Looking for ways to decorate your home and garden for fall? Growing pumpkins is easy to do, budget-friendly, and super fun. Learn how to grow a pumpkin plant with these simple tips.
It’s that time of year again when pumpkins are everywhere you look! From pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin pie to jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin seeds, pumpkins take center stage in autumn.
Have you ever grown pumpkin plants before?
Pumpkins are not only a fun addition to your garden but also a versatile vegetable that can be used in various recipes and seasonal decorations. They’re so easy to grow and care for making them an excellent choice for beginners too.
While you can’t start them in the fall, it’s a great time to start thinking about growing them in spring. Because there are lots of interesting pumpkin seed varieties to buy online for next year.
And if you are already growing them? We are chatting all about their care, how to harvest pumpkins, save the seeds, and address some FAQs.
Wait until you see how easy a pumpkin plant is to grow!
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About the Pumpkin Plant
Pumpkins are a warm-season vining plant that comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and textures.
Pumpkin plants belong to the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, along with watermelons, summer squash, and zucchini, and are usually referred to as cucurbits.
Pumpkin plants are annuals which means that they complete their entire life cycle from seed to maturity within a single growing season. In the case of pumpkins, this typically spans several months when the plant produces fruit after it flowers.
The pumpkin plant is highly sensitive to frost and cold temperatures. They thrive in warm weather and require a frost-free period to successfully produce fruit. Once the growing season is over, pumpkin plants will typically die back.
I usually just pull the vines when the growing season is over and the plant is no longer fruiting.
While pumpkin plants themselves are annuals, their seeds can sometimes hang around in the soil over the winter and sprout the following spring if conditions are favorable.
However, this is not guaranteed. So, most home gardeners start with fresh pumkin seeds each season to ensure a healthy and productive crop.
The pumpkin plant can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9. In colder zones, it’s essential to choose pumpkin varieties with shorter growing seasons to ensure they mature before the first frost.
Pumpkins need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight and thrive in well-draining, fertile soil that is rich in organic matter.
Types of Pumpkin Plants
Pumpkin plants are known for their vigorous growth and can range from compact to extremely sprawling.
So depending how much space you have, you’ll want to choose which pumpkins you grow accordingly.
Here are some different types of pumpkin plants you can grow.
- Miniature Pumpkins
- Pie Pumpkins
- Carving Pumpkins (Jack-o’-Lanterns)
- Giant Pumpkins
- Bush-Type Pumpkins
- Vining Pumpkins
Pumpkin plants are pollinator-friendly. They rely on pollinators like bees, butterflies, and other insects to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers, which is necessary for successful fruit development.
In fact, pumpkins have separate male and female flowers, which is a common feature in many cucurbit plants.
Oftentimes when home gardeners grow pumpkins or other curcurbit that don’t fruit, lack of pollination is the problem.
Not Deer Resistant
Unfortunately, pumpkin plants are not typically considered deer-resistant. Deer are known to feed on various parts of pumpkin plants, including the leaves, stems, and even the developing fruit.
Some home gardeners believe they are deer resistant as the foliage and vines are a bit prickly as they mature. But I’ve found it’s more susceptible to deer damage when the plant is less mature.
Regardless, if you live in an area where deer are an issue, you’ll want to spray the whole plant with deer repellent or grow pumkins in a protected area.
Pest and Disease Problems
Pumpkin plants, like many other garden crops, are susceptible to various pest and disease problems.
Here are some common issues you may encounter when growing pumpkin plants.
- Powdery mildew causes a white, powdery mold growth on the upper surfaces of the leaves. The growth can kill the leaves prematurely and interfere with proper ripening.
- Aphids, squash vine borers, and cucumber beetles can be a problem.
Inspect your pumpkin plants regularly for signs of pests or diseases. Early detection allows for prompt intervention.
Some pumpkin companion plants include:
Neem oil, insecticidal soap, and diatomaceous earth can also be used to manage pest infestations depending on the issue but I prefer to not use them if I don’t absolutely have to so there is less of a risk of harming bees, butterflies, and other pollinators in the gardens.
