Pumpkin on a Stick Plant Profile

Solanum aethiopicum 'Red Ruffled'

Cillas / GNU free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

If you are looking for an unusual fall decoration, pumpkin on a stick is a real eye-catcher that you can easily grow from seed in your garden on in a container. The most intriguing fact about these miniature pumpkin-look-alikes is that they are in fact ornamental eggplants. Pumpkin on a Stick is grown over the summer just like eggplants, and harvested in the fall. Once dried, the fruit will outlast any pumpkin so you can enjoy them in flower arrangements for a long time.

Botanical Name Solanum Integrifolium
Common Name Pumpkin on a stick
Plant Type Tender perennial
Mature Size 2 to 4 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH 5.5 to 6.5
Bloom Time Late summer to early fall
Flower Color Orange
Hardiness Zones 9 to 11
Pumpkin on a stick (Solanum aethiopicum)
Pumpkin on a stick. @bluehillflowerfarm

How to Grow Pumpkin on a Stick

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 of their resemblance with eggplants, don’t forget to label the pots right at seeding time.

Keep the seed pots moist at a germination temperature of 70 to 85 F, and the seedlings will emerge about two weeks. To give them the 14 hours a day of bright light, you might have to provide artificial 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.

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 minimum. 

Pumpkin on a stick is a monoecious plant that must be pollinated by insects in order to produce fruit so make sure you have other flowering plants around that attract pollinators.

As the plant grows to a height of three to four feet high and two to three feet wide, it develops strong branches that will need support as the fruit develops. Each plant will produce dozens of fruits and their weight will make the branches droop and thus susceptible to breakage. Use a tomato cage or stakes to support the plant.

Pumpkin on a stick has long, sharp thorns on the stems and leaves so be careful when handling the plant.

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

From July through September, small white flowers will appear in clusters of three or four. They will develop into small green two- to five-inch squatty fruit that ripens from August through October. As the fruit ripens, their color will become a bright reddish orange.

The plants are susceptible to cold weather so if the fruits are not yet ripe when an early frost hits, cover the plants. Frost will kill the leaves.

Light

As a member of the eggplant family, pumpkin on a stick needs full sun to produce flowers and its stunning fruit.

Soil

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

Water

Regular watering is key, as the plant needs moist soil but does not like it wet. The rule of thumb is one to two inches per week in the absence or rain, and more in extremely hot weather.

Temperature and Humidity

As a member of the eggplant family, pumpkin on a stick likes warm summer weather of 75 F and above. Humidity is not a relevant growth factor; in fact, in extreme humidity, fungus can spread.

Fertilizer

Just like the rest of your vegetable garden, add fertilizer when planting, and add more organic matter at least once or twice during the growing season.

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

Caring for Cut Branches

After the glossy fruit has ripened to its bright reddish orange color, cut the stems just above the ground. Remove all leaves and, if you prefer, also the thorns.

You can use the entire branches with the fruit for fall decorations, or pick the fruit and display it in a bowl.

To use the branches for dried flower arrangements, let them dry in a cool location with good air circulation. As the fruit dries, which takes several weeks or longer, it will get its pumpkin-orange hue. The dried fruit lasts for years, and its color will darken over time.

In warm, dry climates zones, you can leave the fruits on the plant where they will eventually dry on the plant.

Pests and Diseases

Thankfully the thorns on the pumpkin on a stick deter deer, rabbits and other critters. If insects are devouring the leaves of your plant, consider applying an organic pesticide.

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

Toxicity

While pumpkin on a stick is a member of the eggplant family, it has a bitter taste and is not suitable for human consumption.