Pumpkins are a staple in every Halloween celebration. If you’re tired of lining up to get the best pumpkins every year, why not try growing your own pumpkins?
Pumpkins take an average of 105 days to grow into their full size. This applies to average-sized pumpkins, as smaller varieties tend to mature earlier. Pumpkins need 7-8 hours of full sun daily, deep watering every 2 days, and fertile soil mixed with compost to develop well for an early harvest.
Below, I’ve broken down a pumpkin’s growth stage into an approximate time frame for you to follow along. But first, let’s look into the different kinds of pumpkins that will suit your needs:
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Choosing the Right Pumpkin Variety to Grow
There are 4 factors you need to consider when it comes to picking the pumpkin you want to plant:
- How big or small is your home’s garden space to grow the pumpkins? Planting miniature, small, and semi-bush varieties are the best bet for those with tiny garden spaces. Semi-bush varieties are defined as plants with compact growing habits ideal for small spaces. They are often favored because they don’t grow as extensively as their semi-vine or vining counterparts while maintaining satisfactory yield. Those with a bigger garden area have more options to plant any kind of pumpkins, including the medium to large, semi-vine, and vine-growing varieties.
- What will you be using the pumpkins for; is it for decoration, carving, or cooking? Certain pumpkins are suitable for one purpose only. For example, ‘Big Moon’ is perfect for carving but not for cooking. The pumpkin flesh is often bland, which makes it undesirable to make a dish with. You can roast the pumpkin seeds for snacking, but that’s it. Fortunately, other pumpkin varieties are available for dual purposes like cooking and carving. Who says you can’t carve your pumpkins and eat them too, right?
- When will you be needing the pumpkins? Often, the demand for pumpkins falls around October for Halloween. This means you’ll need to plant it in late May to early July to harvest it just in time for the trick-or-treating season. For non-Halloween reasons, it can be produced as early as March and ready to be harvested by July. The purpose of this criteria is to pick a pumpkin variety with the proper estimated length of maturing days. For example, suppose you need several carving pumpkins ready by October. ‘Autumn Gold’ takes 100-120 days to mature, so planting it in late May is more fitting.
- How long or short are your growing seasons? This refers specifically to the spring and summer seasons. Pumpkins need full sun to develop and do not do well in cold conditions at all. This can be troublesome as some regions have short growing seasons, such as those living in hardiness zones 2, 3, 4, 12 & 13. So, choosing a pumpkin variety with short maturing days is the better option for them.
Here is a valuable table of various pumpkin varieties with their respective days of maturity, intended use, and growing type:
|Pumpkin Variety Name||Length of Maturity||Common Use||Growing variety type|
|Jack Be Little||95 days||Decoration, Cooking||Miniature; vine|
|Munchkin||85-100 days||Decoration, Cooking||Miniature; vine|
|Autumn Gold||100-120 days||Decoration, Carving||Large; vine|
|Magic Lantern||115 days||Decoration, Carving||Large; semi-vine|
|Merlin||115 days||Decoration, Carving||Medium; semi-vine|
|Dill’s Atlantic Giant||130-160 days||Carving||Jumbo; vine|
|Big Max||120 days||Carving||Jumbo; vine|
|Big Moon||120 days||Carving||Jumbo; vine|
|Jack O Lantern||100-110 days||Carving||Large; vine|
|Funny Face||100 days||Carving||Large; semi-bush|
|Sugar Treat||90-120 days||Cooking||Small; semi-bush|
|Baby Bear||105 days||Cooking||Small; vine|
|Heirloom ‘Winter Luxury Pie’/Livingston’s Pie Squash||100-110 days||Cooking||Medium; vine|
|Baby Pam||100-110 days||Carving, Cooking||Small; vine|
|New England Sugar Pie/Small Sugar||100-110 days||Carving, Cooking||Small; vine|
|Spookie||105 days||Carving, Cooking||Medium; vine|
|Spooktacular||85-110 days||Carving, Cooking||Small; vine|
|Jarrahdale||100 days||Decoration||Medium; vine|
Note: The maturity duration for each pumpkin variety is an approximation. Different factors can cause a slight deviation in their expected harvest times, such as soil fertility, water intake, adequate sun, and sudden weather changes.
