How to Grow Pumpkins for Beginners

It’s a favorite of children and adults alike, especially in the fall. Pumpkins. A staple in almost every backyard garden. Today we are going to go over everything you need to know on how to grow pumpkins for beginners. A great resource to have in your how to start a backyard garden library. But growing pumpkins can be a little intimidating so we will map it all out from seeds, to planting. Weeding to pest control and beyond. 

How to grow pumpkins for beginners

Pumpkins are an American tradition; they’ve been growing in North America for about 5,000 years. In addition to carving them up for Halloween or decorating your front porch for the fall, pumpkins are great for so many recipes. From pumpkin bread and pancakes to replacing oil in some of your favorite baked goods for added fiber.

While growing pumpkins is fairly easy even for beginners, they do have a long growing season and they do require a lot of space to grow. In order to mature, pumpkins need anywhere from 75 to 100 frost-free days. That means you’ll need to plant between late May and early July, depending on where you live, for a fall harvest.

Since pumpkins grow on vines of 20 feet or more you’ll also need plenty of space for them to spread out.

A patch of pumpkins growing in a backyard garden

If you have the space, having your own personal pumpkin patch can be a lot of fun for your family. And bonus, it is a great way to generate a little extra income on your homestead!

What You Need to Grow Pumpkins

In order for pumpkins to adequately mature and grow to their full size, you’ll need to do some pre-planning before you begin.

Pumpkins can be grown from seedlings planted indoors, but they grow best when the seeds are planted directly in the ground. The soil should be at least 70° before planting but soil temps of 95° is optimal. Pumpkins really like warm soil and are very sensitive to cold.

You’ll want to find a spot that gets a lot of sunshine most of the day.

Pumpkins grow on vines along the ground and need a lot of room to spread out, about 50 to 100 square feet per hill. To save space, you can also plant pumpkins around the edge of your garden and direct the vine growth away from your lawn or walkway. The vines should only be a problem for a few weeks until they slow down and put their energy into producing fruit.

If you prefer, you can grow pumpkins in 5 to 10-gallon growing containers or plant miniature varieties that require less space to grow.

Pumpkins need to be fed with very nutrient-rich soil that is well-draining so that the roots and vines don’t get soggy, causing rot. For the best soil, mix in a lot of compost and/or aged manure before sowing your seeds into the ground.

How to Grow Pumpkins – an Overview

Pumpkins need to be planted in warm soil and will take about 3 months to grow. For fall harvesting, get ready to plant between late May and early July. You can take advantage of the spring to prepare your soil so it is a great environment for your seeds to grow and flourish. 

When finalizing the location of your pumpkin patch remember these points.

  • Plenty of room for the vines to spread and grow.
  • Lots of sunshine throughout the day.
  • An area where there is good drainage.

If space is limited, you can opt to plant smaller pumpkin varieties inside of growing containers that you can move around if the vines become an issue.

When to Plant Pumpkins

The best time to plant pumpkin seeds is between late May and early July. This will give them plenty of time to mature for a fall harvest and it will allow the ground time to warm up. If you have any cold snaps once when the plants are young you can cover them for protection so you don’t risk the growth of the plant itself. Row covers or row blankets are a great way to quickly cover and protect plants. 

How to Plant Pumpkins

While pumpkins can be planted from seedlings started indoors, it’s best to plant pumpkin seeds directly in the ground to help protect the roots.

Seeds should be planted in rows or in mounds also called “pumpkin hills.” With hills, the soil will warm up faster, allowing the seeds to germinate more quickly. It’s also a great way to provide more drainage and protect the pumpkins from pests.

Before planting you’ll need to prepare your hills with old manure dug deep into the soil, about 12-15 inches deep. If you don’t have manure, you can simply loosen the soil and mix in about 4 inches of compost.

Growing green pumpkin in organic vegetable garden.

Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep in the hills with 4-5 seeds per hill and space the hills 4 to 8 feet apart.

With a soil temperature of at least 70°, the plants should start germinating in less than a week and begin to emerge in about 5 to 10 days. Once the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin them out to 2 to 3 plants per hill by snipping off the unwanted plants at ground level, do not pull them out of the ground as this could damage the roots of the remaining plants.

If you’re planting in rows instead of hills, sow the seeds 6 to 12 inches apart in rows that are 6 to 10 feet apart. Once they emerge and are 2 to 3 inches in height, thin them out to one plant per every 18 to 36 inches, snipping them at ground level.

How Many Pumpkin Plants to Plant

For larger pumpkins, you’ll want to end up with at least 2 pumpkins per plant; for smaller ones, about 3 pumpkins per plant. If you are going to use them for cooking, plan to grow 1 to 2 plants per person.

How Long Do Pumpkins Take to Grow?

Pumpkins can take anywhere from 75 to 100 days to fully mature and be ready to harvest. For a fall harvest, you’ll want to plant in late spring to early summer to make sure there’s plenty of time, plenty of sunlight, and plenty of warm weather.

Young pumpkin growing in the garden outside

Temperature

While we tend to associate pumpkins with cooler weather, they grow best in warm temperatures. The soil should be at least 70° when planting and pumpkins will do well in soil temperatures of up to about 95°. Summer is the best season for growing pumpkins to give them all the warmth and sunlight they need.

Sun

Pumpkins love direct sunlight. The leaves convert sunlight into internal plant food that travels through the vines to feed the pumpkins. The more sun they get, the bigger your pumpkins will be and the more you’ll have to harvest come fall. Pumpkins should get a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight each day, but more is better if you have a sunny spot in your garden.

