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How to Grow Pumpkins

Sow pumpkins in the garden in spring when all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature has reached 65°F.

Pumpkin grows near harvestPumpkins are a warm-season annual that require from 90 to 120 frost-free days to reach harvest. Grow pumpkins in the warmest, frost-free part of the year.

  • Sow pumpkins in the garden in spring when all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature has reached 65°F (18°C) and night air temperatures are above 55°F  (13°C). In cool-summer regions grow smaller varieties.
  • Start pumpkins indoors 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring; transplant them into the garden 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost.

Planting Pumpkins

  • Plant pumpkins in full sun; pumpkins will tolerate partial shade but full sun is preferable.
  • Pumpkins grow best in loose, well-worked, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of sowing.
  • Pumpkins prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
  • Plant pumpkins on a hill mounded 6 inches or more above the garden. The mound will collect solar heat which will enhance growth. A mound 36 or more inches across will support three plants.
  • Work plenty of aged compost and aged manure or commercial organic planting mix into the hill before planting.
  • Pumpkins require ample room for growth. Vining varieties sprawl and may require between 50 and 100 square feet of space. Bush varieties require less space than vining varieties.
  • Pumpkin vines planted on a mound can be trained in an ever-widening circle around the mound.
  • Pumpkins also can be planted in beds covered with black plastic sheeting. The black plastic will warm the soil. Cut a hole in the plastic to plant seed or transplants.
Pumpkin seedlings
Pumpkins can be started indoors 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date for transplanting out two weeks after the last frost.

Starting Pumpkins Indoors

  • Pumpkins can be started indoors 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting into the garden 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost.
  • Start seeds in individual peat pots or biodegradable containers. The roots of pumpkin seedlings are very sensitive. Start seed indoors in peat pots then set individual pots and seedlings into the garden together at transplanting time.
  • Sow seed 1 inch (2.5cm) deep.
  • The seed will germinate in 5 to 10 days at 70°F (21°C).
  • Pumpkin seed coats are hard. To speed germination soak seeds in warm water or 1 hour before planting. The long edges of seeds also can be lightly filed with a nail file; this will weaken the seed coat and speed germination.
  • Grow seedlings indoors under grow lights of fluorescent lights. Keep the soil evenly moist.
  • When transplanting seedlings to the garden make sure the rim of the peat pot is not exposed to the air or it will wick moisture away from the plant’s roots.

Starting Pumpkins in the Garden

  • Direct sow pumpkin seeds in the garden 2 to 3 weeks after the average last frost date when the soil temperature has reached 65°F (18°C) and night air temperatures stay above 55°F (13°C).
  • The optimal soil temperature for starting pumpkins in the garden is 70°F (21°C) or warmer.
  • Keep floating row covers handy to protect young plants from chilly night temperatures or unseasonal weather. Pumpkins are very sensitive to cold soil and frost.
  • In cool-summer regions grow smaller, quick-maturing varieties.
  • In warm-winter regions or very hot summer regions, plant pumpkins in late winter for harvest in late spring.
Pumpkins growing on mound
Plant pumpkins on a hill mounded 6 inches or more above the garden. The mound will collect solar heat which will enhance growth.

Planting and Spacing Pumpkins

  • Plant pumpkins on raised mounds 6 to 12 inches (15-30cm) high at least 24 to 36 inches (61-91cm) across. Larger is better. At the top of the mound, you can remove an inch of soil to build up a rim around the edge of the mound creating a basin for watering.
  • Space hills 6 to 8 feet (1.8-2.4m) apart.
  • Sow pumpkin seeds 1 inch (2.5cm) deep.
  • Sow 6 to 8 seeds in each hill.
  • When seedlings are 2 to 3 inches (5-7cm) tall, thin to the 2 or 3 strongest seedlings. Cut off thinned seedlings at soil level to avoid disturbing the roots of the remaining plants.
  • Thinned seedlings should be spaced 18 to 36 inches (45-91cm) apart.
  • Pumpkins growing in rows should be spaced 24 inches (61cm) apart and rows should be 6 to 10 feet (1.8-3m) apart.
  • Grow 1 to 2 pumpkin plants per household member.

