Updated: Apr 28
A pumpkin is a cultivar of winter squash that is round with smooth, slightly ribbed skin, and is most often deep yellow to orange in coloration. The thick shell contains the seeds and pulp. Native to North America (northeastern Mexico and the southern United States), pumpkins are one of the oldest domesticated plants, having been used as early as 7,000 to 5,500 BC.
The name is most commonly used for cultivars of Cucurbita pepo, but some cultivars of Cucurbita maxima, C. argyrosperma, and C. moschata with similar appearance are also sometimes called "pumpkins". Pumpkins are widely grown for food, as well as for aesthetic and recreational purposes.
Table of Contents
1 - 3 feet
3 - 15 feet
6.0 - 6.8
Growth Nutrition of Pumpkin
Nitrogen promotes green growth, making for plenty of vines and leaves. Apply a weekly nitrogen-heavy fertilizer early in the growing season to produce a healthy plant. Once the flowers start to form, switch to a phosphorus-heavy fertilizer for plentiful blossoms.
Varieties of Pumpkin
All pumpkins are edible, but some taste better than others.
Miniature pumpkins are very productive and easy to grow, sometimes producing up to a dozen fruits per plant.
‘Jack Be Little’, a miniature variety, is dual purpose. Store-bought shiny (painted) ones make an ideal decoration for a holiday table. Remove the seeds from farm- or home-grown specimens and then bake them for a tiny treat. Vine variety. Days to maturity: 90 to 100 days.
‘We-B-Little’ is an All-America Selection winner, and ‘Munchkin’ is another great miniature pumpkin.
Pumpkins for carving
‘Autumn Gold’ great for carving, decorating. All-America Selection winner. Vine variety. Excellent for Jack-o-Lanterns. Days to maturity are generally 100 to 120 days.
The larger ‘Magic Lantern’ and ‘Merlin’ are great for carving and decorating.
‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ jumbo variety can grow to 200 pounds. Great for those who want to grow a giant pumpkin. Vines will spread to 25 feet, so space is a must. Days to maturity are 130 to 160 days, so plant early! Thin to the best one or two plants. Feed heavily but keep cultivation shallow. Remove first 2 or 3 female flowers after the plants start to bloom so that the plants grow larger with more leaf surface before setting fruit. Allow a single fruit to develop and pick off all female flowers that develop after this fruit has set on the plant. Take care that the vine doesn’t root down near the joints to avoid breakage.
‘Jack O’ Lantern’ is one of the best giant pumpkins for carving. These pumpkins typically weigh around 20 pounds and have a solid rind with an oval or roundish shape. Although not often considered a pie pumpkin, it's edible and can be roasted for use in pies, muffins and soups.
‘Big Max’, ‘Big Moon’, and ‘Funny Face’ are some of the best giant pumpkins for carving.
Perfect pumpkins for pies
‘Sugar Treat’ and ‘New England Sugar Pie’ are two of the best for cooking and baking. ‘Sugar Treat’ is a semi-bush hybrid. Days to maturity are generally 100 to 120 days. ‘Hijinks’ and ‘Baby Bear’ are both All-America Selection winners and have sweet flesh for pumpkin pie.
‘Cinderella’s Carriage’ is also perfect for pies or soups.
‘Peanut Pumpkin’ also produces very sweet flesh and can be great in pumpkin pie or pumpkin puree.
Heirloom ‘Winter Luxury Pie’ (aka Livingston’s Pie Squash) gets raves for taste but boos for not lasting too long on the vine.
‘Baby Pam’; ‘Small Sugar’; ‘Spookie’, a cross between ‘Sugar Pie’ and ‘Jack O’ Lantern’; and ‘Spooktacular’ are great for cooking or carving.
Colorful decorative pumpkins
‘Jarrahdale’ has blue-green skin and makes for great decorations.
‘Pepitas Pumpkin’ has a pretty orange-and-green-striped rind that makes an eye-catching autumn display. It’s about nine to 12 pounds at maturity. Best of all, its seeds have no hulls (shells), so they’re ideal for roasting.
‘Super Moon’ is a large white pumpkin. Orange may be traditional in autumn decor, but this white pumpkin is a showstopper! They can grow up to 50 pounds, and their smooth white color makes them ideal for display. Their yellow flesh is also tasty for roasting or using in soups.
Pick a spacious spot with full sun and good-quality soil that drains well. Sandy soils high in organic matter are best. If the soil is heavy clay add organic matter, such as compost, aged manure, or green crops plowed under. The idea pH ranges from 6.0 to 6.8. Test your soil and follow any recommendations given.
