Pumpkins are an attractive vegetable with many forms, sizes, colors and textures, and pretty easy to grow from seed. Even if you don't have a large amount of space available for growing pumpkins, miniature pumpkins can be grown from seed in containers with stakes for the vines, or next to fences where the vines will have room to climb. Here's what you need to know to grow pumpkins from seeds.
Before You Begin
Planting pumpkins is fairly easy, but you will need a fair amount of space which should be decided on and cleared before you start planting. You'll need room for hills of soil between 4 to 8 feet apart. Making a hill for planting allows the vines to have a place to begin their sprawling and spreading, and provides a base for the formation of the new pumpkins to eventually become full size.
You can also start seeds in potting mix and transfer the seedlings to the hills once they are two inches high. Depending on the size of the variety you're growing (they range in size from miniature to enormous), you can adjust this spacing.
As pumpkins have different growing cycles and ripening times, plan ahead so your pumpkins will be ready to harvest for your needs.
Choosing Pumpkin Varieties
The type of pumpkin you grow will depend on what you intend to use them for. Miniature and small pumpkins are usually used for seasonal decor for autumn displays, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Some larger pumpkins are great for cooking and baking (like cheese pumpkins or sugar pumpkins). Some large pumpkins are not only great for cooking and baking, but also highly decorative, like the heirloom 'Rouge Vif d'Étampes' (which means "vivid red of Étampes"), a reddish pumpkin also known as the Cinderella pumpkin since it is reminiscent of the pumpkin carriage from the fairy tale. Pumpkins come in a wide range of colors now, from white to yellow to orange to red to green (like the beautiful gray-green Jarrahdale), and some have deep green streaks or bumpy warts or stripes or any number of visual accents.
Larger pumpkins will take a bit longer to mature and put on size than smaller ones; usually seed packets will let you know the range of time from planting to harvest. Don't plant pumpkin seeds outdoors until after the danger of frost has passed. If you start seeds indoors, allow seedlings to harden off before transplanting.
Equipment / Tools
- Garden soil with compost and/or aged manure
- Pumpkin seeds
- Straw for mulch
Prepare the Soil and Planting Area
Pumpkins do best in a slightly rich, well-drained soil, and they are heavy feeders during their growth cycle. Enrich the soil with rich garden amendments, compost, aged manure or humus before planting, to improve drainage and provide adequate nutrients.
Next you'll prepare the planting area. Pumpkins need a lot of space so you'll want to make sure you give them plenty of room to spread. Make sure your space is free of weeds, and mix in your compost, aged manure, or rich garden soil to give your seeds a good start. You can add a top dressing of aged manure and water after about a month also, to keep the nutrient levels up; this is a good idea if your garden soil is normally thin.
Pumpkins also benefit from pollination, so planting them in a garden with pollinator-friendly plants to attract bees is necessary. Many flowers attract bees and other pollinators, but planning for those that bloom in late spring and early summer will ensure there are plenty of them around to pollinate your pumpkin blossoms.
Plant the Pumpkin Seeds and Keep Moist
To plant seeds directly in the garden, create a circular hill of soil about 12 inches wide and 3 to 4 inches high in the center. Then plant 4 to 5 seeds roughly in a circle at least 6 inches apart and 1 inch deep in the center. (You will thin the seedlings out later so don't worry if the seeds are a bit closer together.) Water daily and the seeds should begin to sprout in a few days. If you're starting out with seeds in containers first, use a standard potting mix, plant seeds one inch deep, and give the seedlings plenty of sun and daily water.
Thin the Seedlings
Once seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall, thin them out to give them space, with at least 18 inches between plants; up to 36 inches (3 feet) between plants is fine, especially if you are growing larger pumpkins.
Pumpkins need plenty of water; about least an inch per week is ideal. Water deeply in the morning and/or evening; twice a day in hot weather is a good idea.
Placing straw mulch around your pumpkin plants will help preserve moisture, control weeds and repel pests. You can also use paper, cardboard, or wood chip mulch, but straw is what most gardeners use.
Prune the Vines
Pumpkins grow many vines, beginning with primary vines, which then sprout secondary and tertiary vines. Once the tiny fruits begin to form on your pumpkin plants, pinching off extra unwanted vines, as well as extra tendrils or leaves of growth, helps to concentrate energy so your pumpkins will put on size. You can also prune off extraneous blossoms if you wish, and always prune blossoms that are discolored or damaged. Don't prune too much growth all at once; this is something to do regularly as the growth process speeds up, maybe once every week or ten days. You can pinch them firmly with your fingernails or use a small pair of clean pruners (cleaning them first helps avoid any potential bacteria contamination).
Rotate the Pumpkins
As your pumpkins grow larger, they tend to stay in one place. This can cause a lopsided shape, or uneven coloration, and can even lead to rot or mildew. Gentle turn your pumpkins every few days to give them plenty of air and even sun exposure, and allow them to form a rounder shape. You can also help your pumpkins avoid too much close contact with damp soil by gently placing a flat stone or a bit of plastic or nylon mesh beneath them.
Inspect for Pests
The same insects that bother squash tend to be an issue for pumpkins. Squash bugs can be a nuisance, so have a plan to deal with them. Sometimes you will see various beetles on your pumpkins. Pluck them off by hand and drop in a bucket of vinegar or soapy water. Adding milky spore to soil in spring helps prevent an infestation of Japanese beetles.
Harvest the Pumpkins
When ready to harvest, you will want to gently thump the side of your pumpkin with your knuckles. A hollow sound means it is ready. Of course, for decorative purposes, you can harvest at any time the pumpkin has reached the size, shape and color you want. Gently snip the step from the vine, and try to leave enough to carry the pumpkin once the stem dries. Load them into a wagon or wheelbarrow and store flat until ready for carving or other uses.