More tips at Pumpkin Seed Starting Tips.

Container Growing Pumpkins

Pumpkins require a great amount of space and so they are not good candidates for container growing. However, you can grow a small, space-saving variety in a 10-gallon container. Train the vines to grow around the container. Keep the soil in containers evenly moist throughout the growing season. Feed plants compost tea or diluted fish emulsion every two weeks.

Companion plants

  • Plant pumpkins with corn. Avoid planting pumpkins with potatoes or squash.
  • Plant flowering herbs such as dill or bee balm near pumpkins to attract bees and other pollinators.
Female flowers appear on the plant after male flowers. Female flowers will bear an immature pumpkin beneath the blossom.

Pumpkin Pollination

  • The first flowers to appear on the pumpkin plant will be male flowers which do not bear fruit. Male flowers appear about a week before female flowers. They attract bees and other pollinators.
  • Female flowers appear on the plant after male flowers. Female flowers will bear an immature pumpkin beneath the blossom at the stem end of the flower. Female flowers must be pollinated by bees that first visit male flowers.
  • Plant flowering herbs such as dill, bee balm, and marigolds close to pumpkins to attract bees and other pollinators.
  • If pollinators are in short supply, pumpkins can be hand pollinated. Use a small artist’s bristle brush to collect pollen from a male flower then brush the pollen onto the pistil at the center of the female flower.
  • Pumpkin blossoms are usually open in the morning then close in the afternoon during the warmest of the day.

Watering and Feeding Pumpkins

  • Pumpkins require regular, even water to keep vines and fruiting growing without interruption. Give pumpkins 1 to 1½ inches of water each week (1 inch/2.5cm of water equals about 16 gallons/60.5 liters).
  • Do not let the soil dry out. Slow, deep watering is best.
  • Water at the base of plants using drip irrigation of a soaker hose. Avoid wetting leaves; wet leaves are susceptible to fungal diseases.
  • Add aged compost and manure or commercial organic planting mix to the planting area before planting.
  • Feed pumpkins an organic fertilizer high in phosphorus once plants are established; a 5-10-10 formula is good.
  • Side dress pumpkins with compost or manure tea or a dilute fish emulsion solution every two weeks during the growing season.
Pumpkin round at harvest
Turn pumpkins as they develop to encourage an even shape.

Caring for Pumpkins

  • Keep the planting area weed-free. Weeds compete for soil moisture and nutrients and harbor pests and diseases which can attack pumpkins.
  • Allow just 2 or 3 fruits to mature on each plant.
  • Set developing fruits on tiles, sheets of plastic, or wooden shingles so that they do not develop rot sitting on wet soil.
  • Turn pumpkins as they develop to encourage an even shape. A pumpkin that is not turned may have a flattened side at harvest time.
  • To grow pumpkins for large size, choose two or three fruits early for development; remove the remaining fruit and vines.
  • When pumpkins have formed on a plant, pinch or snip off the fuzzy end of each vine. This will stop vine growth and the plant will put its energy into fruit growth. Vines without fruit can be pruned back to about 2 feet long.
  • Remove new female flowers from vines once two or three fruits are growing on a plant.

Pumpkin Pests

  • Pumpkins can be attacked by squash borers and cucumber beetles.
  • Squash vine borers will drill a small hole in the stem. Unexplained wilting may indicate the presence of borers. To remove a borer, slit the stem lengthwise, remove the borer, and crush it. Cover the slit stem with soil to encourage root development from that point.
  • Spotted and striped cucumber beetles chew holes in leaves and can spread bacterial wilt and other diseases. Handpick and destroy cucumber beetles or spray with neem or pyrethrum.
  • Squash borers or bacterial wilt can cause squash plants to suddenly wilt and die just as they begin to produce.