Pumpkins also need space for sprawling vines to run: 50 to 100 square feet per hill. If space is limited, plant at the edge of the garden and direct vines across the lawn. Vines will be bothersome for only a few weeks. If your garden space is limited, no worries! Plant pumpkins at the edge of the garden and direct vine growth across the lawn or sidewalk. The vines will only be bothersome for a few weeks. You can also grow pumpkins in big 5 to 10 gallon buckets. Or, try miniature varieties.
When to Plant Pumpkins
Pumpkins are sensitive to the cold. They should not be planted until frost is past and the soil is between 65° and 95°F (18° to 35°C), the optimal temperature range. For cooler climates, this is often in late May but for warmer climates, you can often wait until late July.
To have pumpkins for Halloween, look at the seed packet for how many days to harvest. Count backward from a week or so before Halloween to know when to sow the seeds.
Pumpkin seeds are usually sown directly into the soil after danger of frost has passed.
Where the growing season is very short, sow indoors in peat pots, 2 to 4 weeks before last spring frost.
Harden off seedlings before transplanting into warm, aged manure/compost-enriched soil.
How to Plant Pumpkins
Pumpkins are big, greedy feeders. At least 2 weeks before you plan, mix lots of compost or aged manure into the soil at the planting site.
Pumpkins have extensive root systems and respond to an application of 3 to 4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. Fertilizer should be broadcast evenly and worked into the top 2 to 3 inches of soil prior to seeding.
Strongly acidic soils will need to be limed. If your soil test finds that your soil pH is too lower, add the recommended amounts of lime.
There are two ways pumpkin seeds are usually planted: rows or hills.
A hill does not mean the soil has to be mounded; it’s a spot containing a group of plants or seeds. Hills warm soil quickly (so seeds germinate faster) and aid with drainage and pest control.
Prepare hills by digging down 12 to 15 inches and mixing/filling in with lots of aged manure and/or compost.
For hills: Plant 4 to 8 feet apart. The soil at each hill may be mounded or left level with the rest of the area. Set seeds 1 inch deep with 4 or 5 seeds per hill. Keep seeds moist until germination. When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin to 2 to 3 plants per hill by snipping off unwanted plants without disturbing the roots of the remaining ones.
For rows: Sow seeds about 6 to 12 inches apart in rows that are 6 to 10 feet apart. Once the seedlings grow, thin to one plant every 18 to 36 inches.
Growing and Caring for Pumpkin Plants
Once pumpkins start growing, it's important to keep an eye on water, spread a healthy layer of mulch, protect pollinators and hand-pollinate.
A thirsty pumpkin will drop its flowers and lose its fruits to conserve water. Invest in a soaker hose or drip line to deliver water directly to the plant's roots. It's very difficult to water pumpkins any other way without getting water on the foliage, and wet leaves are more likely to struggle with downy or powdery mildew diseases.
Lay newspaper or cardboard on the ground around plants, then cover that level with a thick layer of straw to suppress weeds and lift fruits above the soil. Wait until soil temperatures are above 75 degrees before adding mulch, as mulch can keep soils a bit cooler than bare earth. A healthy layer of mulch will suppress competition from weeds, conserve moisture, and lift fruits above the soil. If you are planting pumpkins into a cover crop, leave the cover crop residue on top of the garden bed as a mulch rather than tilling into the soil.
If the pumpkin fruits are still pretty moist on top of the mulch, lay a shingle or some more cardboard on the ground below the pumpkin. Gently rotate the fruit occasionally so that the pumpkin will have a more even shape or color. Be careful not to damage the stem or vine when turning the fruit — it's better to have a lopsided pumpkin than no pumpkin at all!
Pumpkins are monecious plants, which means that male and female flowers are produced separately on the plant. The male flowers usually arrive first, and some varieties may produce female flowers several weeks after the male flowers appear. Both male and female flowers are large and yellow, but the female flowers will have a small, immature fruit behind its petals.
Pumpkins depend on bees to pollinate their flowers. If your pumpkin plant keeps losing its immature fruits, there may be a problem with pollination. Avoid using pesticides as they will poison your bees and other pollinators.
How to Pollinate Pumpkins
To pollinate by hand, pick a male flower and rub the pollen-covered stamen on the female flower's pistil. Both the stamen and the pistil will be easy to spot – they're in the very center of each flower.
Harvesting and Storing Pumpkin
Pumpkins will be ready for harvest 95 to 120 days after sowing depending on the variety.
Pick pumpkins when they are deeply colored–deep orange or golden white–and stems and vines have dried and turned brown.
The rind should be hard, not easily penetrated by a fingernail.
Thump maturing pumpkins; a ripe pumpkin will sound hollow when thumped.
As pumpkins mature, remove leaves that shade the fruit to allow for maximum sun exposure.
As pumpkins near harvest, vines may begin to yellow and shrivel away.
Use pruning shears to cut the vine; leave 2 to 4 inches (5-10cm) of stem attached to the pumpkin so that the fruit does not readily dry out or decay.
