- Exposure: Full sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9
- When to plant: Late May to early July
- Pests and diseases to watch out for: Powdery mildew, cucumber beetles, squash bugs
How to Plant Pumpkin Seeds
Whether you want to or you're daydreaming of winning a prize at the county fair, pumpkins are not a super-fussy crop. "Pumpkins do best if you plant seeds directly in the ground," says John Esslinger, horticulture educator with Penn State Extension. "Plant seeds three to five feet apart in full sun. Some gardeners recommend planting them atop a mound of soil, but it's not necessary."
While some varieties can grow up to 20 feet long, newer types are more compact. But "compact" is a relative term, and these vines still require plenty of space. Smaller types typically need about six square feet of ground. to ensure you're choosing a variety that will fit in your garden.
How to Care for Pumpkins
Weed 'em and feed 'em. Keep the area weeded to reduce competition for nutrients and water and to promote better air circulation, which helps with disease control. Like tomatoes, pumpkins are medium feeders. Ideally, feed them once within a few weeks of planting with a , says Esslinger.
Water deeply. Pumpkins like a lot of water when the flowers and fruits are forming. If you're having a dry spell, vines wilt or flowers shrivel and drop off. "If there's no rain, water deeply once a week. A large vine needs about three gallons of water to soak the area," says Esslinger. "If you water more often and less deeply, you're training the roots to be too shallow."
Watch for cucumber beetles. Around the same time the baby pumpkins are appearing on the vine, the pests show up. Look for cucumber beetles, small pale greenish-yellow beetles with black stripes or spots, about half the size of the more commonly-recognized Japanese beetle. "The cucumber beetle carries bacteria in its gut, leaving it behind as it feeds. In a few weeks, the plants collapse," says Esslinger. Cucumber beetles are not easily picked by hand, so you may need to apply a botanical insecticide called pyrethrin. Follow the label, and don't spray when pollinators are present.
Don't let squash bugs move in. Another common pumpkin pest are squash bugs, which hang out on the underside of leaves when the flowers bloom or when fruit appears. Look for masses of root beer-colored eggs, or the young, which look like large aphids with long spider-like legs. Adults resemble stink bugs. Catch them early or they can take the plant down, says Esslinger. Use spinosad, an organic insecticide made from a type of soil-dwelling bacteria.
Keep an eye out for disease. Powdery mildew is the most common disease, which first appears as a nickel-sized greyish dusty spot. You can leave it alone because it seldom kills plants, or use a sulfur fungicide for a few weeks for control.
Don't mess with Mother Nature. Many gardeners suggest picking off some forming fruit to boost yield, but the plant knows what's best to set, says Esslinger. Just let Nature do her thing.
When to plant pumpkin seeds?
Deciding the best time to plant your pumpkins will depend on where you live. You'll want to wait until after the last frost so as not to damage the seedlings. You can plant pumpkins between late May in northern locations to early July in the south.
How long does it take for a pumpkin to grow?
Most types mature in 90 to 100 days, but it can take as long as 120 days for pumpkins to grow.
When to harvest pumpkins?
Pick pumpkins when they have fully matured (usually between 90-100 days, as noted). Traditionally, pumpkins are harvested in the fall, from September and October (just in time for Halloween!).
Pumpkins are ready to pick when the fruit is fully colored and the stems begin to shrivel. (the vines are prickly), and lift your pumpkin by the bottom, not the stem so it won't break off.
Is pumpkin a fruit?
GROWER TIP: "Look for varieties that are resistant to powdery mildew, which is the plant's biggest disease issue," says John Esslinger, horticulture educator with Penn State Extension.