Pumpkin Diseases

  • Pumpkins are susceptible to bacterial wilt, mosaic virus, and mildew. Plant disease-resistant varieties.
  • Keep the garden clean and free of debris where diseases and pests may harbor. Water at the base of plants to keep water off the foliage, and do not handle plants when they are wet to avoid the spread of fungal spores.
  • Remove and destroy infected plants before they spread the disease to healthy plants.
  • Bacterial wilt is spread by cucumber beetles. Bacterial wilt will cause pumpkin plants to suddenly wilt and die just as they start to produce pumpkins. Control the beetles to control the spread of disease.
  • Mosaic virus can cause squash plants to become mottled yellow and stunted. Mosaic virus is spread by aphids. Control aphids and remove affected plants.
  • Powdery mildew, a fungus disease, will cause leaves to turn a gray-white color late in the season. Proper spacing and increased air circulation will help reduce this problem.

Grow pumpkin in gardenHarvesting and Storing Pumpkins

  • Pumpkins will be ready for harvest 95 to 120 days after sowing depending on the variety.
  • Pick pumpkins when they are deeply colored–deep orange or golden white–and stems and vines have dried and turned brown.
  • The rind should be hard, not easily penetrated by a fingernail.
  • Thump maturing pumpkins; a ripe pumpkin will sound hollow when thumped.
  • As pumpkins mature, remove leaves that shade the fruit to allow for maximum sun exposure.
  • As pumpkins near harvest, vines may begin to yellow and shrivel away.
  • Use pruning shears to cut the vine; leave 2 to 4 inches (5-10cm) of stem attached to the pumpkin so that the fruit does not readily dry out or decay.
  • Harvest pumpkins before the first freeze or they will turn soft.
  • Seed saved from heirloom or open-pollinated pumpkins can be saved for up to 6 years for replanting.

Storing and Preserving Pumpkins

  • Cure pumpkins in direct sun at 75° to 80°F (24-26°C) for 2 weeks before storing.
  • Store pumpkins at 50° to 55°F (10-13°C), in a dry, well-ventilated place.
  • Do not refrigerate pumpkins.
  • Cured pumpkins can be stored for 3 to 6 months.
  • Pumpkins in storage can shrink as much as 20 percent in weight but will still be suitable for cooking.
  • Pumpkin can be pureed and frozen for up to 6 months. Pumpkin also can be frozen or canned.

More tips: How to Harvest and Store Pumpkins.

White pumpkin
‘Casper’ the white pumpkin

Pumpkin Varieties to Grow

Grow small pumpkins for cooking; grow intermediate and large sizes for cooking and for making jack-o’-lanterns; grow extra-large pumpkins for an exhibition.

  • Extra-large (50 to 100 pounds): ‘Atlantic Giant’ (125 days); ‘Big Max’ (120 days); ‘Big Moon’ (120 days); ‘Mammoth King’ (120 days); ‘Prizewinner’ (120 days); ‘The Great Pumpkin’ (120 days).
  • Large (15 to 25 pounds, 100 days): ‘Aspen’ (93 days); ‘Connecticut Field’ (120 days); ‘Ghost Rider’ (115 days); ‘Half Moon’ (115 days); ‘Howden’ (115 days); ‘Pankow’s Field’ (120 days); ‘Pro Gold’ (95 days); ‘Tallman’ (110 days); ‘Wizard’ (115 days).
  • Intermediate (8 to 15 pounds): ‘Autumn Gold’ (90 days); ‘Big Autumn’ (100 days); ‘Jack O’Lantern’ (115 days); ‘Oz’ (105 days); ‘Small Sugar Pie’ (110 days); ‘Tom Fox’ (110 days); ‘Trick or Treat’ (105 days).
  • Small (4 to 6 pounds): ‘Bush Spirit’ (100 days); ‘Frosty’ (95 days), ‘Wee-B-Little’ (90 days).
  • Others: ‘Baby Bear’ (105 days); ‘Baby Boo’ (95 days); ‘Buckskin’ (110 days); ‘Casper’ (80 days); ‘Cushaw, Green Striped’ (110 days); ‘Gremlin’ (100 days); ‘Japanese Pumpkin’ (110 days); ‘Jarrahdale’ (110 days); ‘Lady Godiva’ (110 days); ‘Little Gem’ (110 days); ‘Little Lantern’ (100 days); ‘Long Cheese’ (120 days); ‘Lumina’ (110 days); ‘Munchkin’ (110 days); ‘Rouge D’Etampes’ (95-160 days); ‘Sweetie Pie’ (110 days).
Carved pumpkins Jack-o-Lantern
‘Autumn Gold’ and ‘Jack-o-Lantern’ are two varieties ideal for carving.

