Horticulture Magazine

Pumpkin Plant Care & Growing Tips

a large pumpkin growing in an autumnal garden

Pumpkin Overview

Official Plant NamePumpkin
Common Name(s)Cucurbita pepo, or other cucurbits
Plant TypeFruit
Native AreaNorth & Central Americas
Hardiness RatingH1C (mostly)
ToxicityEdible
FoliageGreen leaves that are large & lobed
FlowersYellow, edible, followed by the edible fruit
When To SowApril, May
Plant OutJune
Harvesting MonthsSeptember, October
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun

Exposure
Sheltered

Size

Height
Varies greatly

Spread
Varies greatly

Bloom Time
Summer

Soil

Preferred
Most Soil Types

Moisture
Moisture retentive

pH
Any

These days more and more gardeners have taken to growing their own produce, reaping the benefits of homegrown fruit and veggies. And let’s face it: no autumnal vegetable patch would be complete without a pumpkin or two.

Pumpkins are super easy to grow, and once harvested, it’s easy to make use of the entire fruit (yes, pumpkins are fruits!). The flesh can be used in curries and stews or pureed to use in desserts. The toasted seeds can be seasoned with sugar and salt and make for an extremely healthy snack and can also be sprinkled over salads. Whilst you can’t eat the skin, it can be composted to contribute to your autumn garden.

giant pumpkin fruits at an outdoor farmers market
Make your garden gourd-geous

Pumpkins are packed full of vitamins, low in fat, high in fibre, and a healthy and tasty alternative to meat! The seeds contain more protein than peanuts and are bursting with valuable nutrients.

And, of course, come Halloween you can get carving and make your own ghoulish Jack-o’-lantern.

What are they?

As previously mentioned, pumpkins are fruit, with most varieties deep yellow to orange in colouration. They can be found on all continents apart from Antarctica and are one of the oldest domesticated plants with records showing them to be cultivated as early as 7,500 – 5000 BC.

Not only have pumpkins become a symbol of Halloween, but they are also said to symbolise fertility, rebirth, harvest and crops. Almost all pumpkins are edible, and their name originates from the Greek word ‘pepon’ meaning large melon.

Types of pumpkins

While you are probably familiar with the classic orange pumpkins, there are actually over forty varieties of pumpkins, ranging in size, texture and colour. Their shelf life also differs, making some better for display purposes than others.

With so many to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start, so we have picked out some of our favourites to help you get started!

Atlantic giant

If it’s size you’re after, then the Atlantic giant pumpkin is just the ticket. This variety is one of the world’s largest pumpkin, and can weigh up to 500 pounds. Its skin is bright orange and rough in texture, and when Cinderella went to the ball, it was most likely this type of pumpkin that became her magical carriage.

a huge overgrown pumpkin at a farm
Bibbety bobbety boo!

Atlantic giant pumpkins are perfect for local pumpkin competitions but, while they are edible, they have little flavour. That said, they do make an exciting addition to any garden, providing you have the space and can be composted once they begin to decay.

Porcelain doll pink pumpkin

This variety certainly deserves a mention as it was the first pumpkin developed and grown for a good cause! It was originally cultivated to raise money for breast cancer awareness, with a percentage of the sales going to the nonprofit organisation ‘Pink Pumpkin Patch Foundation’.

October is breast cancer awareness month, too, so what better way to observe it than by growing a pink pumpkin mascot in your garden?

Not only was this pumpkin created for a fantastic cause, but it also has a deliciously sweet taste making it ideal for soups, curries, pies and other delectable desserts.

Long Island cheese

This variety gets its name from an uncanny resemblance to a wheel of cheese. Thankfully it doesn’t taste like cheese, instead boasting yummy flesh that resembles butternut squash, making it perfect for cooking.

Deep orange in colour and averaging at a weight of around 10 pounds, this variety also makes for a wonderful display piece for harvest celebrations and Halloween. Be sure to free the seeds from the webbing, season them and roast them for a healthy and nutritious snack.

