How to Grow and Harvest Pumpkins
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So you want your pumpkins to be ready for Halloween? It often creeps up on us, and before you know it, it is right around the corner, which means that you need to start thinking about the growing pumpkins in your garden and knowing when to harvest them so that they’re ready to carve.
In this guide, you’ll learn all you need to know about growing and harvesting pumpkins to prepare for your Halloween carving festivities.
When is the best time to plant your pumpkins?
The short answer is to plant your pumpkins early. Pumpkin vines need about ten weeks to produce fruit.
While most of us are dreaming about ripe tomatoes in spring when we are planting our garden, you also need to be thinking about the spooky season! Pumpkins must grow for ten weeks before they’re ready to be carved into jack-o-lanterns.
If you plant pumpkins early enough, pumpkin vines can provide entertainment as they twist and turn their way through your garden. If you want to have fruit ready for Halloween, it’s best to be planting pumpkins in late May or early June. Early July could work, but you’ll be pushing it if you want to pick a pumpkin big enough for carving.
You’ll want to plant seeds and grow them in a warm and sunny spot in the garden, and you should prepare some good ground for pumpkins. A raised garden bed works well, adding a little more drainage.
Make sure you’re using pumpkin varieties that are suited to your plans. Some miniature varieties make delicious pies or great decorations, but you can’t carve them, while others will be super huge, and you’ll have nowhere to keep them.
Growing pumpkins needs around 100 frost-free days, so if your summer has been cool or wet, they might take even longer to reach their full size.
Make sure you plant pumpkin seeds in late spring to prepare for Halloween!
When is the best time to harvest pumpkins?
Pumpkins planted in June will typically be ready for harvest in early October, before Halloween. If you’ve grown your pumpkin seeds in the right time window, they’ll have female flowers and start setting fruit in no time.
Your pumpkin plant will grow long vines and will need plenty of space. If plants start to invade other parts of your garden, you can move the vine carefully back into place to keep them in line. You’ll have fruit everywhere you see female flowers if you’re lucky. Sometimes you’ll have a ton, and others, you’ll have a single fruit, depending on your season. Make sure more leaf surface is towards the sun than on the ground to avoid issues with mold and dampness.
But, how do you know when to harvest pumpkins? The pumpkin plants can be harvested any time after the vines have died back. They will get their best color when exposed to several weeks of fall or late summer sun, so it’s best to plant them where they’ll get some afternoon shade once all danger of frost has passed. These conditions will set you up, so you pick your pumpkins in time for Halloween carving or Thanksgiving for your favorite pumpkin pie.
You’ll know your pumpkin, or any winter squash, is ripe when the stem near the vine’s base turns brown and it has a full round shape, not long or skinny. If your pumpkin is too small, it might be challenging to carve into a jack-o-lantern, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should pick it at this point.
If you’re growing pumpkins for decoration and plan on using them as centerpieces, you can leave them on the vine a bit longer. The skin will become harder, and your pumpkin can last outside much longer once it’s fully ripened.
Pull your pumpkins from the vines before hard and heavy frost kills the vines and the pumpkins themselves. The longer they stay on the vine plants grow larger, and more fruit set is possible, but a hard frost could kill your whole crop, so make sure it’s worth the gamble.
It is best to harvest them in the late afternoon when they’re at their warmest and leave them in a warm, dry place — out of direct sunlight — to cure for about a week. Handle pumpkins carefully before curing.
Cut off pumpkins by twisting them off the plant.
The best way to get those pumpkins off the vine is to cut them off using shears. The vines will pull right away from the pumpkin as you gently wiggle it free. Try not to damage the pumpkin too much when you’re cutting it. If you nick or puncture the skin, use a dry paper towel and rub Vaseline into the hole; this should seal it up nicely.
Cut off the stem cleanly, about an inch above the pumpkin.
Please do not use a sharp knife to cut the pumpkins off their vines. A sharp knife can easily slip and damage or even destroy your pumpkins.
When harvesting pumpkins, always use shears, garden snips, or a sharp serrated bread knife to make the opposite cuts at both ends where the pumpkin was connected to the stem. Be sure not to cut too close, or you risk exposing the fruit to rot, fungi, and bacterial diseases.
Cure your pumpkin harvest to get the best storage time
Hang them in a dry, dark place after curing
Once your pumpkins are cut free from the vine and cleaned up, you can hang them in a dry, dark place — like your garage or basement — and allow them to cure for two weeks. Curing has a huge effect on a pumpkin’s keeping time.
- Letting the fruit finish ripening before storage (this helps improve storage and eating quality)
- Protecting the fruit from decay (this lets it keep well for months)
- Giving you time to prepare for fall (this means cleaning your garage, putting away summer furniture, and collecting hay bales for shipping boxes)
The curing process is critical; it allows the fruit to keep well through the winter. If the pumpkins are not cured properly, they can rot much faster than if they are properly cured.
Optimally, you should cure your pumpkins until the skins become tough, and the pumpkin feels heavy for its size (12 to 16 pounds).
Store pumpkins in a cool, frost-free area
Once your pumpkins are nicely cured, it’s time to store them away for use throughout winter. You can leave them where they are, but if you have a cool, frost-free area where temperatures don’t dip below freezing, it’s best to keep your pumpkins there. A garage or outbuilding on the south side of your house works well for this. Just make sure the temperature doesn’t drop down to 20°F.
When grown in ideal conditions, Pumpkins can grow up to 20 pounds each! Make sure you have plenty of space in your storage area. If the pumpkins are too crowded, they might start to rot or develop fungal diseases.
Keep pumpkins cool and dry to have them last through winter.
Don’t let them get wet.
If your pumpkins are properly cured and stored, you should check on them regularly during winter. If it starts to rain, bring them back in to avoid rot. Mold or fungi can also develop when the fruit gets damp, so ensure they have proper drainage and ventilation.
Now you know how to grow and harvest pumpkins!
Now you’re ready for your pumpkin carving party because you know how you can properly harvest pumpkins, so they last as long as possible.
To prepare your pumpkins for carving, slice off the vine’s roots about ½ an inch above the pumpkin’s surface. Then cut the stem flush with the pumpkin’s surface without cutting into it. You can also make a lid out of your pumpkin by cutting one side of the pumpkin flat against the ground and leave attached to its original stem.
Now that you know when to harvest pumpkins, your jack-o-lantern will be in tip-top condition for Halloween.
Interested in learning more about how to grow and harvest vegetables?