Pumpkin Growing Tips and Recipes
Courtesy of Jennifer Bradley, Assistant Gardener HRC
Growing pumpkins is a very easy thing to do as long as you give the vines what they need. They grow amazing in our climate even though the season can be short. Timing, sunlight and where you plant are all very important in pumpkin planting!
Although pumpkins are a very tough crop (they will grow anywhere!), if planted too soon seeds will rot. Pumpkins are typically planted in late May and early June in the Midwest. We watch the weather as much as we can and make sure it stays warm enough for seed germination. If they are planted too late they will not have time to ripen fruit. Pumpkins are vigorously growing vines that require at least six hours of sunlight per day. Plant seeds in a sunny spot with plenty of room to spread out because some pumpkin vines can stretch as far as 30 feet.
When choosing pumpkin seeds, select seeds that have been air dried rather than dried in an oven, which could remove too much moisture. Seeds should be firm and evenly colored. We love to choose heirloom varieties and rare pumpkins. Great sources for these are Baker Creek Seed Company and Seed Savers.
Pumpkins require between 80 and 130 days before they are mature enough to pick. We directly sow our seeds when daily temperatures consistently reach into the low 70s. Although we find our vines do better when they are directly sowed, you can start your seeds inside and transplant. You will need to acclimate your plants outside prior to planting though.
You can plant in rows or hills. For hill planting, you will need to create a mound of soil with a shallow trench around it for collecting water. Plant four to five seeds on each hill. Hills should be about 10 feet apart. We prefer this method. For row planting, create an elevated row of dirt with small trenches on either side to collect water. We plant two or three seeds in rows every 18 inches. Rows should be three feet or more apart. Plant seeds one to one and a half inches deep in loosely packed soil. Larger pumpkin varieties will need greater space between rows or hill.
Once the pumpkin seeds sprout -- usually in one or two weeks -- great care should be taken with the seedlings to ensure healthy, vigorous plants that will yield a good crop of pumpkins. Water young plants regularly but only at the base of the plant; avoid watering the foliage to minimize mildew. We have been very lucky in the last few years and have only relied on rainfall. Thin hills or rows once permanent leaves are established to give each plant adequate room to grow. You can add fertilizers or compost if desired although it is not required unless you plan on growing the Blue Ribbon winner!