themselves as green. This pumpkin ranges from 10-20 pounds once ripe.
'Lumina' bears ghostly smooth white skin on fruits great for carving or painting. The interior flesh is orange. It is an early-maturing variety, bearing 10-pound fruits 85 days after planting.
This pumpkin variety bears flattened, ribbed, buff fruits that look like a large wheel of cheese. The deep orange flesh is excellent for pies. 110 days to ripeness.
'Orangita' is a beautiful mini pumpkin in a deep orange color with sharp ribs on its rind. This variety only grows to 1-1/2 pounds and is perfect for decorating purposes.
'Porcelain Doll' is a one-of-a-kind pumpkin, being that it is pink in color! It takes on a flatter shape, similar to 'Cinderella', and can reach 20-40 pounds.