1. Prepare your soil
If you are anticipating growing in the spring, the soil can be prepared in the fall. Leaves and raw manure should be worked into the soil. A hoe can be used but a rototiller is better if one is available.
In the spring, work rotted manure and compost into the soil. Kitchen waste works very well. Pumpkins will be more successful in loose rich soil.
2. Assess your space
This should be incorporated with the first tip because growing pumpkins takes a large space. The vines of an average pumpkin plant can grow unchecked up to twenty feet.
The area should have six to eight hours per day of full sun. Do not plan any part of the patch in a shaded area.
3. Time the planting carefully
There are various breeds of pumpkin and unless you want to grow giant pumpkins for competition, then you should plan sowing seed anywhere from May 15th to June 15th.
This is ideal for Jack-o-lanterns and field pumpkins. You can start the seeds indoors up to two weeks prior to desired transplant if you live in an area prone to late frost and cooler night temperatures.
If it is miniatures you are after, then sowing should occur May 25th to July 1st. Whichever breed is chosen, it is best to time the planting for a harvest in September.
4. Frost protection
As mentioned previously, if your area is likely to have late frost, it is better to start the growing process indoors and transplant later.
The prepared area can be assisted with warming by covering the soil with black plastic one week before planting. The plastic will trap heat in the soil below.
When you are ready to plant, simply cut a small hole in the plastic and plant the seeds or seedlings that were started indoors. Do not remove the plastic until the threat of frost has passed. Ideally the soil should not be below 50 degrees before planting.
5. Make sure there is adequate space between seeds and seedlings
Since pumpkin vines grow in such an aggressive manner, it may be beneficial to site the plant at the edge of your garden. As the vines grow, their growth can be directed to the outside of the garden area.
It is best to make sure there is at least five feet separating the seeds in a row, or if you are using the mound method, use only one plant or seed per hill.
6. Growing in a limited space
Trellising the vines is an option if there is limited space for growing pumpkins. If this method is chosen, it is vital to have heavy duty slings strong enough to support the pumpkins as they ripen.
7. Give the plants plenty of water
The growth of pumpkins depends upon loose rich soil due to the fact that the soil has to be able to hold a good amount of water. Pumpkins need a lot of water. Drip systems can be used or if your garden hose can reach the garden use that.
It is important to remember that the foliage should stay as dry as possible. Morning watering is recommended so that if any foliage is wet, it will have the day to dry before the cooler air of evening sets in.
Pumpkins are part of the Cucurbit family and are thus susceptible to downy and powdery mildew as well as other fungus. One way to help prevent these diseases is by keeping the foliage as dry as possible.
Of course there is nothing we can do about the rain, but nature has a way of taking care of itself.
8. Determine number goal early in the season
If your goal is large sized pumpkins then less in number is also your goal. To accomplish this, pinch off the remaining flowers from the vine once you have three to four pumpkins growing.
If you want smaller pumpkins and quite a few of them, the female flowers will need to be removed during the first three weeks of growth. This will produce a sturdier vine, but will yield smaller fruit.
The female flower is identified by a swelling at the base of the bloom.
9. Upkeep the pumpkin patch
Pumpkins like any other plant need some basic tender loving care. The patch or rows should be weeded regularly. Avoid excessive amounts of insecticide and fertilizers with high nitrogen content.
Nitrogen is good for plant growth, but if too much is ingested, it is harmful to the human body. It can also contaminate ground water supply from the soil.
10. Harvest with care
Do not attempt to harvest your pumpkins until they all have a deep color that is relatively the same throughout the patch. They should have a hard rind, and if you push on it with your nail, it will resist denting and scratching.
The pumpkins should be harvested before the first hard freeze. Light freeze will kill the vine, but should not hurt the fruit. When you are ready to claim your pumpkins, use pruning shears or any other sharp utensil to cut the fruit from the vine.
Be sure to leave a minimum of three to four inches of stem on the pumpkin. Be careful not to carry the pumpkin by the stem.
11. Proper storage
Pumpkins need to cure for eight to ten days. Where they are cured should be an area with a temperature of 80-85 degrees and relative humidity. This prepares the rind for storage.
Once the curing process is over, the pumpkins should be stored in a cool dry place. The ideal temperate should be in the mid 50’s. They should be stored in a single non-touching layer.
If the pumpkins touch or are stacked on top of each other, there will not be enough air circulation for the fruit, and it will produce excess heat that promotes decay. In adequate storage conditions, your prize pumpkins should last a minimum of two to three months.
If there was a 12th tip to offer it would be happy carving and baking!