If there’s any universal symbol of fall, it’s probably a plump, round, orange pumpkin. These orbs grace the front porches of many houses during the crisp days of autumn, acting as a festive and beautiful decoration that personifies the season. While it's easy to buy a pumpkin for fall, it’s also simple to grow your own, no matter where you live.
Keep in mind that this process starts well before the fall months begin—get going early so your plant is ready for harvest as Halloween approaches!
Growing Pumpkins in New England and the Midwest
Planting - In New England and Midwestern regions, wait to plant your pumpkin seeds until the danger of a frost has passed. This can be tricky, as the weather in these areas is unpredictable. Once you’re certain spring has sprung, plant three to five seeds about two inches apart in an area that receives an abundance of sun.
Care - Pumpkins and their vines drink a lot of water. Give them at least two deep waterings weekly. These areas have frequent rain storms in warmer months, but keep an eye on the sky—if it’s a dry summer, supplement nature with your hose.
Harvesting - In places like this, pumpkins turn from a light green to their trademark orange color toward the beginning of fall. This may mean the end of August if you live in the more southern parts of these regions or more towards the end of September if you live up north. Feel free to leave your pumpkins unpicked as long as the vine is still green.
Growing Pumpkins in the American South
Planting - It gets warmer earlier in the south, so you can plant your seeds as early as March. If you live near the water, or somewhere else that tends to be windy, plant in a spot protected from the breeze, which can prohibit growth.
Care - If you experience dry conditions, keep your plant well moisturized but not soggy. If you notice the vine’s leaves wilting in the summer heat, pay attention to what they do after the sun goes down. If they perk back up at that time of day, your plant is doing fine. If they don't, your plant needs more water.
Harvesting - Your pumpkins will be ready between 85 and 120 days after planting. As they begin to flower, let them get close to the size of a grapefruit before you prune them. When picking, leave a few inches of stalk attached to the fruit (yes, technically pumpkins are fruit). Store in a cool, dry place to make your crop last as long as possible.
Growing Pumpkins in the American West
Planting - In the Northwest, follow the same rule of thumb of planting after the last frost, and make sure you have enough sun to support the plants. If you live somewhere like Seattle that has frequent, heavy cloud cover, you may want to grow something else.
Care - Just get them plenty of water and food. If you live in an area prone to droughts, you may want to skip planting pumpkins, as they require a lot of H2O to grow properly.
Harvesting - When the stems get crisp and the orbs turn from green to orange, it’s time to harvest. If you’re experiencing dry weather, allow them to cure in the field or yard for ten days. If it’s moist out, let them sit for four to five days in a warm room instead.
Universal Pumpkin Growing Requirements
Sunshine - Pumpkins flourish in abundant sunshine. Choose a site with light shade at most.
Pollination - The petals of pumpkins require pollination by bees, and a lack of this is the most common reason for dud pumpkin plants that don’t pan out.
Lots of Food - Pumpkins also need an abundance of food in order to grow to their maximum potential. They do best with rich, well drained soil. Feed them weekly, using a fish or kelp based fertilizer, and water often, particularly when it’s hot.
Plenty of Space - If you don’t have a large space in your garden, you may want to rethink your pumpkin plans. These plants grow vines that extend 20 feet or more, so you need a spot that can accommodate this growth. If you don’t, consider a miniature variety.
Pest Protection - Squash bugs and cucumber beetles are the most common pumpkin pests you should be prepared to combat. For this reason, avoid planting your future Jack O' Lanterns near cucumbers or other squashes. Instead, plant near petunias or nasturtiums, which repel squash bugs.