Home GardenTips & How To Autumn Color in Garden: Pumpkin

Autumn Color in Garden: Pumpkin

by a Friendly Gardener

Autumn wouldn’t be autumn without the pumpkin. A symbolic vegetable that represents the period from Halloween right through Thanksgiving, some of our most cherished memories will include pumpkin in some manner, whether it be the jack-o’lantern or pumpkin pie with whipped cream or sweet pumpkin bread. A staple of fall and winter, the pumpkin is a beloved addition to autumn cuisine.

Smiling Jack o lantern pumpkin

Members of the gourd family that is botanically known as the Cucurbitaceae family, multiple cultivars including Cucurbita pepo,c. maxima, or c. moschata.Cultivated for both consumption and decorative purposes, their physical appearance is easily recognizable thanks to a hard orange rind with characteristic grooves.

Botanically the pumpkin is, in reality, a kind of pepo berry typically large in dimension and weighing from nine to eighteen pounds, although there are smaller-sized varieties. The Cucurbita maxima can grow to seventy-five lbs., although the most massive pumpkins ever cultivated grew to over 2,000 lbs.

Shapes can be round, oblong, or oblate and vary in shade from yellow to orange, with a few showing a whitish rind. Rinds are typically smooth in texture with ribs or slight furrows. The pumpkin stem is woody, angled, and quite hard. The pumpkin will mature in early fall and offer the advantage that it can be stored for several months in a dry location in temperatures that sit well above freezing.

Pumpkin is generally used as a vegetable and often interchanged with other squash cultivars. Seeds are also edible. Like other members of the gourd family, they grow on vines and require space like zucchini, watermelons, cantaloupe, and cucumbers. Consider that you will require ten to twenty feet for two or three plants alone, but they work well when planted at the base of other plants like corn. You can also integrate them into your garden as a perimeter plant.


Selecting a Location

Pumpkins growing in soil

As pumpkins require full sun exposure, select a sunny place. You will need a spacious spot as well, as these plants require a good deal of space to grow. Soil should be well-draining. Pumpkin vines will sprawl, so plan for 50 to 100 feet per mound. You can plant pumpkins as a perimeter crop and allow vines to run across a lawn. For limited space, consider smaller varieties or container cultivation in ten-gallon buckets.


When to Plant

To successfully grow pumpkins, apart from space, you need a long growing season. Keep in mind that pumpkins generally require 90 to 120 days to mature for harvest or three to four months. Gardeners in northern areas need to sow seeds by the end of May. Southern areas can wait till early July to plant. They are cold-sensitive, so wait until the last projected frost has passed to plant them.

If you hope to have pumpkins in time for Halloween, check how many days a particular variety needs to grow to harvest. Count backward from approximately ten days before Halloween.


How to Plant

To prepare the soil bed, mix in lots of organic matter before sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings. When sowing your pumpkin seeds, prepare mounds of soil four to six feet apart. Mounds will warm faster aiding in germination as well as drainage and pest control. Place four to five seeds in each mound approximately four inches deep. Add a light covering of compost to the soil bed surface and wait for the seeds to germinate. Soil should be kept moist until germination.

If you have a short growing season, start your seeds indoors in peat pots a month before the final projected frost. Harden your seedlings before transplanting them into the garden bed. When young plants reach 3 inches in height, thin out your crop to three plants per mound at the most. Trim undesired plants but take care to not disturb roots.

Another option is to plant pumpkins in rows. Sow seeds about a half-foot to a foot apart. Rows should be spaced six to ten feet from one another. When seedlings appear, thin to a single plant every two to three feet.

Row covers can be used in the beginning to protect plants, but they must be removed before flowering to permit pollination. Be careful if using pesticides or fungicides which can harm bees or other pollinators. If you must use them, do so in the evenings or late afternoon once the blooms have closed.

Some varieties of vines can be trained to climb a trellis, but you will need to find a way to support fruit, perhaps with old stockings or netting.

If your first blossoms do not produce fruit, be patient, they may be male flowers. Vines are delicate so they must be protected from damage.



The ideal soil bed will be sandy with lots of organic matter. If your soil is mostly clay, amend it with generous amounts of organic matter like aged manure, compost, or greenery worked into the soil. Soil pH should measure between 6.0 and 6.8.



The pumpkin needs at least eight hours of full sun daily.



Not only are pumpkins heavy feeders, but they are quite thirsty as well. Prepare to supply one inch of water per week and water deeply. Avoid watering foliage and fruit unless the sun is out. Damp foliage and fruit can lead to rot or other infections.



These plants are heavy feeders and require good nourishment to thrive. Keep in mind that root systems are extensive, so an application of 10-10-10 fertilizer can make the difference. Plan on 4 lbs. of fertilizer per 100 sq. feet. It should be applied evenly across the planting site and tilled into the soil at least three inches deep before sowing or transplanting.

Then side-dress your plants with compost or aged manure. When plants grow to about a foot in height, begin to fertilize weekly with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Just blooming is to begin switching fertilizer to a formula high in phosphorous.


Pumpkin Growth and Care

Pumpkins in a grass field

When several pumpkins begin forming, pinch off fuzzy vine tips to prevent other pumpkins from forming. This will enable the plant to dedicate its energies to the development of fruits already on the vine.

Pruning your vines will also reduce space necessities and again redirect energy to fruit development. Because plants produce principal, secondary and tertiary vines, once the fruit has appeared trim the principal and secondary vines to between ten and fifteen feet and remove the tertiary vines.

If you prefer to concentrate your efforts on a few pumpkins, select two to three better-looking fruits, and remove any others from the vine. Place heavy cardboard or better a thin board underneath developing pumpkins to prevent rot and pest damage.


Harvesting Pumpkins

Mini pumpkins

Your pumpkins will be ready to be harvested when they are completely colored, the rind is hard, and the stem appears woody. Using a sharp and sterile garden knife, carefully cut the stem but leave several inches attached to the pumpkin. Pumpkins may also fall from the vine when ready for harvest.


Storing Pumpkins

Pumpkin pie with pumpkins

Pumpkins can be stored for several months in a dark, cool location allowing you to use them in recipes for a good portion of the winter.

When cleaning for use in a recipe, don’t toss the seeds. Either clean them for roasting or save them for next year’s crop.


Problems, Pests, and Diseases

Environmental problems, including poor light, excessive fertilization, reduced pollination, or bad weather, can all negatively affect your crop causing flower drops and fruit shape.

Mulch can be used to aid in moisture retention, control weeds, and impede pest infestation.

Pests that take up residence in a pumpkin crop include:

  • Aphids
  • Cucumber beetles
  • Squash bugs
  • Vine borer bugs


The best solution initially is the use of row covers.

Pumpkins are susceptible to anthracnose and powdery mildew. Anthracnose will appear as irregular brown or yellow spots. Look for resistant varieties of pumpkin. Should your plant become infected, all parts must be removed and destroyed.

Powdery mildew is a fungal infection. That leaves plants looking as if they have been dusted with a coating of flour. Again, look for resistant varieties. Should it appear, remove all infected foliage, stems, and pumpkins and destroy them preferably through burning. Do not introduce infected plants into composting bins. Organic neem oil can be used as a preventive measure before the infection appears.

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