How to Grow Pumpkin on a Stick (Ornamental Eggplant)

Fun fact: This vegetable isn't really a pumpkin

Solanum aethiopicum 'Red Ruffled'

Cillas / GNU free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

If you are looking for a unique fall decoration, pumpkin on a stick plants are an absolute eye-catcher that you can easily grow from seed in your garden or a container. The most intriguing fact about these miniature pumpkin-look-alikes is that they are ornamental eggplants. Pumpkin on a stick is planted in the spring, grown over the summer like other eggplants, and ready to eat in the fall. They grow moderately fast, usually ready for harvesting about 75 days after sowing from seeds.

Solanum species are also called nightshades. They include these ornamental eggplants, other eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes and are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.

Common Name Pumpkin on a stick, pumpkin tree, pumpkin bush, mock tomato
Botanical Name Solanum Integrifolium
Family Solanaceae
Plant Type Annual
Mature Size 2 to 4 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Well-drained, loam
Soil pH Acidic (5.5 to 6.5)
Bloom Time Late summer to early fall
Flower Color White, purple
Hardiness Zones 9 to 11
Native Area Africa
Toxicity Toxic to cats, dogs, horses

Pumpkin on a Stick Care

When planting pumpkin on a stick in your garden, give it ample space, keeping in mind that it will be like a small bush when it’s mature. Three feet apart is ideal; 30 inches is the minimum planting distance. 

A pumpkin on a stick is a monoecious plant that insects must pollinate to produce fruit, so make sure you have other flowering plants nearby that attract pollinators.

As the plant grows to 3 to 4 feet high and 2 to 3 feet wide, it develops strong branches that will need support as the fruit matures. Each plant will produce dozens of fruits, and their weight will make the branches droop and may break if they don't have tomato cages supporting them.

Pumpkin on a stick (Solanum aethiopicum)
Pumpkin on a stick

@bluehillflowerfarm

Pumpkin on a stick (Solanum aethiopicum) ripening.
Pumpkin on a stick ripening. Marco Schmidt / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

Light

Like other eggplants, pumpkin on a stick needs full sun to produce flowers and stunning fruit.

Soil

This plant requires rich, well-draining soil. Mix compost into the soil before planting.

Water

This plant needs moisture but does not like wet, soggy soil. If it hasn't rained, the rule of thumb is 1 to 2 inches of water per week and more in sweltering weather.

Temperature and Humidity

Pumpkin on a stick likes warm summer weather, thriving in temperatures of 75 F and up. Humidity is unnecessary for growth, although too much relative humidity (60% or more) can cause fungal overgrowth problems.

Fertilizer

Like other vegetables, add fertilizer when planting in the spring, and add organic matter at least once or twice during the growing season. Or, if you grow tomatoes, you can use the same fertilizer on the same schedule.

Generally, a 5-10-10 NPK fertilizer is good for tomatoes and eggplant. It is low in nitrogen, keeps the foliage healthy, and allows the plant to focus on fruit-bearing. Plan to give fertilizer once at sowing, then give fertilizer again as soon as the plant starts bearing fruit, usually every one to two weeks until the end of the growing season.

Pruning


Like tomatoes, pumpkins on a stick rarely need pruning. If you notice the plant growing little suckers (baby offshoots late in the growing cycle), you can pinch those off to focus the growth on already developing branches and fruits.

Also, if the plant becomes too heavy that its stems are flopping to the ground, support those branches or cut them off to avoid fungal growth cropping up from the soil.

If handling the stems, beware that pumpkin on a stick has long, sharp thorns on the stems and leaves, so wear gloves.

Propagating Pumpkins on a Stick

The best way to propagate pumpkins on a stick is by seeds. They may be grown by cuttings, but since they are cold-sensitive annuals, you may not be able to produce fruit in time from cuttings. If you are cutting away stem offshoots to keep the main stems healthy and vibrant, you can take those offshoots and propagate them. Here's how to grow a new plant from a cutting:

  1. First, you'll need gloves, pruning snips, a clear jar of water, and eventually a planting site or pot with well-draining soil.
  2. Pinch or snip off an offshoot at its base. Put the cut end in a clear jar of water. Put it in a sunny window. Replenish the water every few days to the original water line. Every two weeks give a complete water change. In three to four weeks, you should notice a sufficient number of roots.
  3. Plant the rooted stem in the ground or a pot with well-draining soil in full sun.
  4. Bring plants inside once temperatures drop below 55 F at night. Provide full-spectrum grow lighting if you want them to produce fruits indoors. Usually, temperatures lower than 60 F make these plants temperamental and affects fruit production.

How to Grow Pumpkin on a Stick From Seed

It is best to grow pumpkin on a stick by starting it from seed indoors. About six weeks before the last scheduled frost in your area, plant the seeds one-quarter to one-half inch deep in pots. Because they closely resemble eggplants, label the pots at seeding time.

Keep the seed pots moist at a germination temperature of 70 to 85 F, and the seedlings will emerge in about two weeks. They need at least 14 hours of bright light, so provide supplemental light with an artificial grow light. Once the seedlings have developed at least two sets of true leaves and the temperatures at night are consistently above 55 F, they are ready to be hardened off and transplanted outside.

