GROW YOUR OWN PUMPKINS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont
Apples, mums, colorful leaves, and pumpkins are what most appreciate about and associate with fall. Spring may seem an odd time to be thinking about fall, but May is the time to plant pumpkins to grow your own.
Even if you’re not trying to grow one of those fair-winning
pumpkins, upwards of 1000 pounds or more, there are other reasons
you might want to grow your own. You’ll have plenty of fresh
pumpkin flesh for baking and seeds for roasting, lots of pumpkins
for carving and decorating without spending much money, selections
with unique fruit colors and shapes that you may not find locally,
and just the joy (especially if children are involved) of watching
them grow. One supplier alone lists 79 varieties! For these
reasons, and the fact they’re easily grown, pumpkins have been
named the 2019 Vegetable of the Year by the National Garden
Pumpkins grow quickly, like warm weather, and take a while to
produce fruit, so you’ll want to get them started the end of May.
If you’re in an area that may get a late frost, have some frost
protection ready, just in case. You can either buy small plants
ready to put in the garden, start your own from seeds a couple
weeks before planting outside (this helps with our generally
cooler and shorter northern summers), or sow seeds directly to the
garden. If sowing directly, sow in hills about 12 inches wide and
6 inches tall. By starting your own pumpkin plants, you can save
a bit of money, and get more variety.
Another need of most pumpkins is sufficient space. But, if you
have a small garden or just grow vegetables in raised beds or
large containers, look for smaller compact selections like
Jack-Be-Little. This pumpkin is great for kids to grow, or to use
for decorating, the fruits being just 3 inches wide and 2 inches
high. If sowing direct to the garden, sow 2 to 3 seeds in groups
about 3 to 4 feet apart. Figure on about three months until
harvesting mature fruits. Similar in shape and size is the
cultivar (cultivated variety) Munchkin, the All-America Selections
winner Wee-B-Little, or the white-skinned Baby Boo or white
A little larger are the sugar (so called for their sweetness) or
pie pumpkins, often with string-less flesh inside. New England
Pie is a classic pie pumpkin in a small, jack-o-lantern shape,
with fruit 4 to 8 pounds and 8 to 10 inches wide. This one needs
about 5 feet to spread, and 100 or more days to mature. This is
an heirloom variety, dating back to 1863, which you may see called
Small Sugar. A more recent introduction and All-America Selections
winner good for carving and decorating, as well as for pies, is
Hijinks—its 6- to 7-pound fruit being a bit smaller, but on
typically long vines. It has good resistance to powdery mildew
Another pie pumpkin, about half the size of New England Pie, and
a favorite for children to grow, is Baby Bear. This one was an
All-America Selections winner. Beside its use in pies and for
decorating, its semi-hulless seeds are good for roasting. With
slightly larger fruit—4 pounds or so—is Baby Pam, a cultivar often
grown commercially for pies.
Larger pumpkins—both fruit and plants— are typically the
Jack-O-Lantern types. Fruit of these are 8 to 15 pounds, and need
about 100 to 115 days to mature from sowing. One of the most
popular in this group is simply called Jack-O-Lantern. Spirit is
another in this group, good for carving, canning, and pies. It
was a 1977 All-America Selections winner. With only 4- to 6- foot
long vines, it is good for smaller gardens.
Even larger pumpkins have fruit that are 15 to 40 pounds when
mature, and need 100 to 110 days to mature from sowing. On the
lower end of weight in this group, with 15- to 20-pound fruits are
Rival (which also has powdery mildew resistance), Racer, and
Rocket (more upright elongated). These only take 85 to 90 days to
mature, too. A traditional favorite is Howden, with 20- to
30-pound bright orange fruits. Some newer, similar cultivars
include Expert, Rock Star, and Wolf. Aladdin is on the upper end
of weight in this group, with 25- to 35-pound fruits.
Connecticut Field is a popular heirloom, sometimes called the
original Halloween pumpkin. Fruit weigh 15 to 25 pounds, and are
the shape the original settlers would have found grown in this
country by the native Americans. Early Giant has a tall,
elongated shape, whose fruits average 30 pounds. Gladiator, with
its 20- to 25-pound fruits, is one of the more popular cultivars
with commercial pumpkin growers.
Then there are the giant pumpkins as you see at fairs, those with
fruits 100 pounds up to 1000 pounds or so, and needing 120 to 130
days to mature. Dill’s Atlantic Giant is one of the more popular,
with fruit generally 400 to 500 pounds, but which holds the
world’s record at 1,810 pounds. First Prize has fruit upwards of
300 pounds when mature. Big Moon has fruit that are a bit
smaller, perhaps 200 pounds each. With even smaller fruit, about
100 pounds each, are Prizewinner and Big Max.
Finally, there are the specialty pumpkins with warty surfaces, or
maturing in white, tan (a very light orange), blue, red, and
striped. The glowing orange-red fruit of Cinderella pumpkin are
up to 15-inches across, with deep ridges. This French heirloom
was the model used by the artist for Cinderella’s carriage.
Those with bluish skin include Jarrahdale, an heirloom from New
Zealand with 6- to 10-pound fruit, mostly rounded with deep
ridges. Triamble has 8- to 12-pound fruit, which are a more
greenish-blue and unusual triangular shape. The Italian Marina Di
Chioggia, with its 6- to 12-pound fruit, is good for Italian
cooking. It has a quite unusual warty or bumpy surface.
Long Island Cheese is a tan pumpkin, its flattened 6- to 10-pound
fruit resembling a wheel of cheese. A similar shape to the
latter, only with deeper ridges and more orange, and 8- to
15-pound fruit, is the southern French heirloom Musque de
In addition to the miniatures Baby Boo and Casperita, other white
pumpkins include Moonshine (rounded fruits, 8- to 12-pounds),
Valenciano (flattened, snow white, 8- to 10-pounds), Snowball
(rounded fruit, only 2-pounds each), and Flat Stacker (very
flattened, 15- to 25-pounds).
For unusual pumpkins consider the “peanut pumpkin” Galeaux
d’Eysines, the 15-pound fruit being tan and highly warty
resembling peanut shells. Blaze has small fruits, 3-pounds or so,
yellow with orange stripes. Others you may find more resemble
ornamental winter squash.
When choosing which to grow, considerations include use, color,
space needed, and time to maturity. If powdery mildew disease is
common in your landscape, look for cultivars with resistance to
it. Don’t plant pumpkins in the same bed where they or squash
were grown last year. (Such crop rotation helps with nutrition,
and pest or disease prevention.)
Make sure those with long vines have plenty of room to ramble.
You can plant in, or around, taller vegetables such as pole beans,
corn, or trellised vegetables. Plant in well-drained soil, which
you keep moist during the season. Cultivate often to control
weeds, or use a mulch (such as weed fabric covered with straw).
Pumpkins have separate male and female flowers, the male ones
opening first, the female ones with mini-fruit behind the
Return to Perry's Perennial Pages: Green Mountain Gardener Articles-- your reliable source of gardening information for over 50 years.