Planting, growing and harvesting pumpkin
Who doesn’t love pumpkin soup or roasted pumpkin? Yum! You can easily grow your own pumpkin to provide a steady supply of this key ingredient. And because pumpkins store well, you can have months of supply on hand.
What you need to know about pumpkin
Name: pumpkin, Cucurbita species and varieties
Height: typically 30cm, but with a very wide spread
Foliage: evergreen, but last less than a year.
Climate: cold temperate, warm temperate, arid/semi-arid, sub-tropical and tropical.
Soil: prefers deep, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.
Position: full sun.
Flowering and fruiting: yellow trumpet flowers. Fruits of various sizes, shapes and colours.
Feeding: regular feeding with a complete fertiliser.
Watering: regular watering is essential to develop good fruit.
Appearance and characteristics of pumpkin plant
The pumpkin is a trailing plant that will cover a lot of ground and even climb over fences and other structures. It has large round leaves held horizontally on long stems. It has female flowers, which have the small unfertilised pumpkin directly behind the trumpet-shaped yellow flower. The male flower is similar, but does not have the embryonic fruit.
The fruit comes in a large array of forms, from small balls to giant ones grown for competitions. Skin colour is often orange, but there are also blue and speckled ones. Shapes also vary considerably from round to pear-shaped. Pumpkin plants grow, flower, fruit and die in about twelve months.
Uses for pumpkin
People grow pumpkin plants for their gorgeous edible fruit. Certain varieties are grown for Halloween, but in the southern hemisphere our pumpkins ripen at the wrong time for this. But we can grow the largest pumpkin of all, if you want to enter a pumpkin weigh-in!
How to plant and grow pumpkin
1. Plant in a sunny spot in the warmer months, after any risk of frost has passed. In the tropics, some varieties can be planted year round.
2. You must have good soil enriched with plenty of well-rotted compost and manure. Dig the area over well, and raise it slightly if there is any chance the soil will stay too wet.
3. Plant your pumpkin in a separate patch, or to the edge of a garden so that they don’t spread onto the other plants and smother them.
4. You can plant seeds directly into the ground, or use seedlings.
How to grow pumpkin from seeds
Pumpkin plants are very easy to grow from seed, which you can plant directly where you want them to grow. Alternatively, you can start your pumpkins early by sowing the seed in punnets or pots. Use a seed-raising mixture and sow the seeds about 12mm deep. Keep the seeds damp until they come up and then continue regular watering so they don’t dry out.
Caring for pumpkin
With a little care, you’ll have a healthy pumpkin crop in no time.
To grow good pumpkins you need plenty of sun, consistent water and regular feeding.
Use a balanced fertiliser. You can supplement this with a liquid fertiliser as well.
Keep the plant well-watered and never allow it to dry out, and you’ll have pumpkins before you know it.
Sometimes pumpkins need a little help to pollinate and set fruit. This is best done early in the day by taking off a male flower and rubbing it into the centre of the female flower.
Harvesting and storing pumpkin
When should you harvest your pumpkin?
Your pumpkin plant is ready to harvest when the foliage is dying off and the fruits have developed good size and colour. You can also check ripeness by tapping on the pumpkin to see if it gives a slightly hollow sound.
How to harvest pumpkin
Always harvest by pruning so that you leave a little bit of stalk on the fruit.
Make sure the pumpkins are dry before storing, and place in a cool, dark spot where there is some air circulation.
It is important to store them on their sides so no water accumulates in the hollows around the stems, as this can lead to rot.
Pumpkin diseases and pests
A common problem for pumpkin plants is powdery mildew, which is a fungus that appears as a white powder on the surface of the leaves. Incidence of this can be reduced by ensuring you grow plants in a sunny spot with good air movement. Use a garden fungicide if the problem occurs early in the growing season.
Insects will attack the foliage, but this is not usually a serious problem on larger plants. Control with an insecticide if insect numbers build up.
If you like this then try
Zucchini: easy to grow vegetable with a constant crop of fruit over the warmer months.
Watermelon: a scrambling vine with large oval fruit which is sweet and juicy inside.
Cucumber: a classic ingredient for salads, this is a climbing plant that can be grown on a frame.
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