Pumpkins are often a child’s first introduction to horticulture—and what an interesting and rewarding plant it is to learn from! A single seed will grow into a sprawling plant, filled with bright blooms visited by bees, and ultimately producing multiple plump fruits to be used as Jack’ o Lanterns, to decorate porches, or to enjoy in baked treats. With varieties in orange, white, yellow, pink, blue-green, brown, ‘black’ (actually a very dark green) and a few variations in-between, pumpkins are more fun than ever to grow!
Planting Your Pumpkin
First, as much as we might be about to tempt you with all the wonderful perks of pumpkins, you need to have the right conditions to grow them. Select a large space in your garden with full sun exposure and room for air to circulate. Pumpkins are vining plants that spread up to 4′ or more (sometimes a lot more!), and they need well-drained, fertile soil to grow in. Mix a generous amount of compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before you begin, being careful not to make the soil too heavy. Add a little bone meal to the planting hole, set in your transplant, gently backfill with the prepared soil, and water well to settle it all in.
Please note, to start a pumpkin from seed, you need to start them indoors the first two weeks of May. Pumpkins need about 90 days or more to mature fully, so time is of the essence. Transplants should be planted by the first week of July.
Did you know pumpkins do their growing at night?! According to Burpee, “Nighttime is when pumpkins do their growing; most expand two inches in circumference every night.”
Keeping it Growing Strong
Pumpkins prefer consistent moisture but, as opposed to watering pumpkins a little bit each day, water them deeply and thoroughly less often when they need it. They do not want to be overwatered, but they also don’t want to dry out either, so monitor your watering carefully and keep water off the foliage. Feed with 10-15-19 fertilizer and once a week with 20-20-20 fertilizer to give them a boost. For organic gardeners, Gaia Green Power Bloom 2-8-4 would work well. To grow bigger pumpkins, keep them to just one or two fruits per vine (pinch off the others as they develop) and, if you can, try to get larger pumpkins to grow at a 90° angle to the vine.
Common Pumpkin Challenges
Watch for problems before they get ahead of you! When you water your garden or take a stroll by, stop to take a good look at your plants and notice what’s happening with them. Nipping problems in the bud is far more beneficial than waiting to see if they become something worse.
Mildew: One of the most common challenges is mildew, which results from too much moisture sitting on the leaves for too long. Powdery mildew often presents as small grey-white patches on foliage. Planting pumpkins in a spot that is in full sun with good air circulation will help to prevent this, and be sure to only water at the soil level, never on the foliage. Should your pumpkins get mildew, pick off the impacted leaves (make sure to throw them in the garbage, not the compost) and spray the remaining foliage with Safer’s Defender or a homemade mix of: 8 grams of baking soda, 1 litre of water and a few drops of dish soap. New growth will come in clean.
Yellowing Foliage: Pumpkins are vigorous growers and need lots of nutrients as they grow. Yellowing foliage is often a sign of a lack of nutrient, so if you haven’t fed your pumpkins in a while, give them some liquid feed to turn them around fast. While you’re at it, add some 10-15-19 fertilizer, too.
Blossom End Rot: A lack of calcium is a common cause of blossom end rot in tomatoes and squashes. Remove fruit that has been affected then add a small amount of lime to the soil.
Most of the following varieties are currently available for sale while quantities last (and while the window to plant is still open!).
- Lady Godiva: Grow this for the seeds! Hull-less seeds are ideal for roasting. Lady Godiva is ‘the industry standard for extracting pumpkin seed oil’ (westcoastseeds.com). The pumpkin flesh is not especially tasty, but produces up to 1 lb of seeds.
- Blue Doll: Flattened shape, deep ribbing, blue-green colour, good for baking, 15-20 lbs. (Sorry, available in fruit form only this fall!)
- Indian Doll: Flattened shape with deep ribs, deep orange colour, good for baking, 18-30 lbs.
- Small Sugar: Heirloom, very sweet! Orange colour, good for baking, 5-8 lbs.
- Grizzly Bear: Light brown colour, warted, 5-8 lbs.
- Goosebumps: Heavily warted bright orange and green pumpkin, 8-12 lbs.
- Warty Goblin: Green-orange warts, 8-20 lbs.
- Knucklehead: Deep orange colour, warted, 12-16 lbs.
- Specter: White colour, light warting, 12-20 lbs.
- One Too Many: White colour with red veining (like a bloodshot eye!), 20 lb
Great For Decorating/Crafts:
- Baby Boo: Bone-white to creamy pale yellow when ripe, so harvest a bit early. 3″ wide.
- Casperita: White colour that keeps after harvest, disk-shaped, semi-bush form, 1-1.5 lbs.
- Spooktacular: Dark orange colour, smooth skin, 1-1.5 lbs.
- Lil Pumpkemon: Slightly flattened shape, white pumpkin with orange stripes, 1-2lbs.
- Black Kat: Very dark green, almost black colour (including the stem!) with deep ribs, good for baking, semi-bush habit, 1 lb.