When using an organic method of controlling an issue, make sure you apply it when pollinators are less active in the early morning or later in the day. Check around flowers to make sure you don’t see any sleeping bees.
Because of the climate here in my zone 6a garden, pumpkin plants always get a powdery mildew and I just live with it.
The plants still produce pumpkins and I would rather not use anything on them to prevent or minimize powdery mildew.
How To Grow and Care For Pumpkin Plants
Now that you know the basics about the pumpkin plant, here’s what you need to know to grow them.
Choosing the right location
Select a location with a lot of growing space that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Pumpkins are known for their sprawling vines, so make sure you have enough room for them to spread out.
Because they can take up a lot of room!
Consider vertical gardening to give yourself more space to grow them in small gardening spaces. However, keep in mind they’ll need a strong structure to grow up because the vines will need to grip on and hold the weight of pumpkins.
Whenever you are planting pumpkins, make sure you use well-draining soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 6.8 is ideal for pumpkins. You can improve the soil quality by adding compost, well aged-manure, and leaf mold before planting.
When planting pumpkin plants in spring, you’ll either be starting them from seed or purchasing small plants from the nursery.
Starting Pumpkins from Seed
- Plant pumpkin seeds after the dangers of frost have passed.
- Plant four to six seeds 1-2 inches deep in mounds approximately 4 feet apart, depending on the variety selected.
- Thin to two plants per mound after they have two leaves.
- Pumpkin transplants should have three to four mature leaves and a well-developed root system before transplanting.
- They should be planted about 2-3 feet apart in the row with rows 4-6 feet apart as they need ample space to grow.
Pumpkin Care and Maintenance
Pumpkin plants are generally low-maintenance, but still need some general care as they grow. Here’s what you need to know.
- Mulch: After planting, add mulch around the base of plants to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
- Water: It’s a good idea to water deeply and infrequently to avoid overwatering. Drip irrigation is best to keep the water off the vines and soak the roots. As the fruit ripens, reduce watering.
- Fertilization: It’s a good idea to get a soil test to see what your soil needs to properly feed pumpkin plants. I feed my pumpkin plants with this fertilizer once a month after it starts vining.
- Pollination: Pumpkins have both male and female flowers. So you need the pollinators to do their thing! If you aren’t growing many flowers or don’t see many bees around, you need to make sure the plant is pollinated so it fruits. It may be necessary to hand-pollinate by transferring pollen from the male to the female flowers.
- Pest and Disease Control: Keep an eye out for common pumpkin pests like aphids, squash bugs, and cucumber beetles as well as diseases like powdery mildew.
Harvesting Your Pumpkins
Pumpkins should be harvested before the first hard freeze in fall when the fruit ripens and the plant starts browning out.
Here are some tips to know they are ready to pick!
- Maturity: Check your seed packet or plant tag for that specific pumpkin variety’s and estimated days to maturity for a rough idea of when to expect your pumpkins to be ready.
- Color: Most pumpkins can be harvested when they’ve turned a deep, consistent color.
- Hard Skin: Press your fingernail into the skin; if it feels firm and resists puncture, it’s ready!
- Stem: The stem should be dry, hard, and the pumpkin should easily pull off the vine.
- Harvest: When cutting fruit from the vine, leave about 4-6 inches of stem on the fruit.
- Storage: Keep in a cool, dry place where the temperature is between 50 and 55°F.
Pumpkin Plant FAQs
Many home gardeners have lots of questions about gardening with pumpkins. Here are some frequently asked questions about growing pumpkin plants that will help you enjoy watching your pumpkins grow from seeds into beautiful, vibrant fruits.
How Do I start pumpkin plants from seed?
Planting pumpkin seed is a rewarding and cost-effective way to grow your own pumpkins. It’s pretty simple to do and the seeds germinate with ease. Here’s how to do it.
Planting Pumpkin Seeds
It is not necessary to start pumpkin seeds indoors if you live in a location that will have a long enough growing season to grow pumpkins.