Soil

The soil will need to be nutrient-rich and well-draining. Adding compost or manure to your soil will help to give the pumpkins plenty of nutrients to grow big and plentiful. Make sure that water can drain away in the soil and that it doesn’t get soggy. This can cause root rot and damage your pumpkins or keep them from growing.

Water

Pumpkin plants require a lot of water, about 1” per week. It’s best to water less but more frequently than to water all at once. This will allow the soil plenty of time to absorb moisture without becoming over-saturated.

Keep the soil evenly moist, not soggy, and you’ll need to keep the water off the leaves. This means no overhead watering with a sprinkler or hose. Instead, use a hose fitted with a misting nozzle to lightly water the mounds.

You can also install a garden irrigation hose to help put watering your plants on autopilot. 

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Fertilizing

Pumpkins are heavy feeders so you’ll need to add compost or manure to the soil before planting as well as fertilizing regularly. Regularly add manure or compost mixed with water to sustain the growth and use a high nitrogen formula in the early growth stage. When plants are about a foot tall and before the vines begin to run, switch over to a high phosphorus fertilizer.

Spacing

Spacing will depend on whether you’re planting mounds or rows. With pumpkin hills, space the hills 4 to 8 feet apart and plant 4 to 5 seeds per hill, thinning to 2 to 3 plants her hill once they sprout. With rows, plant the seeds 6 to 12 inches apart in rows that are 6 to 10 feet apart and thin to one plant every 18 to 36 inches after they begin to sprout.

new pumpkin plants growing in a garden

Depth

Whether your planting rows or pumpkin hills, seeds should be planted about 1 to 2 inches deep, no more.

Growing Tips for Pumpkins

· Row covers will help to protect the plants early in the growing season and also help to prevent insect problems. Be sure to remove the cover before flowering though so that they can be pollinated by insects.

· When watering, water the hills being careful not to get the leaves wet. The soil should be moist up to about an inch deep, but not soggy. Too much water will cause rot and disease.

· Adding mulch around your pumpkins will help to keep the soil moist, suppress weeds, and discourage pests.

· The root system is very fragile so be careful not to over-cultivate. Control weeds with mulch or snip at ground level, don’t pull them or you could damage the pumpkin’s roots.

· Many small varieties can be trained to grow up a trellis for space-saving planting.

· If your first flowers don’t form fruits, be patient. Both male and female flowers need to open for pollinating. Bees are essential to pollination so be mindful when using insecticides to kill pests. If you need to apply them, do so in the late afternoon or evening when the blossoms close for the day.

· Pumpkin vines are very delicate; be careful not to damage them or it could reduce the quality and quantity of the fruit.

· Pinch off the fuzzy ends of the vine after a few pumpkins have formed to stop the growth of the vine. This will direct the plant’s nutrients to the existing fruits.

· Pruning the vines may help with spacing as well as directing more nutrients to the fruits. Just do so with care.

· If you want to grow an especially large pumpkin, select 2 or 3 good candidates and remove the remaining fruits and vines to encourage all the nutrients to those fruits.

· Turn your pumpkins regularly, using care not to damage the vines. This will encourage a more even shape.

· Place heavy cardboard under the ripening fruit to avoid decay and insect damage on the underside.

How to Harvest Pumpkins

It’s best to harvest pumpkins when they’re fully mature so that they’ll store longer. Don’t pick them when they’re small just because you want a smaller pumpkin. If that’s the case, you’re better off planting a small variety.

For most varieties, the pumpkin is ripe when the skin turns a deep, solid orange. The rind will feel hard when you thump on it and it will sound hollow. Try pressing your nail into the skin. If it resists puncture, it’s ripe.

Harvest on a dry day when the plants have died back. Cut the fruit off the vine carefully with a sharp knife or pruners, don’t tear. To slow the decay, leave a few inches of stem on the pumpkin; don’t cut too close to the skin. Pumpkins bruise easily so be gentle with them.

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How to Store Pumpkins

After harvesting, cure the pumpkins in the sun for about a week to toughen the skin. Then, move them to a cool, dry room for storage, somewhere around 55°. A cellar shed, or garage usually works well. Uncut and stored properly, you can expect the pumpkin to last 8 to 12 weeks.

Once carved (as in a jack-o-lantern) they’ll usually last 5 to 10 days.

If you’re saving the pumpkin seeds, they should last for about 6 years.

What Diseases and Pests to Watch For

There are a few pests and diseases to keep an eye out for including:

· Squash bugs

· Cucumber beetles

· Aphids

· Squash vine borer

· Powdery mildew

· Anthracnose

Not enough sunlight, too much fertilizer or water, and reduced pollination can also have a negative effect on your pumpkin growth.

Row covers and mulch will help to reduce both pests and weeds. Just remember to remove the row covers before the plants flower so they can be pollinated.

Be sure not to overwater or over-fertilize. And if you see signs of disease, remove the infected fruit and discard it.

Cooking With Pumpkins

Pumpkins are a staple of many fall desserts and bring with them a smell of the holidays. You can use pumpkins in butters, pies, or even cakes

pumpkin dump cake slice on a plate

Growing pumpkins is fairly easy for beginners. They don’t take a lot of work or a lot of gardening knowledge. And they can be fun for the whole family. Just keep in mind that they do take a significant amount of time to grow and they do need a lot of space for spreading out.

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