While it feels like anything but autumn outside, it is time to be thinking ahead to this fall. Lots of people, both novice and experienced gardeners alike, enjoy growing pumpkins. This crop can be a lot of fun to grow with kids as it is easy and rewarding. When Halloween rolls around, your kids will be proud to carve their home-grown pumpkins to display on your front porch.
Like many edibles, pumpkins have specific needs that need to be met in order to have a successful crop. The first is planting the pumpkins at the right time. Pumpkin seeds need to be planted after the last chance of frost, when the soil is at least 65 degrees. They grow quickly, which is why planting pumpkins in mid-July is the best time if you want to use them at Halloween. If you want pumpkins for other purposes, feel free to plant them earlier in the summer.
Pumpkins also need sun, and a lot of space to grow. It is generally recommended to give each plant at least 20 square feet to grow, so be sure to choose a sunny, open area of your garden for your crop.
When you go to plant the seeds, mound the soil in the center of the chosen location to help the sun heat the pumpkin seeds better. Again, the warmer the soil is, the faster the pumpkin seeds will germinate. In each mound, plant 3-5 pumpkin seeds about 1 inch deep. Once the pumpkin seeds have germinated, select two of the healthiest plants and thin out the rest.
As far as watering, growing pumpkins can tolerate some drought, but it is best to make sure that they get regular watering. Make sure your pumpkin plants get 2 – 4 inches of water a week, whether it is from rainfall or from your spicket.
It is also a good idea to plant companion plants with your pumpkins. These plants will help keep pests like squash bugs away from your crop. These plants include catnip, nasturtiums, marigolds, petunias and mint.
So you have a garden full of pumpkins, but how do you know when to harvest them? The first indicator that a pumpkin may be ripe is its color. If a pumpkin is orange all the way around, there’s a good chance it is ripe. Some pumpkins, however, are still green while they are ripe, so use a few other methods to check these pumpkins.
If you knock on the pumpkins and they sound hollow, this is another sign that the pumpkin is ready to be cut from the vine. Another way to tell if the pumpkin is ripe is to check the hardness of the skin and the stem. If the skin of the pumpkin cannot be punctured with a fingernail and the stem is hardened, you are ready to cut your pumpkin from the vine.
Once it comes time to harvest your crops, be sure to leave a long stem where you cut pumpkin from the vine. This will help slow the rotting process for the pumpkin, giving your jack-o-lantern a long shelf life.