I don’t start my pumpkin seed indoors, and instead, wait until roughly early May to plant them here in my zone 6a garden. You can either directly sow them in the garden or start them in pots or trays.
Here’s how to do it.
- If direct sowing, make mounds and plant 4-6 seeds about 1-2″ deep per mound. Water well and wait for seeds to germinate.
- If planting seeds in peat pots (my preferred method) or seed-starting trays, fill seed-starting trays or pots with a seed-starting mix when all danger of frost has passed.
- Plant 1-2 pumpkin seeds per container. Make a small hole about 1-2 inches deep in the center of each container, place the seeds in the hole, and cover them with soil or vermiculite.
- Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.
- Place the trays or pots in a warm location with indirect sunlight until seeds germinate.
- Seeds should germinate in roughly 5-10. When seedlings have two true leaves, thin them to one healthy seedling per container by snipping off the weaker one at the soil level.
- Water seedlings as needed to keep the soil evenly moist.
- Transplant your pumpkin seedlings into your gardens. This is why I love planting in peat pots because those pots can be directly planted in the soil without disturbing the roots.
- When planting, make sure to provide them with adequate spacing, as pumpkin plants vine and sprawl.
How do I save pumpkin seeds for planting?
Saving pumpkin seeds is a great cost-effective and sustainable way to ensure a supply of seeds for future planting without having to buy more seeds.
Here’s how to save pumpkin seeds from your mature pumpkins.
- Choose mature, fully ripe pumpkins that have the desired color, firm skin, and a woody stem.
- Cut the pumpkin open and scoop out the seeds with pulp from the interior. It’s easiest to use a big spoon or your hands to get it all out.
- Place the seeds and pulp into a large bowl and remove as much of the pulp as you can.
- Fill the bowl with water and swish the seeds around. As you do this, the seeds should sink to the bottom while the pulp floats to the top.
- Use a sieve or strainer to help separate the seeds from the water, pulp, and debris.
- Then rinse the pumpkin seeds under running water to clean them up.
- Spread seeds out on a clean dish towel or paper towel in a single layer so they can air dry for several days or until they are completely dry. It’s a good idea to turn them occasionally to ensure even drying.
- To prevent mold, even drying, and better air circulation, you can also dry them on a mesh screen or parchment paper.
- When seeds are totally dry, store them in a cool, dry place. You can use paper envelopes or small glass jars for storage. Make sure you label the envelopes or jars with the pumpkin variety and seed collection date.
- To keep the seeds viable for future planting, store them in a cool, dark, and dry place. Keep them out of locations that would expose them to moisture, humidity, or direct sunlight as that can reduce seed viability.
Saving pumpkin seeds allows you to preserve specific pumpkin varieties that you’ve grown and enjoyed. Properly stored pumpkin seeds can remain viable for several years.
How do I hand-pollinate pumpkin plants?
Hand-pollinating pumpkin plants may be necessary in certain situations where natural pollination by insects is limited or ineffective. Hand pollination may be needed when:
- Low Pollinator Activity
- Male-to-Female Flower Ratio is off
- Timing of Male and Female Flower Blooms
Here’s how to hand-pollinate pumpkin plants.
If yours doesn’t and you’ve noticed your pumpkins or other cucurbits not getting fruit, you should try hand-pollinating the flowers.
Here is how you would do it.
- Identify the Flowers: Distinguish between male and female flowers. Male flowers have long, slender stems and produce pollen, while female flowers have a small, bulbous structure at the base, which is the ovary.
- Collect Pollen: In the morning when the male flowers are open, gently brush a paintbrush or cotton swab against the stamen inside the male flower to collect pollen. Be sure to use a fresh, clean brush or swab for each flower to avoid cross-contamination.
- Transfer Pollen: Next, locate a female flower that is open. Carefully insert the brush or swab into the female flower’s stigma, which is the central, sticky part. Gently brush the collected pollen onto the stigma. Ensure good contact between the pollen and the stigma.