Queensland blue pumpkin

As the name would suggest, these pretty pumpkins come in a beautiful blue colour. Hailing from Australia and growing to a weight of between 6 to 10lbs in around 100 days, this variety has a tasty, treacle-like flavour, making it an excellent ingredient for desserts and pies.

queensland blue pumpkin on a table
Be bold and go blue

If you want your pumpkins to stand out in a crowd, then this unusual variety will do just that and will make your vegetable patch truly pop!

Baby boo

Whilst we’re on the topic of unusually coloured pumpkins, the baby boo variety can’t go without a mention. This palm-sized, pure white specimen grows no bigger than a tennis ball and takes around 90 days to develop.

Once fully grown, these ghostly baby boo pumpkins should be picked promptly to avoid discolouration. This type of pumpkin is not edible and is too small to carve so, after harvest, it is really only useful for decorative purposes. But, mixed in with a display of orange pumpkins, it can make a real statement.

How to sow, grow and take care of your pumpkins

Once you’ve decided on your pumpkin of choice, it’s time to get to business. While the time it takes for them to reach maturity may differ, all pumpkins require the same grow and care regimen.

Sowing indoors

Sowing pumpkins indoors is quick and easy, and you can get to work anytime between April and June. Simply fill a 7.5cm pot with compost and place the seed on its side at a depth of around 2.5cm. Once sown, water and place on a windowsill.

When the roots start appearing through the pot’s bottom, you can transfer your little plant to a 12.5cm pot.

Once the seedlings have established, you can then plant them outside. Space them at least 2m apart so they have plenty of room to grow. Be sure to pick a sunny, sheltered spot to ensure they thrive.

Sowing outdoors

Whilst sowing pumpkins is best done indoors, if you have a sheltered spot available in your garden, you can sow them outdoors a little later in the year.

Planting pumpkin seeds outside should be done in late May or early June. Dig a hole of around 3cm in depth and place three seeds in the hole on their sides. You should then cover the area with plastic sheeting or jars for at least two weeks.

Once the seeds have germinated, remove the weakest seedlings so that only the strongest remain.

Helpful hint: If you don’t want to start from scratch, most garden centres sell young pumpkin plants to help get you started.

Caring for your plants

Pumpkins are hardy crops and will flourish almost anywhere with the right care. To achieve the best results, make sure they are planted in moisture-retentive soil, protect the seedlings with mulch and feed with a general fertiliser or tomato plant food.

If you’ve opted for a larger variety of pumpkin train the shoots using wire to help them grow. If you find you have a number of fruits on the plant, remove a few of them before they develop, this will help the plant focus its energy on the remaining pumpkins resulting in much bigger specimens.

One of the most important factors when it comes to growing pumpkins is to prevent them from rotting as they grow larger. To avoid rot, place the pumpkins on a plank of wood or a few bricks. This will protect them and allow them to reach their maximum size.

We also recommend removing any leaves that cover the pumpkins so they can access as much light as possible to help them grow.

Common problems

Pumpkins are rather resilient so you will rarely run into problems with them. The main thing to watch out for is powdery mildew.

powdery mildew on pumpkin plant leaves
Keep the soil around your pumpkins moist to avoid powdery mildew

Powdery mildew presents itself with a white, powdery deposit on the leaves and, if left unattended, will cause the leaves to wilt.

Thankfully the solution is simple: keep the soil moist around the plants, and you shouldn’t run into this issue.

How to harvest and store them

Pumpkins are brilliant at letting you know when it’s time to harvest them. Leave them on their stem as long as possible, once ripe their skin will harden, and they will crack away from their stems, letting you know they are good to go!

Pumpkins can be stored for up to six months, just take care to keep them in a cool, well-ventilated space.

Give your family pumpkin to talk about

As you can see, pumpkins are so easy to grow, easy to store, and ultra-healthy and nutritious. With so many varieties to choose from, you will have no trouble in finding the perfect pumpkins for you.

cutting through pumpkin fruits with a knife
Find the perfect pumpkin for you and get planting!

Pumpkins are also a great way to get the kids involved in gardening and harvesting, not to mention the perfect plant to spruce up your Halloween decor.

We hope this article has filled you with inspiration to get out there, get planting and give your family pumpkin to talk about!

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