How To Grow Pumpkins
You want to know how to grow pumpkins successfully and you want to find out in super simple to follow step by step directions…
You’ve come to the right place. Find out everything from when to plant pumpkins to how long a pumpkin takes to grow. Learn how much space a pumpkin needs as well as where you can grow your pumpkin, how to care for a pumpkin plant, and how to harvest your amazing produce.
You will learn simple, easy, fail-proof steps for how to grow pumpkins that anyone can do.
How Many Uses For Pumpkins Are There, Anyway?
Pumpkins are some of the most undervalued of garden vegetables there are (in my humble opinion).
Why? …I don’t know.
Maybe people are afraid of the size? … Do you wonder what you would do with them?
Or maybe its the amount of space pumpkins would take up in the garden?
Maybe you think they are only good for pumpkin pie … and you just buy that in a can.
In any case, you are missing out!
You can check out all the Reasons You Want To Grow Pumpkins Here.
Pumpkins are beautiful and they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They are easy and delicious. The flavors vary from sweet to nutty, the colors are gorgeous, which is why they are so popular in fall displays, and they are versatile in recipes whether you want to use them for sweet or savory
It is easy to learn how to grow pumpkins and your wallet, food budget, and meal planner will thank you. Pick any variety that your heart desires. There are so many different varieties to choose from it will blow your mind.
If space is an issue for you, you’ll be happy to know they come in bush varieties that take up minimal space in your garden.
In the end, you will be hard-pressed to choose only one variety and you will find yourself making more and more room for them each year.
Of autumn’s wine, now drink your fill; The frost’s on the pumpkin, and snow’s on the hill. –The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 1993
When Is The Best Time To Plant Pumpkins?
All chance of frost is gone
If the weather turns cooler cover with row covers check frost dates here.
Soil temperatures are warm
At least 70 degrees 95 is optimal
There is still enough time for them to mature before the first frost
Pumpkins need long growing season; 75-120 days. You will need to check your average first frost date and count backward the right amount of days. This Fall Planting Calculator makes it super easy.
Also, see When To Plant What here for a detailed list for every vegetable you want to grow.
How Long Does A Pumpkin Take To Grow?
Pumpkins require a long growing season. From the time you plant the seed until harvest is typically 100 days. Some varieties might take a few days longer, and some will be weeks shorter. You can usually find the time to maturity on your seed packet.
When you plan out space for your pumpkin to grow in, you will need to take into consideration the length of time to maturity. They need to be planted in late spring or early summer and will need that space until the first frost, or close to it.
What Are The Space Requirements For Pumpkins?
Pumpkins need ample space to spread out. The general answer for this is 50-100 square feet per plant. But that’s a huge difference and not much help. Right?
The discrepancy comes mostly from how you intend to grow them.
Even though these plants can become quite monstrous in size, the actual garden space doesn’t necessarily have to be that large. One way to overcome the space issue is to plant them along the edge of your garden space and train them to vine outward onto your grass or sidewalk. This will save your actual growing space, but still, allow you to grow them there.
Growing pumpkins in hills
When pumpkins are planted out in hills (small mounds of earth where you plant 3 plants each -we will get to how to do this later) the hills are spaced 9 ft apart. This gives you 81 square feet per hill for 3 plants.
Growing pumpkins in rows
When you grow pumpkins in rows you can space them 18-24 inches apart in the row and the rows can be 5-10 feet apart. Using this method, the space for each plant can vary from 7 ½ square feet per plant to 20 square feet per plant.
I highly recommend the latter scenario with more space. It gives your plants more room to spread out with less chance of disease and pests. It also gives you a bit more room to navigate when caring for them.
Growing pumpkins on a trellis
By training your pumpkins up a trellis, you reduce their space requirements even further. When planting pumpkins to be trellised you can plant them 18-24” apart, reducing the square feet per plant to 3-4 feet.
Of course, trellising a giant variety of pumpkin will be impossible, but mini pumpkins or even pie pumpkin varieties will do great. The pumpkin vines and stems are extremely sturdy and will hold the weight of a small variety quite easily. If your pumpkin variety is heavier than 10-12 pounds you can still train them upward but you may need to support the fruit with netting or old nylon stockings.
Growing pumpkins in a container
Pumpkins can be grown in a container as small as a 5-gallon bucket. You will need to plan a space for their vines to run whether it be up a trellis, or out into a lawn, deck, or sidewalk. The actual root system of a pumpkin plant is actually quite small for its enormous size. Just keep watered well and use a good top mulch or fertilizer.
For complete step-by-step lessons on how to plan a garden that will feed your family check out this guide.
