Thought to have originated in the Americas, the pumpkin is deeply entwined in American culture as both a food item and a sign of fall and harvest-season. A member of the Cucurbit family and technically a squash, you’ll hear people use the term “pumpkin” when referring to the orange, round variety of fruit used for making spooky jack-o-lanterns. Yes, you read that right! Pumpkins are a fruit, although they’re more frequently used in cooking as a vegetable and are thus often classified as one. The varieties of pumpkins available are seemingly endless with variations in size, color, taste, and purpose, so be sure to read up on your options before selecting which types to plant in your garden!
Don’t let their name fool you! While Sugar Pie pumpkins are both sweet and ideal for baking, they are much more versatile than just for using in pies. Roasted, sauteed, or scooped out, and filled with all kinds of savory goodies, the possibilities for this little orange gem are endless! Even if you aren’t a fan of fresh pumpkin (and we’re pretty sure you are), the Sugar Pie pumpkin’s vibrant orange color and small size makes it an excellent fall-season decoration that will spruce up any home. Whatever you decide to use your pumpkins for, keep in mind that while we may think of them as a fall crop, pumpkins actually do most of their growing during the summer, and will not tolerate cold weather (below 60°F) for very long, especially when they’re young. Be patient and wait for all risk of frost to disappear in the spring before planting your seeds!
Seed Depth: 1/2–1″
Space Between Plants: 2–3 seeds every 18″
Space Between Rows: 4′
Germination Soil Temperature: 70–95°F
Days for Germination: 7–10
Sow Indoors: 3–4 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: After any danger of frost has passed. Pumpkin seeds require relatively warm soil to germinate.
Vegetative: Can be cloned by burying part of the parent vine in soil. Water and fertilize the child vine and, after 7–10 days, cut away from the parent plant.
Grows best in warm weather when daytime temperatures are in the 70–80°F range. Pumpkin plants will not survive frosts, although the mature fruit will be fine if you wait to harvest until after the first light frost. Plants need a long growing season, so start indoors if your climate has less than 100 days of frost free weather.
Natural: Full sun but will tolerate partial shade in extreme heat.
Artificial: Fluorescent or HID lamps will help your seedlings get started.
Soil: Will grow in most soil types but prefers rich, loamy soil. A pH of 5.5 to 6.6 will keep pumpkins healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Starts will do well in larger containers with a soilless potting mix of perlite, vermiculite, and coco coir.
Hydroponics: Pumpkins can thrive in hydroponic systems that can provide high amounts of water, like deep water culture or Dutch bucket systems. Use a sturdy growing media like clay pellets.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Increase watering as flowers and fruits start to grow. Drip systems are best to avoid wetting leaves.
Nutrients: Most pumpkin varieties require high levels of nutrients to grow. In the absence of a soil test, apply a fertilizer with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Unless your soil is particularly heavy in phosphorus, adding this element to your soil right before vines begin to bloom will help your plants thrive. Be aware of fertilizers that are nitrogen heavy, particularly after the pumpkins have begun to show, as they will cause the leaves to grow, sapping nutrients from the pumpkin itself.
Foliar: Foliar sprays can do wonders for pumpkins! Try a multi-mineral, seaweed, or fish emulsion spray. Again, be wary of using too much fish emulsion once the plants leaves have started to mature as it has a very high nitrogen content.
Pruning: To encourage growth in your pumpkin plants, trim off buds to limit the number of fruits that will grow. Leaving less buds will allow the plant to send more energy to the ones that remain.
Rotation: A 3-year rotation away from all plants in the Cucurbit family is recommended to reduce the risk of disease and pest issues.
Companions: Grows well with corn, squash, and various melons. Avoid growing with potatoes.
Harvest: Should be harvested before a hard frost when pumpkins have turned a deep orange color. Use shears or a knife to cut the vine at least an inch up, as pumpkins without stems will not keep for very long. Be aware of prickly stems and vines when harvesting as they can cause rashes.
Storage: Will keep best in a cool, dark, dry place. Give pumpkins plenty of space to allow for air flow, and place them on a board or piece of cardboard to help prevent rotting. You can usually keep well-cured pumpkins for up to 3 months. Once dried and roasted, seeds can be stored in an airtight container for several months.
Fun Fact: While it is likely that the pilgrims and Native Americans ate pumpkin at the first Thanksgiving, it is pretty unlikely that it was in the form of a delicious pumpkin pie; at least not the kind of pumpkin pies we know and love today. This is due to the fact that creating that delectable flaky crust requires the use of an oven; a utility that was not often available to the earliest settlers. Instead, pumpkins were cut open, scooped out and then filled with delicious goodies before being roasted over hot coals.
Preserve: Although pumpkins can be stored whole, they also can be frozen as a puree, pickled, or canned. As they are a low-acid vegetable, be sure to follow all canning and pickling recipes very carefully. Don’t toss the seeds either once you’ve scraped out your pumpkin! Highly nutritional, seeds can be roasted and kept in an air tight container as a healthy (and addicting) snack.
Prepare: One of the most common ways to eat pumpkins is roasted. To roast, cut off the top, and remove seeds and stringy pieces of flesh. Place in the oven at 350°F for 45–50 minutes. Note that times will vary based on your pumpkin size, and take care when cutting as the skins are very thick and can be difficult to get through! To puree your pumpkin, either steam or roast the flesh, wait for it to cool, and throw into a food processor.
Nutritional: Extremely high in vitamin(s) A, C, tryptophan, and fiber, pumpkins are as tasty as they are healthy! Their seeds also contain healthy fatty acids as well as phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc.
Medicinal: Pumpkin has been cultivated for a variety of medicinal uses. Seeds contain chemicals that have been shown to be anti-parasitic, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory. Leaves and rind have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. The high amounts of beta-carotene found in the orange flesh makes the pumpkin a powerful antioxidant which may offer protection against developing some types of cancer, asthma, heart disease, and slow the effects of aging.