Favorite Pumpkins to Grow

  • ‘Jack Be Little’ is a miniature pumpkin for table decoration.
  • ‘Wee-B-Little’ is an All-America Selection, the size of a baseball.
  • ‘Autumn Gold’ is ideal for carving a Jack-o-Lantern.
  • ‘Sugar Treat’ and ‘Baby Bear’ are excellent for pies.
  • ‘Atlantic Giant’ and ‘Big Max’ grow to 200 pounds by county fair time.

More varieties to grow: Pumpkin Varieties: Best Bets and Easy to Grow.

About Pumpkins

  • Pumpkins are tender squash-like annuals with smooth rinds scored with vertical grooves.
  • Fruits can range in size from a few ounces to hundreds of pounds and in color from deep orange to white. Some heirloom varieties can be swirled multi-colored.
  • Large, green leaves grow on branching vines that can reach 20 feet long.
  • Large male and female flowers grow on the same vine.
  • The name pumpkin is also given to other hard, orange squashes and gourds.
  • Botanical name: Cucurbita maxima, Cucurbita moschata, Cucurbita pepo
  • Origin: Tropical America

More tips: Pumpkin Size: Cooking and Carving.

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24 Comments

    • Pumpkin seeds do not need to be fully dried; but if they are allowed to dry they will withstand rotting in wet soil. Seeds are triggered to germination by soil temperature and moisture. When the soil temperature is not right for germination, then the seed will sit and wait. A wet seed will take up soil moisture more quickly than a dry seed, so a wet seed sitting in the garden through a wet winter or spring waiting for its temperature trigger may be susceptible to rot. One solution would be to sow several seeds to hedge your bets for germination success.

  1. I have a few small pumpkin plants and I’m about to move and want to take them with me. When is the best time to dig them up to bring them to the new house?

    • To transplant your pumpkins with the least amount of stress to the plants, dig up the plants and put them into container you take to the new house. Do this in the last day or two before you leave your current home and try to get them into their new garden as soon as possible. Dig far enough away from the stem and deep enough that you disturb as few roots as possible. Until you can set the plants in their new location, keep the plants out of direct sunlight and keep the soil just moist. When you set them in the their new holes, be sure to firm the soil around plants gently and give them water. You can also feed them some diluted liquid B1 fertilizer or compost tea.

  2. Hello, what causes the size to change. The first pumpkins started on the larger size then a few started to be alot smaller. Now about all of the pumpkins are on the smaller size. All pumpkin seed were the same variety and all seeds were from the same bag. Could it have been the cooler weather ?

    • Yes, cool weather and cloud cover will impede the maturation of pumpkins. Place each pumpkin on a tile, a piece of sheet aluminum or sheet metal or on a piece of plastic–they will soak up solar heat and help the pumpkin to grow larger and mature. Thin the number of pumpkins on one plant to just one or two; that will allow the plant to put all of its energy into the maturation of that pumpkin. Keep the soil just moist as the pumpkin matures and feed the plant compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion.