Where To Grow Pumpkins
Pumpkins appreciate full sun, but partial shade is okay. And you need to plan a spot with plenty of room for them to spread out or plan to trellis them, as discussed above.
Growing pumpkins in hills
The advantages of growing pumpkins in hills it that the soil warms up faster which helps the seeds to germinate quicker. It also helps with drainage which in turn reduces disease and it helps with pest control.
A hill is a small mound. You simply pile up the soil into a mound and add ample compost, manure, and or organic matter. It should look like a little mini pitcher’s mound.
Growing pumpkins in rows
The advantage of growing pumpkins in rows is that it requires less garden space. The plants can be planted 18-24” apart and the row can be on the edge of the garden, allowing you to train the vines to spread out of the actual garden space. In this way, the pumpkins are taking up very little space in your actual garden.
The rows can potentially be built up, similar to the principle of a hill, and you will get the same advantages as a hill.
You will need to mulch under the ever-spreading vines though or spread out a tarp or other weed control because there will be no way to mow under the vines once they start going.
Growing pumpkins in containers
Pumpkins can be grown in a container as small as a 5-gallon bucket. Other ideas might be an old laundry basket, an old tire, a milk crate, or any variety of recycled containers you can find that is the right size.
They can be grown on a patio, or they can be trellised to vine upward, or you can plant them anywhere in the yard and mulch under the growing vines.
Growing pumpkins in raised beds
In a raised bed the pumpkin will need 3-4 square feet if you plan on training it to vine outward, or trellising it. Or a bed at least 9X9’ for 3 pumpkins if you want to contain them inside the bed.
Growing pumpkins on a trellis
Small to medium-sized pumpkins do quite well on a trellis. You can easily grow pumpkins up a trellis up to 12 pounds. If your chosen variety is larger than this, you can still grow them vertically if you provide support for the fruit. You can support the vine by tying the fruit to the trellis with a soft cloth or using netting like nylon pantyhose to hold some of the weight. Overall, the vines are quite strong.
How Many Pumpkins Per Plant?
The number of pumpkins per plant will depend on several factors. Miniature pumpkin varieties might produce up to 20 fruit per plant while gigantic varieties might only produce one. I’ve found you can expect about 10 fruit per plant for most varieties of about 12-20 pounds.
If you limit the number of pumpkins per vine to one or two, your pumpkins will get larger. So it’s up to you whether you want more, medium-sized pumpkins, or a few larger ones.
Save These Ideas On How To Grow Pumpkins For Later…
How To Plant Pumpkins
How to plant pumpkins in hills
One of the ways to plant pumpkins is in a hill. This method consists of mounding up the earth to a small, sloping “hill” that looks similar to a little pitcher’s mound.
When you plant your pumpkins in hills you need to space the hills about 9 ft apart. You can then place 5 seeds in the center of the hill. Next, keep watered well. When the seedlings are 2 -4 inches tall you will need to thin to your best 3 plants. You can do this by snipping them off near the earth with a pair of garden sheers, this method protects the root system of your chosen seedlings. Keep your remaining plants well-watered by making sure the soil is wet down to at least 1 inch deep once a week.
Mulch the area where you have planted your pumpkins well. And, keep mulching the plants as they grow and spread out, always making sure the vines have a nice, thick layer of mulch under them. There are many options for mulch material including, but not limited to; straw, woodchips, dry leaves, and dry grass clippings.
Mulch is beneficial in so many ways. It holds moisture in the soil, reducing the need to water. It also decomposes and feeds the soil. Mulch is very helpful at keeping weeds at bay, and keeps your fruit cleaner, too.
How to plant pumpkins in rows
Unless you are growing a whole patch of pumpkins I feel like rows are a better use of space than hills. Pumpkins can be planted closer together in the rows and the area where the vines need to spread out is more concentrated. This leaves you a more defined space to walk and tend to the large plants.
However, if you like the advantages of the hill, it is possible to mound up the earth along the length of your whole row. This method gives you the same advantages of the hill, but still saves you space and leaves you the option of training your vines to spread outside of the actual garden space.
Other options for a row include adding organic matter and/or compost the width of 1 foot for the entire length of the row and planting it into that “raised” or “mounded” row.
When you plant your pumpkin seeds in a row, space them 6-12” apart and water well. Keep the soil quite moist until the seedlings have emerged and are established. After the seedlings are 2-4” tall, thin them to 18-24” apart.
You will want to mulch your pumpkin row well and keep mulching throughout the growing season. Make sure your pumpkin plants get at least an inch of water a week.
What you need to know about planting pumpkins in containers
Pumpkins can easily grow in a container. The difference will be how many to plant, how much to water, and how to feed them.
