In this post, learn all about growing pumpkins in your garden for fall decorating and fall treats!
We grow pumpkins every year in our garden and they’re definitely one of the most rewarding things to grow. I feel like I say that about so many different things we have in the garden, but pumpkins really are awesome to grow if you have the space! For one, they make your garden look really beautiful and full throughout the summer months without too much effort at all. Then, of course, in the fall when it’s time to harvest, there’s nothing like having a mountain of pumpkins to decorate with without ever having to make one trip to the farmer’s market or the pumpkin patch! It’s probably a little late in the season now to grow pumpkins, but since we’re all starting to think fall thoughts, I thought I’d tell you about this now so you can get ready for growing pumpkins next year. 🙂 There are endless numbers of pumpkin and gourd varieties that any gardener can grow in their pumpkin crops, but the ones we’re going to be focusing on today are classic orange jack o’ lanterns.
How to Grow Pumpkins: Getting Started
You’ll want to make sure that you dedicate a fairly large area to your pumpkins before planting a single pumpkin plant in the ground because – oh wow – do those things ever grow once they get going. We have about 1/4 of our vegetable garden set aside for the pumpkins and they truthfully start to take over other areas as well near the end of the growing season with their vigorous growth. Some of the vines are well over 20 feet long with broad, lush pumpkin leaves and tendrils reaching out from every vine.
Pumpkins will take about 90 days to reach maturity, so plan accordingly so that they’re ready when you need them, whether that’s fall or late-summer. We often plant our pumpkins near the end of May which means that they’re ready to be harvested somewhere around the end of August. That’s probably a bit too early for most people, but it works for us because it allows us to get a bit of a jump on fall projects for blog posts! 🙂 If you wanted pumpkins for November pumpkin pie though, you’d want to think about planting your pumpkins around the end of July or beginning of August. Make sure that if you do plant your seeds early like we do, you wait until after the last spring frost.
Beginners and people trying out a certain pumpkin variety for the first time should use this information, as well as the information listed on the seed packet of the exact variety being grown when doing their garden planning.
The good news is that almost any variety you can dream up for your homegrown pumpkin patch, even a trendy white pumpkin variety, will be fairly easy-to-grow as long as you have sunlight and a bit of rainfall, or you to keep them watered, just like any type of squash, summer squash, or zucchini that you’ve grown before, only bigger. 🙂 If you do need to go away during the summer months and leave your garden untended for a few days, pumpkins should continue to grow well and are somewhat drought tolerant. You may find the leaves drooping a bit if the weather is really hot, but they’ll perk right up after a good drink.
When you go to plant your pumpkin seeds, choose a warm sunny spot. You want to mound the earth up a bit into a little hill about 10 inches across and place your seed in the middle, about an inch deep. Rather than planting your seeds in rows, focus on giving each mound quite a bit of space, so form your mounds about four feet away from each other. Pumpkins will grow like crazy in every direction anyway, so there’s no point in trying to keep them in tidy little rows! Sow seeds directly in your mounds leaving several inches between each seed. You can thin the seedling plants out later if you find that several of the seeds in a mound germinate well, before the foliage gets too big.
The little mounds of dirt are really helpful because they allow you to see where to water just the seeds rather than watering over whole rows. This really keeps the weeds down in the areas around your baby pumpkin plants. You may find mulching helpful, although we don’t usually worry about that too big because we’re working with such a large area.
How to Grow Pumpkins: Challenges
There really aren’t a huge number of challenges with growing pumpkins, but we have run into a few things that have made us have some less productive pumpkin years.
It really makes a difference if you can keep the weeds down when the plants are young and just starting out. Pumpkins are really fast-growers and they will outgrow the weeds, so having weeds in your garden won’t necessarily prevent them from growing well, however, we did run into a bit of an interesting situation with some really tall weeds one year when Jack was really young and we couldn’t make it out to the garden as much. The pumpkins actually started to grow up the weeds, which eventually got to be about 5 to 6 feet tall (#countryweeds), and they ran out of room to grow! It’s like the pumpkins got to the top of the weeds, got confused as to what to do next, and stopped growing. 🙂 We had smaller and fewer pumpkins that year.
Another issue that we’ve run into some years in in the form of pests called cucumber beetles. This insect tends to show up in June-ish so has only been a problem a few times when we’ve planted our pumpkins earlier in the season. Cucumber beetles love anything vine-y so they go after cucumbers, zucchinis, pumpkins, and things like that. Basically they just appear one night and start munching on the leaves. They’ll eat young plants right down to the ground, which obviously kills them. The best solution we’ve found is to use clear plastic domes over our young pumpkin plants until they get to be about 10″ in diameter, or when they can no longer fit under the dome.
Cucumber beetles look very similar to lady bugs, only they’re yellow instead of red. Don’t worry if you see one or two of them later in the season when your plants are larger. The only danger is really when the plants are just babies and June seems to be their peak snacking season.
Growing Pumpkins: Harvesting
If you’ve ever been to pick out a pumpkin at a pumpkin patch, you’ll know that choosing the exact right time for your fall harvest isn’t a big issue. At the commercial pick-your-own pumpkin farms, they basically just leave everything out in the field after the pumpkins ripen and turn a bright orange color, and let the vines die back. The hard shell of the pumpkin protects it for a long time, so it’s really just a matter of waiting until your pumpkins are bright orange and you have the time to go and gather them up when you’re ready for autumn decorating, or if you want to have them hollowed out for carving for Halloween jack-o-lantern fun.
And that’s how we grow pumpkins! We’re going to have a huge harvest this year and I can’t wait to share all that fall festiveness with you soon!
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.