Warming Up, Fertilizing & Aerating the Soil for your Pumpkin Plants
Estimated length of time: 1 month or less
When should the soil be prepared: At least 1 month before planting
Let’s assume you already have the right spot for your pumpkins to grow, i.e., consistently sunny with 7-8 hours of full sun and very little shade. All that’s left is for you to prep the soil for planting. The ideal soil environment that pumpkin needs should have:
- A temperature of about 60-80°F. The warmer the soil, the faster the seeds will sprout. If the ground is still cold, the seeds won’t germinate at all. It’s advisable to use a soil temperature probe (Amazon link) to check before you plant your seeds. Alternatively, you can try growing them indoors beforehand with a heating mat and LED grow lights. But transplanting pumpkins is quite risky because they are fussy. So it is best to seed them directly into the soil once it has warmed up.
- A pH of about 6.5-7.5. This is the usual pH range for most edible gardens. You can use a soil pH kit (Amazon link) to quickly check yours if needed.
- Soil that has not been used to plant peanuts, peppers, tomatoes, tobacco, or other plants in the gourd family.
For warming up the soil, you can do one of the following:
- Place black plastic on top of the soil. This helps to retain heat and accelerate the warming up process.
- Create hill mounds to plant the seeds on. Some gardeners choose to compile soil into these small mounds as it is said to make the ground warm up faster.
If you’re not keen on doing any of these options, you can always let the ground grow warmer naturally after the last frost has passed.
For fertilizing and aerating the soil, you can mix either one of the following into the ground:
- Green manure such as grass clippings
- Aged manure that is at least a year old
It is advisable to do this every year before the growing season in your garden. Not only does this nourish the soil, but the added organic fertilizer can help warm the soil faster by absorbing more heat.
Planting the Pumpkin Seeds & Tending to the Sprouts
Estimated length of time for pumpkin seeds to sprout: 4-10 days, depending on the pumpkin variety and how good the soil environment is.
What month(s) should you plant the pumpkin seeds? Late May/Early July for an October harvest; Early March for a July harvest.
Before you plant your seeds, you need to measure the distance between each row and their neighboring pumpkin. Here’s a general spacing guideline you can follow for different varieties:
|Growing variety type||Distance between each pumpkin plant||Distance between rows of pumpkin plants|
|Bush or short vine||2-3 feet apart||3-5 feet|
|Small-sized||3-4 feet apart||6-8 feet|
|Medium to large-sized||2-6 feet||5-12 feet|
It may seem a little excessive to space them that far apart, but trust me, the vines can get pretty unruly. If you’re planting huge pumpkin varieties, they will need ample space to grow in. Additionally, this will help you see the ground and avoid trampling on the plants.
Once you have your spacing set, here’s how you should plant your pumpkin seeds:
- Water the soil lightly beforehand. If it is dry, critters will easily dig the seeds up and eat them.
- Plant 2-4 seeds in one spot about 1-2 inches deep in the ground. Optional: you can mound the soil into a heap to create a pumpkin hill and plant your seeds at the peak.
- Water the seeds every day in the morning. Ensure to do the knuckle test each time to check whether the soil is dry before watering. After 4 to 10 days, the sprouts should emerge from the ground.
- When the sprouts are taller and have more leaves, thin them down by keeping the most vigorous 1-2 seedlings untouched and trimming the rest at soil level.
An important note on pests and diseases: The moment you start planting your seeds, check your pumpkin patch every other day for any uninvited guests or odd symptoms on the plants. Pests such as squash bugs, spotted cucumber beetles, and squash vine borer are notorious for feasting on pumpkins. So keep an eye out for these suckers when you water your pumpkin plant. On the other hand, plant diseases can be avoided simply by avoiding overhead watering and splashback on the foliage. Wet leaves are an invitation for fungal spores to grow on, so always water at the soil level.