For a container the size of a 5-gallon bucket, you will only plant 3-4 seeds. After the seedlings get their first true leaves or are about 2-4 inches tall, you will want to thin them down to 1 or 2 plants. Just cut the stems at the base with garden shears of the unwanted plants. If you are planting in something as small as a milk crate, only leave one plant, if you have a container considerably larger than a 5-gallon bucket, you may be able to leave as many as 3 plants to grow there.
If you aren’t able to let the vines sprawl out onto the patio, sidewalk, or lawn you’ll need something sturdy to train them to climb. Smaller varieties need no special care, however, if your pumpkins are medium to large you’ll need to support them with some kind of netting.
Pumpkins in a container will need a lot more water. You’ll need to water well up to every day in the heat of the summer.
Also, you’ll need to apply some kind of fertilizer or compost several times throughout the growing season as there won’t be enough nutrients in the limited soil of the container for these heavy feeders.
Planting pumpkins in raised beds
Raised beds are a great way to grow pumpkins. Plant your seeds 6-12” apart both widthwise and lengthwise in a grid pattern. You can thin to 1 plant per square foot, or leave more room. You can leave 1 plant for every 2 square feet. I don’t think you can ere in the way of too much space. More space always equals a healthier plant that is more resistant to pests and disease. However, a lot of people have success with the one square foot method.
If your raised bed is small, like 2×2, you have the option of planting 3-5 seeds in the middle. Later thin them, leaving 2-3 plants, similar to the “hill” method above.
Tips for planting pumpkins on a trellis
Really, the only difference in planting pumpkins when you plan to use a trellis to let them climb on is spacing. Use the same spacing requirements as for a row. Plant your seeds 6-12” apart and then thin to one plant every 18-24”.
Also, your need for mulch will be less, as the vines will be up off the ground.
The biggest consideration for trellising pumpkins is the weight of the fruit on the vine. The vines and stems are quite strong so they can easily support a small to medium size pumpkin. However, if the final size of your pumpkin is 15 pounds or larger, they will need some support.
Some sort of netting that cradles the fruit and is tied to the trellis for support is all that is needed. You can go as simple as cutting up an old pair of pantyhose (a thrift store makes a good source) or you can purchase netting for this purpose.
How To Care For Pumpkin Plants
Pumpkins are heavy feeders, which means they take a lot of nutrients from the soil. Adding compost, composted manure, or “cold” manure such as rabbit poop to the hill, or row works really well for the whole season in most garden soil. If your soil is nutrient-deficient you may need to add some compost tea, or other liquid fertilizer before the fruit set on. If you want to be more precise, this article on fertilizing your pumpkin is very detailed.
Pumpkins can do fine with little water once they are established, but they do much better when they have plenty. Make sure the soil is wet down to at least 1” deep, once per week. If you are growing pumpkins in a container you will need to water much, much more.
Make sure you mulch your pumpkins to hold in moisture, prevent weeds, protect the fruit from rotting, and to nurture the soil.
How To Harvest Your Pumpkins
Pumpkins take the whole season to mature. Some smaller fruited varieties will only need 90 days, however, the larger varieties can take up to 120 days before they are ready to harvest. Make sure you plan accordingly. Pumpkins hate cold, and a frost or light freeze can ruin them. Look at the back of your seed packet to find the estimated days to harvest, then count backward from your first frost date to make sure you are allowing enough time. Or you can check this fall garden planting calculator for a super-easy way to know for sure.
The first sign your pumpkins are ready to be harvested is when the vines start to die back. Also, when the skin is not easily punctured by your thumbnail when applying medium pressure.
When you are ready to harvest your pumpkins take a sharp knife and cut the stem from the vine 3-4 inches from where it is attached to the pumpkin.
Next, you will want to let your pumpkins cure. You can cure the pumpkins by leaving them in an airy, dry, warm (80-85°F and 80 to 85 percent relative humidity) for 10 days to two weeks. An open barn or shed works well for curing. However, setting them in the shade of a tree, covering them with a tarp at night works just fine. Curing will harden the skin, heal wounds, ripen immature fruit, and, importantly, improve flavor.
After your pumpkins have cured properly you can keep them in a cool, well-ventilated room. Make sure they have ample space to “breath” between each other and they should keep for 4 to 6 months.
You Know How To Grow Pumpkins!
Whether you want to grow a whole field of pumpkins, or you just want one plant in a container to let climb, or let sprawl onto your deck. You now have all the info you need.
Seeds, dirt, and/or compost, and some water is all you need to get a glorious fall display. Or to make delicious skillet meals, soups, and pie all season long.
Now it’s time for the hard part. Choosing which pumpkin variety you want to grow from the amazing sizes, shapes, and colors available.
Here is a great place to start:
Here’s to dirt under your fingernails and the best food on your table!