The Q&A Archives: Growing Pumpkins

Question: This is my third attempt at growing pumpkins from seeds. This is my best year so far. When should I start pumpkins to make sure they're ripe by fall? Right now, in mid-September, my plants are 10 feet long but my pumpkins are slightly small and the fruit are green and the leaves towards the vine are brown and falling off. Is this okay, and when should the fruit start to grow larger and turn orange?

Answer: This has been a challenging year for pumpkins, with all this rain. Pumpkins need plenty of water, but they also need heat and sun to develop. All you can do is wait and hope you have a nice, warm, sunny few weeks to hurry them along. You can try removing the smallest fruit, leaving just 2 or 3 pumpkins per vine, and pinch off the tip of the main vine to stop it from growing longer. This should encourage the remaining pumpkins to ripen.

It's best to wait until a frost kills the vines, which signals the pumpkins to ripen and develop a hard shell. A light frost actually improves the flavor of pumpkins by changing some of their starch into sugar. A quick field-test, to see if your pumpkins are mature is to try to press your fingernail into the skin of the fruit. If you can break the skin, the pumpkin is immature. If the skin is hard, the pumpkin is mature.

Generally, it's best to start pumpkins right in the garden, rather than starting them indoors. Plant the seed about a week after the last frost date, since pumpkins like it warm. You can get a little jump by starting them in individual peat pots just 2 or 3 weeks before you plan to plant them outdoors, but I'm not convinced that this makes any difference--I've found that the ones sown directly in the garden quickly catch up. To help warm the soil in the spring, bulid raised beds and cover them with black landscape fabric. Then, when it's time to plant, you can cut holes in the fabric and set the plants out. The fabric will help keep weeds down and continue to warm the soil.

I hope this helps.

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