Potting and Repotting Pumpkin on a Stick

You can grow only one plant per pot. You will need large pots, about 20 inches deep and wide. You can use terra cotta, plastic, or ceramic pots with ample drainage holes. Expect each plant to grow 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. Plants will have problems growing or fruiting if not in a large enough pot or if you plant more than one plant in the pot.

Overwintering

The plants are susceptible to cold weather, and temperatures lower than 55 F will hamper fruit growth. If the fruits are not yet ripe, cover the plants if an early frost hits. Frost will kill the leaves. These annual plants can be grown indoors throughout the year if you provide at least 14 hours of bright sunlight and grow lights and temperatures that are at least 75 to 80 F. If you kept these plants inground overwinter in a wintery weather zone, clean up the dead foliage at the start of spring.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

The prickly leaves and branches of pumpkin on a stick plants deter deer, rabbits, and other critters. Particular pests gravitate to nightshade plants at different parts of their growing cycle. Flea beetles, wireworms, white grubs, cutworms, and thrips are the most prominent invaders during the seedling stage. You'll notice tiny holes in the leaves, chewed foliage, or unexplainable wilting as a sign that you have an infestation.

As the leaves grow, common invaders include aphids, whiteflies, spider mites, and leafminers. You'll notice dots of deposits left behind by aphids, which attract lines of ants or cause mold to start forming. Once fruiting occurs, you might see hornworms and stinkbugs join the buffet line of insects. To control an insect invasion, try organic measures like insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils that are non-toxic if consumed.

The plant might be affected by fungus in humid weather, which you can treat with a general fungicide. But as always, before applying anything, consider whether the damage is severe enough to call for the use of chemicals, and keep in mind that pesticides and insecticides can kill beneficial insects in your garden.

How to Get Pumpkin on a Stick to Bloom

From July through September, small white or purplish star-like flowers appear in clusters of three or four. They are attractive to pollinators like bees and butterflies. Once pollinated, they will develop into small green two- to five-inch squatty fruit that ripens from August through October.

Low temperatures or colder soil shocks these plants into not flowering. If your temperatures are OK and plants are not flowering, give them low nitrogen, higher phosphorus content fertilizer, often labeled as tomato fertilizer, to encourage blooming. Flowers do not need deadheading.

Pumpkin on a stick (Solanum aethiopicum) in bloom.
Pumpkin on a stick in bloom. Agnieszka Kwiecień / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Common Problems With Pumpkins on a Stick

Like other Solanum species, these plants are moderately fast growers, but they are frequented by pests and susceptible to fungal growth. If you can catch an infestation or infection early, the plant has a good chance of survival through the growing season.

Disappearing Seedlings

One day your seedlings are there; the next, they're gone. If your seedlings have mysteriously disappeared overnight, there's a good chance you have cutworms. They chew through the stems of young seedlings at the soil line at night. To get rid of them, you'll have to hand-pick the larvae at night when they're active and spread diatomaceous earth around the base of your plants to drive them away.

Holes on Leaves

If you notice holes on leaves, it's a pretty good sign something is making a snack of your plant. Hornworms are fat, hard-to-miss larvae that are a common culprit.

Flea beetles also leave behind holes after eating; they are black iridescent beetles that can stunt growth and spread disease if you don't get rid of them. Flea beetles jump far and quick. Flea beetles lay their eggs near the soil line, usually around the start of summer. The larvae eat plant roots. Use neem oil, organic insecticide spray, or diatomaceous earth to curb an infestation. To prevent flea beetles and other common pests, use row covers during the growing season.

Yellowing Leaves

Yellowing can be caused by a lack of water or nitrogen, a fungal infection like verticillium wilt or powdery mildew, or a spider mite infestation. Check the water level and give more water on particularly sweltering days. If you notice webbing, it could be a sign of spider mites. Spider mite damage begins with tiny spots forming on your leaves, then yellowing, and finally leaves curling and falling off. Use insecticidal soaps or neem oil on mites.

Insufficient air circulation usually causes powdery mildew. If the condition hasn't spread all over, it's treatable with a milk and water solution or a fungicide. If it's all over, you might need to start over. Similarly, if a plant has a verticillium wilt problem, you must remove the plant entirely and destroy it. Verticillium wilt stays in the soil and can infect future plantings if the soil is not solarized, killing the fungus.

FAQ
  • How do you preserve pumpkins on a stick?

    To use the branches for dried flower arrangements, cut the stems just where they emerge from the ground and let them dry in a cool location with good air circulation. In warm, dry climate zones, you can leave the fruits on the plant, where they will eventually dry on the plant. As the fruit dries, it turns a pumpkin-orange hue. The dried fruit lasts for years, and its color will darken over time.

  • Are pumpkins on a stick edible?

    Pumpkins on a stick are often used in stir-fry dishes. They have a mild taste when green, but they develop a bitter, peppery flavor as they redden. They are ready to harvest when the skin is very shiny. 

  • Can pumpkins on a stick be grown indoors?

    Technically, these ornamental eggplants can be grown indoors, but growing them indoors is as hard as any other eggplants. They require full sun, which means 10 hours sitting at a sun-drenched window and at least four hours with a supplemental grow light. Also, you will have to hand-pollinate these plants to make sure they bear fruit.

Article Sources
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  1. Deadly nightshade. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.