How to Grow 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.

Skip the pumpkin farm and grow your own patch at home. If you have the space to do so, growing your own pumpkins is a rewarding process, especially considering their growing season can last 100 days! So once you've got your pumpkin-planting site, make sure to plan early in order to have festive pumpkins in the fall.

Related: Types of Pumpkins

Choosing Pumpkins Wisely

Not all pumpkins are created equal, so it's important to select the right variety for your climate. In short-season areas, it's helpful to grow quicker-maturing varieties or start them early indoors. How well pumpkins grow will also depend on the quality of your soil, so perform a soil test before choosing your pumpkin variety.

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 when growing. Compost also feeds the soil as it decomposes and helps your soil to better retain moisture. Composted chicken manure also has the right nutrients for pumpkins. Increase the effects by using compost as a mulch after your plants are up and growing.

Pick the Right Spot

Pumpkins love spending their days in the warm, fall sun. Sow pumpkin seeds in a spot that sees sun all day long—soil temperature should be around 70 degrees. Just like the fruit of the pumpkin, their vines hate shade and love sunshine. If your only options don't offer all-day sun, ensure that your planting site gets at least 6 hours of sunshine a day.

Thinning Your Seedlings

One rule from 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. This way, all energy of the plant will go into growing the biggest and strongest pumpkins, rather than wasting it on runts.

In cold climates (Zones 2-5), give plants a head start by sowing seeds indoors and transplanting them into the garden in early summer.

Water Well

Water regularly: Pumpkins are made of 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 deter leaf diseases such as powdery mildew. Leaf damage will not only make plants look unsightly, but will also deplete the fruit of nutrients. If you're looking to grow pumpkins for the long haul, a drip irrigation system might be a good investment.

Keep Them In Check

Pumpkins need pollinators to set fruit, so let bees do their work. Don't use insecticides. Pick off squash bugs (they look like stinkbugs) and their golden-orange eggs, which may appear on the undersides of leaves. Control powdery mildew with sulfur dust or spray.

If your pumpkin's vines are getting out of control, prune them up a little bit. 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. This will conserve the vines, yet help produce healthier vines for the future!

Harvesting Pumpkins

Pumpkins are ready to pick when their colors develop and the stem goes from green to tan. Cut the stem 3-6 inches from the fruit, and leave the pumpkin in place for a day or two. You'll notice some sticky sap at the cut. That's OK; it prevents fungi from entering the cut.

Related: Delicious Pumpkin Pie Recipes

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