- Repeat as Needed: You may need to repeat this process for multiple female flowers to increase the chances of successful pollination.
Be gentle while hand-pollinating to avoid damaging the flowers. It’s also a good idea to do this early in the morning when the flowers are at their freshest and most receptive.
Can I grow pumpkin plants with limited garden space?
Yes, you totally can! You’ll just need to think through the best approach for you and your gardening space.
Here are some tips to help you successfully grow pumpkins in a small garden or limited space.
- Choose Compact or Miniature Pumpkin Varieties: Opt for pumpkin varieties that are naturally more compact and suitable for smaller spaces. Miniature pumpkins or bush-type varieties are great options.
- Use Containers or Raised Beds: Consider growing pumpkins in large containers or raised beds which give you more control over soil quality and conserve space. Use large containers or raised beds with well-draining soil.
- Vertical Gardening: Train pumpkin vines to grow vertically by providing strong and sturdy trellises, cattle panels, fencing, or other supports. Encourage the vines to climb upwards, saving ground space. Be sure to secure the growing pumpkins to prevent them from falling off the trellis.
- Container Size: If growing in containers, choose large containers to accommodate the roots and provide better stability, especially if growing vertically.
- Pruning and Training: Prune and train your pumpkin vines to save space. Remove excessive foliage and side shoots to direct the plant’s energy towards fruit production.
- Companion Planting: Plant pumpkins alongside other vegetables or plants that grow well together to minimize pest and disease problems.
- Compact Spacing: Space your pumpkin plants efficiently but check the specific recommendations for your chosen variety.
By implementing these strategies and selecting suitable pumpkin varieties, you can successfully grow pumpkins in limited garden space while enjoying a bountiful harvest.
What is the best month to plant pumpkins?
When to plant pumpkins depends on your local climate, but in many regions, it’s ideal to plant pumpkin seeds or seedlings in late spring or early summer, at the latest.
Here’s what you need to know.
- Last Frost Date: Determine your region’s average date of the last spring frost. You can usually find this information from your local agricultural extension service or gardening resources specific to your area.
- Planting After Frost: Pumpkin plants are sensitive to frost and cold temperatures, so wait until after the last frost date to plant.
- Warmer Soil Temperature: Pumpkins germinate and grow best in warm soil.
- Timing for Halloween: If you want pumpkins ready for Halloween count backward from October 31. But I’d go with a mid-Octoberish date to ensure they are ripe and ready to harvest before Halloween.
Keep in mind that these are general guidelines, and local conditions can vary. Additionally, the timing may vary based on the specific pumpkin variety you plan to grow, so check the seed packet or plant tag for variety-specific guidance.
How long does it take for a pumpkin to grow?
On average, most pumpkin varieties take anywhere from 75 to 120 days to reach maturity.
Factors that can influence the exact time to maturity include temperature, weather conditions, soil quality, and the specific pumpkin variety you’re growing.
Monitor pumpkin plants closely as they develop and mature, as harvesting at the right time ensures the best flavor, texture, and appearance for culinary and decorative use.
Is July too late to plant pumpkins?
The suitability of planting pumpkins in July largely depends on your local climate and the typical weather conditions in your region.
If your area experiences warm temperatures well into the fall and has a long growing season, you may have success planting pumpkins in July, but I wouldn’t rely on that.
Choose pumpkin varieties that have shorter maturity dates if you want to plant in July. Look for “early” or “short-season” pumpkin varieties, which typically mature faster and can be harvested in as little as 75 to 90 days.
Keep in mind that planting pumpkins in July may result in a later harvest compared to spring-planted pumpkins and they may not do as well. Last year, I got my pumpkin plants started late and they have time to produce as many pumpkins.
This year, I got them in the ground much earlier and they are already 3x as many pumpkins this year versus the last growing season.
If you wait until July to plant, you will see a fall harvest that could extend into well October or even early November, depending on your location.
Do pumpkin plants come back year after year?
Pumpkin plants are typically grown as annuals and do not come back year after year on their own.
