Thursday, July 4, 2013

How to Grow Pumpkins Successfully

   I have had a question asked that is post worthy so her we go with the answer and I will try to keep it "Jethro Simplified"! It was a three part question.  (1. I didn't get any female flowers..why? 2. How do you keep the bugs off the pumpkins? 3. How often do you feed and water the pumpkins.)
Cinderella Pumpkins and Squash
  First things first, this may help with a lot of things. Did you know that cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins are all in the same family? Usually the same problems you have with one you will the other and usually the same solutions! I grow "Cinderella" variety and have much success!

You can go back and read "Great Soil Foundation, Parts 1, 2, and 3"

Soil, Water and Planting Spot:
   Pumpkins love good rich composted soil that drains well but also hold moister (Loamy soil), lots of organic matter should be worked into the soil. The perfected soil pH is between 6.0-7.0, so check your soil before planting.
   Pumpkins love lots and lots of sun, so pick an area with 8 plus hours of direct sunlight a day.
   They  require heavy and even watering (because of shallow roots), mulching around them will help hold moister in those hot dry times, Trickle irrigation is best, but soaker hoses also work well. Overhead sprinklers are effective; however, wet foliage increases the chance of disease, especially mildew.
   If you have amended the soil right you shouldn't have to fertilize more than once a week and just an multipurpose fertilizer will work.Giant pumpkin vines require approximately 2 pounds nitrogen, 3 pounds phosphorous and 6 pounds potash per 1,000 square feet of growing space.

Planting and Growing:
  Pumpkins have a very long growing season, some verities up to 120 days (4 months). So start them indoors 3-4 weeks before YOUR last frost or wait til the soil is 70 degrees to direct plant seeds.
  Pumpkins are very sensitive to temperature, so always be prepared to cover them in the early season to protect from cold night or even cold days. They grow best when days an nights are above 70 degrees.

Insects and Diseases:
  The planting site of your plants should be rotated each year to reduce the incidence of insect and disease pressure. An insect and disease control program must be initiated at transplanting. Insects are the primary reason for transmitting disease. Once a viral infection has occurred, there is no way to stop it. But if you start at the beginning and give them lots of soil preparation, water and a control program, this will help drastically. If you need pesticide help, Bonide has many good things to use! Remember if you grow cucumbers and have succeeded then you already have a great foundation for pumpkins!
   Insect pests of pumpkins include spotted and striped cucumber beetles, which can transmit bacterial wilt disease, which causes vines to collapse and die. Treat adult beetles with neem or pyrethrum. Be aware, however, that these are toxic to all insects, including beneficial predators and bees. Make applications at dusk to avoid harming bees. Other insect pests include squash bugs, which must be controlled early or they can be devastating, and squash vine borers.

   Although hand pollination is the preferred method to fruit setting, natural pollination by bees will work well. Hand pollination allows for a more controlled genetic cross.But don't begin pollinating until the plant has approximately 200 leaves. Some experts even say pull the first female flower on each vine to allow your vines more time to grow stronger? Initially it is recommended to allow only 4 to 6 pumpkins per plant but the more you reduce the competition for nutrients, the greater your success rate will be for achieving a giant size pumpkin.

Male and Female Flowers:
  Pumpkin vines are going to produce male flowers long before it produces female flowers. Because female
Female Flower
flowers need to be pollinated, there is no point of them blooming first because the male flower needs to be present in order to pollinate it.
  I wont go into the scientific ways to know the difference, just the way Grammie taught us! To figure out the gender of the flower just look underneath of it. The female flower will have a pea-sized lump underneath the base of the bud. As the bud grows and prepares to open, the lump will gradually get bigger until it is about the size of a doughnut hole. If pollination occurs, this lump will develop into your pumpkin! The male flower is lacking this lump.
 Why do I have NO female flowers?
  If you follow all of the soil preparations, watering, fertilizing and give them lots of sun the should always give you female flower but some years, some crops just fail, its part of the process! So depending on conditions, the female flowers may bloom long after the male flowers. The plants should continue to produce flowers all season, so patience is in order here and lots of patience.
 Again, Be patient. Pumpkins can take a long time to set and develop, especially in shifting weather conditions, i.e. too hot, too much rain, etc. They are very sensitive!

