Dreaming of growing pumpkins in your backyard garden? It's easier than you might think! Find out how to grow pumpkins and exactly when to plant pumpkins for the perfect fall harvest!
A few years ago we planted pumpkin seeds (among other things) in a test patch of the Back to Eden garden method. We prepped our beds and threw a bunch of seeds out to see what would grow.
We didn't even try to make it a successful garden, we wanted to see just how hands-off the method really was. Much to our surprise, we yielded over 300 pounds of produce without even trying AT ALL!
One of the things we tossed out were heirloom pumpkin seeds. When the plants started coming up I was so excited about the idea of homegrown pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving!
Little did I know we had planted too late for that and didn't end up harvesting the pumpkins until the week after Thanksgiving. It was quite a bummer, I can tell you that!
So let me save you a little heartache and help you with exactly when to plant pumpkins for a perfect fall harvest.
When to Plant Pumpkins
You probably see a lot of different information regarding zones and when to plant various things... but the bottom line is that pumpkins need about 100 days to mature.
I like to err on the side of caution and plant 120 days before I want to harvest.
For a Halloween Harvest:
You need to plant by the end of June, middle of July at the latest, if you want to carve homegrown pumpkins this year. You can start the seeds inside if it's too hot where you are, but get them started by the end of June.
For a Thanksgiving Harvest:
You need to plant pumpkins by the second week in July, first week of August for a Thanksgiving harvest. Again, you can start the seeds inside if you need to!
If Your First Frost is Before Halloween
I know some places in the country see frost before Halloween... being a South Texas gal, I can't imagine that, but I know it's true!
If this is the case for you, make sure your 120 days to maturity is up before the first frost. Then simply cure and store them for the holidays.
How to Grow Pumpkins
You can grow pumpkins from seed, or from seedlings started indoors before the planting season and sowed into the ground.
While you can transplant pumpkin seedlings, pumpkin plants do best when planted directly in the ground. Be sure to wait until the plant soil is 70° or more before sowing seeds.
When choosing an area in which to plant your pumpkins, here are some qualities to look for in the perfect pumpkin growing area!
- Sun - 6-8 hours of sunlight per day
- Shelter - Some shelter from the wind (a windy area means fewer bees for pollination)
- Space - Each pumpkin plant can spread up to 20 square feet, so be sure you have enough room!
- Water - Consistent water availability, either via deep mulch or with a hose/sprinkler (don't plant far from a water source if you will need to water them manually)
Once you've identified your perfect growing area, plant the pumpkin seeds about 2 inches deep into the soil, cover, and gently water in. You don't want to flood the ground but make sure it stays damp for the first week or until the plant sprouts.
Best Pumpkin Variety for Carving and Pie
If you're like me, you like the idea of a plant that multitasks! This Connecticut Field Pumpkin is an heirloom pumpkin variety that can be dated back to the first New England settlers as well as the Native Americans; it's a true American pumpkin!
Not only is it just a cool variety of heirloom pumpkin, but it also gets large enough for carving, but can still be used as a pie pumpkin!
Growing Pumpkins FAQ
This problem is common when growing pumpkins and can have many reasons. Such as a lack of sun, water, or bees to pollinate. You may also have too much nitrogen in the soil.
However, it is likely that when addressing the first few you will be able to salvage the fruit!
To fix a pumpkin plant that isn't setting fruit even though it is growing flowers, make sure that it's getting enough sun and water. Once you do that, you may need to hand-pollinate the flowers.
Pumpkins have a male and female flower, so you'll take pollen from the male with a cotton swab or small paintbrush and gently transfer it into the female blossom.
Male blossoms grow directly off of the vine, whereas female pumpkin blossoms have a little bulb-like fruit swelling at their base.
Finally, you'll want to attract more pollinators to your garden with these plants!
Pumpkin plants require a lot of space to grow. Each plant should have about 20 to 40 square feet of space to allow for proper vine growth and the development of large pumpkins.
While you can trellis them, most people just allow for more space, since a pumpkin patch is quite nice in the fall!
The time it takes for pumpkins to mature varies depending on the variety. Generally, pumpkins are ready for harvest when the rind is hard enough that you can't pierce it with your fingernail, the stem has started to dry out, and the color has fully developed.
You can also perform a tap test by gently tapping the pumpkin— if it sounds hollow, it's likely ready for harvest.
Store pumpkins in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Ideally, the temperature should be around 50 to 55°F (10 to 13°C), but in a cool, dark closet of your house will also be fine.
Check your pumpkins regularly for any signs of decay and use the ones showing signs of spoilage first.
In ideal conditions, your pumpkins should last for about 3-4 months.
Yes, you can save pumpkin seeds for next year! Scoop out the seeds, rinse off the pulp, and dry them thoroughly. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place in an airtight container until you're ready to plant them.
There are a few options!
1. Roast the seeds and eat them yourself. I use the same instructions for roasting zucchini seeds for roasting pumpkin seeds. After you've harvested the seeds, give the rest of the guts to the chickens.
2. Dry the seeds and give a handful every few days, or once a week, to the chickens. They are anti-parasitic and loved by chickens! (Still, give the chickens the guts fresh, even if you remove the seeds!)
Harvesting and Curing Pumpkins for Storage
You'll know the pumpkins are ripe when they have fully changed colors and you are unable to pierce their flesh with a fingernail.
Once they are harvested, you can cure pumpkins by setting them in a warm, dry location for 1-2 weeks before storing them. This will allow you to still have homegrown pumpkins for all the proper holidays, even if there is frost on the ground!
Even More Gardening Ideas
Looking for even more produce to grow in your backyard, homestead garden? Here are a few more of our favorites, from our homestead to yours!