    • Pumpkins like other members of the squash family have separate male and female flowers on the same plant; the male flowers appear first and the female flowers follow a week later. Bees and other pollinators must visit the male flower and carry pollen to the female flower. If this does not occur there will be no baby pumpkins. Stagger the planting of your pumpkins by a week or so to ensure there are both male and female flowers in bloom at the same time. Plant flowering herbs in the garden to attract bees. As long as the air temperature does not dip below 55F at flowering and pollination time, flowers should be pollinated and grow fruit. Once small pumpkins begin to grow, you can cover the plants with a floating row cover to exclude pest insects that might attack the fruits.

  3. A friend of mine picked what was left of their pumpkin patch just before our first big freeze last week and gave it to my kids but the pumpkin looks developed and a nice hard skin but still small and green but I was thinking of trying to grow them next season. Will this be possible?

    • Slice or carve the pumpkin and save the seeds. Let them dry on a baking sheet for two or three weeks then store them in a paper envelope in the refrigerator until you are ready to plant next spring. If the pumpkin is open-pollinated it will grow true to its parent; if it is a hybrid it may not grow true.

  4. Hey, does 55°F weather make my pumpkin mature very slowly? Should i pick them?
    The have been slowly turning Orange for about 4 weeks but It Is still not fully ripened.

    • Yes, 55F is chilly for a pumpkin. If nighttime temperatures are even cooler then the pumpkin is stressed and will not continue to ripen. If the nighttime low is 55F and day temperatures are a bit warmer then place black plastic or aluminum foil under the pumpkin; these will soak up or reflect solar heat to the pumpkin and help it ripen.

  5. The old timers around here swear that the ash from bush fires we have just had, is hugely beneficial for the growing of pumpkin here in NSW Australia. Any thoughts on this?

    • Wood ash has an NPK of about 0-1-3; the phosphorus and potassium would benefit root and fruit growth and general plant health. Conversely, ash from fires can stymie the work of plant leaves–photosynthesis–so be sure plants leaves are washed clean early in the day.

  6. Hi,
    1) If a vine dries up before the pumpkin is fully matured, say it’s about 80% done, is there a way to “rescue” the pumpkin or is it wasted?

    2) Do pumpkins off the same vine of necessity grow to be of the same size or can some grow larger than others?

  7. Hi Steve Albert,
    My first question wasn’t addressed by the link, that’s why I asked 😀 It’s likely you didn’t understand it. I’ll rephrase:

    If a pumpkin is still at a point of it’s development, say 80%, where the “skin” breaks and secretes a fluid upon the thumbnail test; then owing to some misfortune the vine dries up and the fruit stops expanding; is there anything I can do to arrive at a point where the thumbnail doesn’t penetrate or should I discard the partially developed pumpkin?

    I have 16 fruits in that state and despite my mother trying one and reporting it ready to eat and delicious, I’m sceptical because she’s known to glorify everything I do. If I sell them, they might ruin my reputation. That’s why I’m asking.

    • If growth has stopped due to the vine withering, you can harvest the pumpkins and set them in a warm spot out of direct sunlight; the skins should harden. This is the common method used to prepare winter squash for storage.

    • If you need fertilizer, spray the plants with a dilute solution of fish emulsion every 10 days. You can also use a kelp meal solution. If the plants appear to have powdery mildew, get an organic fungicide at the garden center.

  8. I am in Melbourne, Australia. It is about to enter the summer. The temperature will get warmer and warmer. The pumpkin for raising seedlings has grown two cotyledons. Can I transplant it into the garden now.

    • If night temperatures are steadily warming and the seedling has gained strength, you can transplant now. You can also give it another week to gain stature and strength and then set it in the garden.

    • There are few options to keep squirrels away from crops–none are foolproof: (1) exclude them by covering the bed with netting; (2) use a repellant–most have pepper or garlic ingredients which irritates the squirrel’s nose; you can get repellants at the garden center; (3) live trap and relocate.

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