How to Grow Pumpkins

What you’ll need

  • Shovel
  • Rototiller
  • Peat pots
  • Small paint brush

step 1: Prepare the Soil

Begin preparations in the fall. Select an area in full sun and mark out a circle 30 feet in diameter for your pumpkin patch. Add 4 inches of organic compost and till it in. Sow a crop of annual ryegrass and let it grow until spring. Two weeks before you are ready to set out the pumpkins, till the ryegrass under.

step 2: Select the Largest Pumpkin Variety

Several pumpkin varieties have been bred for large size, but the winners of most of the giant pumpkin contests have been strains of Dill’s Atlantic Giant. Begin with this or some other seed that’s been bred to grow as large as possible. Dill’s Atlantic Giant seeds are available from many sources.

step 3: Start Early

The sooner your pumpkin begins growing, the larger it will get by fall. Start the seed indoor in 6 inch peat pots filled with moisture control potting mix a month before the last frost is expected. Pumpkins don’t like transplanting, so it’s important to use a method that doesn’t disturb the roots when setting out. Put the pots in a warm place to germinate.

The seeds will germinate in just a few days. Grow the seedlings in a warm place in full sun or under bright fluorescent lights until the first true leaves appear, about a week after germination.

step 4: Transplant to a Shelter

The weather will still be a little too cold for pumpkins when you set them out. Build a small greenhouse in the center of your pumpkin patch from wire hoops or a wood frame covered with transparent plastic sheeting. Transplant the three strongest pumpkin plants to the greenhouse. If the pumpkins outgrow the greenhouse before the weather is warm enough for them to grow without shelter, drive some stakes and wrap plastic to make a fence 4 or 5 feet high around the plants.

step 5: Mulch

Spread 3 to 4 inches of mulch on the soil. The mulch insulates the soil, allowing the roots to grow right to the soil surface and protecting them from extremes of heat and cold.

step 6: Feed Regularly

Every week feed the pumpkin patch with water soluble all purpose plant food. Follow the label directions and water long enough to wash the fertilizer down to the roots.

step 7: Hand Pollinate for Early Fruit

As soon as female flowers appear (female flowers have a baby pumpkin at their base; male flowers are on a stalk), hand-pollinate them. With a small paint brush, gather some pollen from a male flower and paint it on the pistil at the center of the female flower.

step 8: Prune to Concentrate Energy

When a few pumpkins begin to grow, select the 3 best, each on its own vine, and pinch off all the rest. Remove the other vines and pinch the ends of the remaining vines 10 feet beyond the pumpkin. Side shoots will grow in response to the pinching. Pinch the tip of each side shoot when it gets about 10 feet from the pumpkin. The leaves on each vine make the food for the pumpkin. You want as many leaves as possible within a 10-foot radius of the pumpkin.

step 9: Stand Back!

Your pumpkins will grow so fast you can almost watch them swell. To amaze your friends, measure them with a tape rule every day. People won’t believe how fast they grow.

If you’d like your children to “own” a pumpkin so they can race to grow the biggest, have each scratch their name on a pumpkin when the fruit is small. The name will grow as the pumpkin does, marking it permanently.