Harvest Time:
   As pumpkins form, you can slip a piece of cardboard or folded newspaper beneath pumpkins to prevent contact with soil and possible rot, especially if you are growing a precious few. Toward the end of the season, remove any leaves that shade ripening pumpkins.Harvest pumpkins before frost. Fruit is ripe when it is fully colored, skin is hard, and the stem begins to shrivel and dry. Pumpkin vines are often prickly, so wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting to keep from itching. To harvest, cut stems with a sharp knife, leaving at least an inch of stem on fruits (more stem is better). Lift pumpkins by slipping your hand under the bottom of the fruit. Never lift a pumpkin by its stem; if the stem breaks, the pumpkin won’t store well.
Tip: To protect the pumpkin from direct sunlight, construct a shade out of burlap or other lightweight material. This will prevent premature hardening of the outer skin and will allow the pumpkin to reach its full genetic potential in terms of physical size.

Nutritional Facts:
Did you know that Pumpkins are full of nutrition, dishing up vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, and potassium. One half cup of cooked pumpkin provides a day’s supply of vitamin A.


  1. Thanks for the post, Clint. I started my pumpkin patch yesterday. I made 14 holes but intend on them extending out from the screened area. I am going to install an irrigation system (drip). How much, how often, and what kind of fertilizer should I use. I planted them with black cow, and shaped them in mounds??? I clearly am a newbie on this. Around the area where I intend them to grow I was going to kill the grass before the vine gets large enough to reach it. Last year the weeds had gotten so bad, I abandoned the site. I was going to use weedkiller.

    1. I don't know that I would use weed killer. The vine grow very quickly and the weed killer may still be there once the reach that area, maybe fatal! If it were me I would either lay large amounts of cardboard or newspaper out to help with weeds. You could use straight vinegar as well but the e weeds will still come up.

  2. Thank you for the wonderful information! I planted 3 Conneticut Field pumpkin seeds last year, they were beautiful but didnt produce a single female blossom! This year I've planted a few different ones, and the Cinderella is one of them! So far they all seem to be growing well. One question for you...approx. how long do you let them vine?

    1. They are like water melon, let them grow until the vines start to die off. But you can pick them to cook with or for Halloween, just start with the ones closest to the root system, they were probably the first ones to start maturing. Remember frost will hurt the pumpkin itself so get them harvested before the nights get awful cool.

    2. Magnolia, I had the same problem last year...I was so disappointed. The person that I consider my mentor implied that maybe it wasn't the season for it. I didn't investigate what I inferred or ask her to explain it but I will try again this year...

  3. I thought I had posted my questions here but I must have done it on google. But after re-reading, I see you suggested Bonide...It's now on my shopping list.

    1. Your questions are on the other post.

  4. Thank you for this post. It is very informative and I realize now what a real gardener is. You spend a great deal of time and work hard to care for your pumpkins.

    I thought I would like to grow them but realize I do not have enough sun at all. My large yard and flower garden is very shady so I will just have to buy pumpkins.

    Thank you for the time it took to write this post.

    1. Trust me, I'm not in there as much as I would like to be. With all that our kids do, church and work, its a busy life.

    So this first time we have tried to grow pumpkins and got them planted pretty late in the season. Long story short, the temperature just plummeted (we're in VA) and last night especially was in the low 20s and we awoke to a thick frost out there :-/ Can our pumpkins be salvaged? Two of them are getting sizeable (maybe small soccer ball size) and have color but not fully ripened as far as I can tell (you said stem shriveled as a sign right?) So I guess the simple two questions are: Is there anything we can do to save them and keep them growing? And if not, are semi-ripe pumpkins good for anything? Thanks!