Growing and Pollinating the Pumpkin Flowers
Estimated length of time for pumpkin flowers to bloom: 7-8 weeks
When should you pollinate the pumpkin flowers: After both male and female flowers have bloomed. It is generally unnecessary to do manual pollination when plenty of wild bees do it for you. If there aren’t many bees in your area, you can use a cotton bud to swab the inside of the male flowers and rub the collected pollen inside the female flowers.
After the sprouts have developed, vines will soon start to grow from them. Make sure to water them sufficiently during this period. After 7-8 weeks, the male flowers will begin blooming from the vines. These are integral in the pollination process, but they are not the ones producing the pumpkin fruit. After 10 days or so, the female flowers appear.
Pollination soon comes after with the bees transferring pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers, often in the early mornings. This is the main reason why you should not use insecticides in your garden. Otherwise, you risk killing wild bees responsible for making your female flowers bear fruit. Fun fact: A honeybee hive is placed in every acre of pumpkin patches in commercial productions. This ensures the female flowers get pollinated to guarantee a plentiful harvest later in the season.
But how many pumpkins do you typically get per plant? Generally, 3-5 pumpkins can be harvested per plant if it’s an average-sized pumpkin variety. A miniature variety like ‘Munchkin’ can have 8-10 pumpkins per plant due to their size. A large variety like’ Big Max’ usually only has 1-2 pumpkins per plant.
It’s worth noting that the number of mature pumpkins developed is dependent on the amount of successfully pollinated female blossoms. So if there is a discrepancy in yield, it’s likely because the female flowers were not pollinated. The male flowers usually drop off the plant after pollination. But they are actually edible and can be harvested after the pumpkin fruits are seen clearly growing from the female flowers. A great way to enjoy them is to dip them in a light flour or egg batter and fry them.
Developing the Pumpkin Fruit after Pollination
Estimated length of time for pumpkin fruits to mature: 1 ½ month
This is out of your hands, my friends. Let Mother Nature do what she does best.
Once the female flowers have been pollinated, the pumpkins take about 1 ½ months to swell into their complete size, which differs depending on the variety you choose. For smaller varieties, you can use a trellis to encourage vertical growth and save space. Otherwise, you can just leave it to grow as in on the ground.
The fruiting process starts with a green pumpkin emerging from the flower and gradually growing in size. This will eventually change color, commonly orange for most varieties, but other types turn into green-orange or white. This color change indicates they have grown into their full size for their variety. Check the stem/vine they are attached to – if they are brown and have dried, then the pumpkin is ready to be harvested.
So all in all, how long does it take for a pumpkin plant to produce fruit? As a whole, it takes about 85-160 days for pumpkins to mature, but this is highly dependent on the variety and their growing conditions. The fastest maturing pumpkin types are usually the miniature or small variety. The jumbo-sized varieties take even longer to develop fully.
Harvesting, Curing and Storing the Pumpkin
Estimated length of time to cure the pumpkin: 10-20 days.
When should you harvest the pumpkins: In July for spring planting or October for summer planting. Do note that this can vary on the varieties chosen to grow.
After checking that the stem/vine is dried out, you need to do the following:
- Try to pierce the pumpkin’s skin with your fingernails, preferably with your thumbs.
- A ripe pumpkin will not show any indentations due to its toughness. This means it is ready to be harvested.
- A pumpkin that is soft and easily bruised is not fully grown yet. Removing it too soon will only make it rot faster.
- Cut off the stems 2 inches from the vines cleanly with a sharp knife. Don’t attempt to break it off; otherwise, you risk creating an open wound for diseases and pests to crawl into.
If you are not going to use the pumpkins immediately, ‘cure’ them first to prolong their shelf life for 10-20 days at a temperature of 80-85°F at 85% humidity. The curing process is basically drying out and hardening the pumpkin’s rind to protect its soft, fleshy core from pathogens. This is a highly recommended step to do if you intend to store your pumpkins for a long period. After they have been cured, keep the pumpkins in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to use them.
It may take a while for you to get the hang of growing your very own pumpkins, but it’s really worth all that effort. Not only for your Halloween decorations but also for your favorite pumpkin dishes.