Harvest pumpkins before the first freeze or they will turn soft.
Seeds saved from heirloom or open-pollinated pumpkins can be saved for up to 6 years for replanting.
Cure pumpkins in direct sun at 75° to 80°F (24-26°C) for 2 weeks before storing.
Store pumpkins at 50° to 55°F (10-13°C), in a dry, well-ventilated place.
Do not refrigerate pumpkins.
Cured pumpkins can be stored for 3 to 6 months.
Pumpkins in storage can shrink as much as 20 percent in weight but will still be suitable for cooking.
Pumpkin can be pureed and frozen for up to 6 months. Pumpkins also can be frozen or canned.
Pests and Diseases
Pumpkins can be attacked by squash borers and cucumber beetles.
Squash vine borers will drill a small hole in the stem. Unexplained wilting may indicate the presence of borers. To remove a borer, slit the stem lengthwise, remove the borer, and crush it. Cover the slit stem with soil to encourage root development from that point.
Spotted and striped cucumber beetles chew holes in leaves and can spread bacterial wilt and other diseases. Handpick and destroy cucumber beetles or spray with neem or pyrethrum.
Squash borers or bacterial wilt can cause squash plants to suddenly wilt and die just as they begin to produce.
Pumpkins are susceptible to bacterial wilt, mosaic virus, and mildew. Plant disease-resistant varieties.
Keep the garden clean and free of debris that diseases and pests may harbor. Water at the base of plants to keep water off the foliage, and do not handle plants when they are wet to avoid the spread of fungal spores.
Remove and destroy infected plants before they spread the disease to healthy plants.
Bacterial wilt is spread by cucumber beetles. Bacterial wilt will cause pumpkin plants to suddenly wilt and die just as they start to produce pumpkins. Control the beetles to control the spread of disease.
Mosaic virus can cause squash plants to become mottled yellow and stunted. The mosaic virus is spread by aphids. Control aphids and remove affected plants.
Powdery mildew, a fungus disease, will cause leaves to turn a gray-white color late in the season. Proper spacing and increased air circulation will help reduce this problem.
Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkin is rich in fiber, which slows digestion. Pumpkin may be filling, but it's also a low-calorie superstar. "Canned pumpkin is nearly 90 percent water, so besides the fact that it helps keep you hydrate.
May support healthy skin
Pumpkins are packed with skin-friendly nutrients, including vitamins C and E, as well as beta-carotene, all of which play an important role in the health of our skin.
Vitamin C is not naturally made by the body, so it's important we get it from our diet, as it plays a part in the formation of collagen which keeps skin plump and firm, vitamin C also helps prevent bruising and promotes wound healing.
Vitamin E is an excellent antioxidant and works with vitamin C to help protect against sun damage and dryness. Vitamin A, or beta-carotene, is also involved in skin protection from the sun’s UVB rays and may help protect against sunburn, although sunscreen is still needed.
May support eye health
Low levels of vitamin A has been linked with reduced vision and even blindness. Beta-carotene, as well as vitamins C and E, help protect eyes and reduce the risk of age-related eye diseases. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of two carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin, levels of which have been linked to a reduced risk of cataracts.
May support the immune system
As indicated by their bright orange colour, pumpkins contain beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A when consumed. Research has demonstrated that vitamin A plays an important role in promoting immune function. Vitamin C also contributes to immune activity facilitating immune cell activity and increasing white blood cells.
May help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is the medical name for a combination of conditions including diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Collectively, these conditions increases your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
A 2015 study in Japan found that diets high in carotenoids, which are pigments found in fruit and vegetables that give them their orange, yellow and green colours, may help prevent the development of metabolic syndrome.
May help prevent cancer
While there are no single ‘superfoods’ that can prevent cancer and certain risk factors for cancer are unrelated to diet, there is evidence that eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of cancer. In addition to this, the antioxidant properties of carotenoids, vitamins A and E, all of which are found in pumpkin, may protect against certain cancers, such as breast cancer.
The seed and its oil are used to make medicine.
The pumpkin fruit and seed are commonly used in foods.
Pumpkin leaves, usually of C. moschata varieties, are eaten as a vegetable in Korean cuisine.
The seeds are often roasted and eaten as a snack.
pumpkin is used for sweet dishes, a well-known sweet delicacy is called halawa yaqtin.
Pumpkin is used to make sambar in Udupi cuisine.
In Myanmar, pumpkins are used in both cooking and desserts (candied).
It can be used with cheeses as a savory stuffing for ravioli.
pumpkin can be used to flavor both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
In some places, pumpkins are used as Halloween decorations known as jack-o’-lanterns, in which the interior of the pumpkin is cleaned out and a light is inserted to shine through a face carved in the wall of the fruit.