Create a Prize-Winning Pumpkin Patch With This Care and Growing Guide

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated April 5, 2022
Two little boys having fun in a pumpkin patch
Photo: pikselstock / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Pumpkins are large, vining fruits associated with Halloween.

  • They’re easy-to-grow gourds, provided they get enough space, sun, and warmth.

  • They’re usually ready to harvest after 100 days.

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Known for their association with Halloween as jack-o’-lanterns, these squash varieties are easy-to-cultivate and super nutritious. Learn how to grow and care for pumpkin plants with this useful guide.

What Is a Pumpkin?

Pumpkins are wholesome seed-filled squash that are part of the cucurbit vining plant family, along with cucumbers, melons, and other gourds. While these iconic fruits are widely available in the United States, especially during fall, you can easily grow these tender annuals in your backyard, provided you have the space and the right climate.  

They come in various shapes, sizes, and tastes, so you’re bound to find a pumpkin plant that’s a good match for you and your yard. Plus, their lovely, bright orange (or yellow) flowers are perfect for attracting pollinators.

What Do I Need to Do to Care For My Pumpkins?

Heap of pumpkins in wheelbarrow on field
Photo: Vu Hoang / EyeEm / Getty Images

Pumpkins need a long, frost-free growing season and plenty of undisturbed space. Plant them in a sunny spot at the edge of your yard so you can direct vine growing varieties across the length of the garden boundary or up a trellis if they aren’t too big. When planning your planting calendar, be aware that in colder northern regions, you’ll need to plant them by the end of May, and in hotter southern states by early July. 

Keep pumpkins away from tomatoes or potatoes, as they don’t grow well alongside members of the nightshade family. And wait at least two years before planting in areas where you’ve been growing other cucurbit species to reduce the risk of disease. 

Light

Pumpkins need at least 6 hours of sun a day. With 8 to 10 hours a day, they should thrive.

Water

Although they can tolerate short periods of dryness, it’s best to water these thirsty plants deeply during hot, dry summers and when the flowers and fruit set. Avoid soaking the foliage and fruit as this can lead to rot and powdery mildew. Mulching helps conserve water and inhibit weed growth and pests. When the fruit begins to ripen, reduce watering—they don’t like soggy conditions. 

Soil

Pumpkins grow in most soil types, although they aren’t fans of highly acidic pH levels, and they’ll appreciate organic matter to loosen things up in heavy soils. The one thing they do need is soil that drains well to prevent waterlogging.

Temperature

Ensure there’s no danger of a late cold snap when you plant frost-tender pumpkins. The ideal soil temperatures are between 65 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Do I Need to Fertilize My Pumpkins?

These greedy gourds have an extensive root system and need lots of nourishment to thrive. Mix plenty of organic matter, like a homemade compost or manure, into the soil at planting. High nitrogen fertilizers help during early leafy plant growth and encourage strong vines. High phosphorus and potassium levels work better to promote fruit production and strong root development. Testing your soil establishes nutrient levels in the soil and helps prevent over-fertilization, excessive vine growth, and split pumpkins.

Can I Grow Pumpkins From Seed?

If the soil is warm enough, it’s possible to grow pumpkins from seed outdoors. In regions with a short growing season, start them indoors two to four weeks before the last expected frost and harden off the seedlings before transplanting them when soil temperatures are warm enough.

Growing pumpkins in hills (groups of clustered seeds) rather than rows has multiple advantages. Seeds germinate more quickly as the soil warms faster, and drainage and pest control are typically better. The hills can be level to the ground or slightly mounded to further aid drainage. 

Each hill should contain around five seeds sown about an inch deep. Standard vining pumpkins need about 50 to 100 square feet of overall space, and hills should be about 6 feet apart. 

Keep the soil moist and thin plants to two or three per hill when they have their second set of leaves and are around 3 inches high.

How to Encourage an Optimal Pumpkin Harvest

Once your pumpkins reach around 8 inches, thin down your hill further to keep the biggest, fastest-growing gourd. Pinch off any new blossoms and prune the vines, so all the nutrients go into the existing fruit. Putting a piece of cardboard under heavy pumpkins helps to prevent bottom rot.

Depending on the variety, it takes 70 to 120 days before your pumpkin will be ready to harvest. Gently turning the fruit helps produce an even shape. If the pumpkin sounds hollow when you knock it on the side and is an even color, it’s a sign it’s ripe. This is usually sometimes in September or October, before frosts arrive. Cut it off the vine with around 3 inches of stalk to lengthen the fruit's life after harvesting.

Unless you’re putting it straight into a pie, curing the pumpkin in the sun for a week or two after removing it from the stalk also helps to lengthen its life. You should then be able to store in a cool, dry space for up to ten months.

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