Some home gardeners may find volunteer pumpkin plants sprouting from seeds left behind in the garden after the previous year’s harvest.
These volunteer plants can grow from seeds that were not collected. If you have volunteer pumpkin plants, you can grow or remove them.
But I wouldn’t rely on them returning yearly and recommend planting new pumpkin seeds each growing season.
Should you turn pumpkins as they grow?
While turning pumpkins as they grow is not necessary for their development, there are some gardeners who feel that rotating the fruits every week or two as they grow will improve the uniform appearance of pumpkin fruits.
I’ve noticed certain varieties of pumpkins do better with turning than others. So I would say, this really depends on what you are growing.
Not all pumpkins need to be turned as they grow. But some will benefit from it.
How Many Pumpkins Per Plant?
The number of pumpkins produced per plant can vary widely depending on several factors, including the pumpkin variety, growing conditions, and care provided.
As a general guideline, you can expect a healthy pumpkin plant to produce anywhere from 2 to 5 pumpkins, but some plants may produce more, depending on the variety.
To maximize your pumpkin yield per plant, it’s essential to provide proper care, including regular watering, appropriate fertilization, and pest control.
Additionally, spacing the plants adequately and ensuring they receive sufficient sunlight can also influence the number of pumpkins each plant produces.
Keep in mind that while these are all general guidelines, individual results may vary based on specific growing conditions and gardening practices.
More About Growing Pumpkin Plant
Have you ever grown pumpkin plants before? If so, what varieties did you grow? I would love to know more in the comments below.
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Ideas for Using Pumpkins Around the Home and Garden
Looking for ways to decorate and use your pumpkins in autumn? Wait until you see these DIY, decorating, and recipe ideas.
- Creamy Pumpkin Soup Recipe
- Pumpkin and Flowers Centerpiece Idea
- Simple Centerpiece Idea for Your Thanksgiving Aesthetic
Click here to shop my favorite garden supplies!
- I like to use a good-quality, potting soil, garden soil, compost, and perlite when planting. While I make my own compost, you can easily buy it ready-made for use.
- I have used this deer repellent with great success. But now, I’m all about this deer repellent that is systemic instead of topical. This means the plant takes it in as opposed to it just smelling bad. If you want to minimize the work and not use repellents, choose plants that are deer-resistant from this list.
- Hands down this is my favorite hand-weeding tool. You can use it to get underneath roots and loosen soil, and it cuts down on the weeding time because you work much faster.
- But I also love this long, stand-up weeding tool to really get around roses from afar.
- I use this organic fertilizer for roses because the blooms are more prolific and it’s organic.
- And I use this organic fertilizer for my vegetables and herbs in the potager garden.
- You’ll need a sharp set of pruners when working with plants and flowers. I buy a few so I can stash them around.
- I use these garden snips to deadhead and cut flowers from my gardens.
- Where pest and disease problems are concerned, if I need to, I generally use this insecticidal soap or neem oil to help control infestations depending on the issue. When using, only apply when pollinators are less active.
- This is my go-to bait for slug and snail problems with my hostas and dahlias.
- This is my favorite set-and-forget slow-release fertilizer for houseplants, annuals, and container gardens.
- Whenever I stake my peonies or other plants, I generally use these grow-through garden supports because they work really well and keep the blooms upright.
- I use this collapsible bin ALL THE TIME. It is invaluable when working in the beds as it’s light to carry around and folds flat for easy storage.
- Drip irrigation set on a timer is your friend! I love these for my planters, window boxes, and hanging baskets.
- And this four way hose bib allows you to split one spicket into four!
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More Fall Decorating Ideas
Looking for more fall decorating ideas? Check out these posts.
- 5 Designer Fall Decorating Ideas for Less
- Rustic Farmhouse Fall Home Tour 2020
- Rustic Farmhouse Fall Home Tour 2021
- How to Set a Cozy Fall Harvest Table
- Easy Fall Table Decor Ideas
- The Best Fall Table Decor and Thanksgiving Food Ideas
- 5 Easy Fall Decorating Ideas
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I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as finding ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.
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