Pumpkins belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes squash, cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelons and gourds. Pumpkins grow all over the United States, with over a billion pumpkins produced every year. With enough care and regular attention, you can grow your own jack-o’-lantern in your very own garden.
How to Plant Pumpkins
Pumpkin is a very tender warm-season crop that you should seed in the field only when there is no danger of frost, and after the soil has warmed to at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If seeded in cold soil, pumpkins may suffer from seedcorn maggot injury. Also, if you plant pumpkins too early, they may soften and rot before Halloween. If seeding indoors and transplanting, be careful not to disturb the pumpkin’s sensitive roots.
Plant seeds 1 inch deep with four or five seeds per hill, leaving 5 to 6 feet of space between hills. If planting more than one row, allow 10 to 15 feet between rows.
For miniature varieties, plant two or three seeds per hill with 2 feet of space between hills and 6 to 8 feet between rows. Seeds take three to 10 days to germinate.
When young plants establish themselves and have their first true leaves, thin each hill to the best two or three plants, or one plant for miniature varieties.
How to Care for Pumpkins
Pumpkins have medium water needs. Although they can tolerate dry and hot weather relatively well for a short period of time, they need regular irrigation during dry summer months. Keep the plants weeded by regular hoeing, especially early on. After vining, the dense vines will smother the weeds themselves.
You can use floating row covers to provide young plants with extra heat and protect them from striped-cucumber beetles. But you have to remove the cover once flowers appear in order to allow pollination.
If using insecticides, make sure to apply them only in the evenings, after the blossoms have closed, to avoid harming the bees that are necessary for pollinating the pumpkins.
When a pumpkin reaches a deep orange color, and the rind hardens, usually in late September and early October, it is ready for harvesting. Cut pumpkins from the vines using a sharp knife or pruning shears, making sure to leave 3 to 4 inches of stem on each fruit. Pumpkins without stems do not store as well. Store pumpkins in a warm and dry place with the temperature between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.