How to Grow the Perfect Fall Pumpkin (and Why You Need to Start Now)
Close your eyes and think about autumn. You probably have a pumpkin somewhere in that mental picture, right?
One of the best plants to grow with kids and a hallmark of Halloween and harvest celebrations, the pumpkin just might become the Tower Garden crop you anticipate all year long.
It may seem odd to read about a fall crop in the middle of summer. But if you want to have pumpkins by October, you actually need to plant them now because the fruit can take up to 100 days to mature.
Which Pumpkins to Plant
The type of pumpkin you should grow depends on what you plan to do with it.
- Best for looks: For Jack-O’-Lanterns, the Autumn Gold variety grows well in most climate zones. But if you want the decoration to last past the Halloween season, opt for the amazingly cute Jack-Be-Little miniatures or the hauntingly pale Ghost Pumpkin.
- Great for eating: Among the many pumpkins bred specifically for your table are New England Pie, Baby Bear, Sugar Treat, and Cinderella’s Carriage. If the variety name makes you crave something sweet or miss your grandmother, it’s probably a cooking pumpkin.
Start by planting no more than two seeds per rockwool cube after all risk of frost has passed. Once seedlings sprout, place them outside in the sun for three to four weeks before transplanting to your Tower Garden.
Tower Tip: For step-by-step instructions on starting seeds and transplanting seedlings, see page seven of the Tower Garden Growing Guide.
Because of the size of pumpkin vines and fruit, we recommend planting the crop in the bottom section of your Tower Garden. And keep in mind that for maximum productivity, pumpkins need at least six hours of sun and plenty of room for spreading vines.
You should closely monitor nutrient solution levels as your plants grow because pumpkin roots love water. Ironically, pumpkin vines, leaves, and fruit cannot stay wet for very long before the onset of rot and mildew.
Regular pruning can help prevent these problems by improving air circulation and increasing drying speed.
While you’ve got the shears out, trim the fuzzy ends of each vine after its first healthy pumpkin has formed. This will stop vine growth and focus the plant’s energy on the fruit.
As with squash and other fruiting crops, pumpkins might need your help with pollination. If your plants produce flowers, but no fruit — or if your pumpkins shrivel and die before growing large enough to harvest — try hand pollinating.
The process is simple: just transfer pollen from a male flower to a female flower using a small paintbrush or similar tool.
Tower Garden reduces the risk of pests and plant disease. But a good gardener is a wary one.
Be sure to keep an eye out for:
- Common pumpkin pests, such as aphids, squash bugs, spider mites, squash vine borers, and striped cucumber beetles.
- Diseases that may attack pumpkin vines, such as powdery mildew and scab, both caused by wet foliage, as well as bacterial wilt, which is spread by beetles.
Another threat to consider is temperature. An early frost or cold snap can harm your pumpkin during its final stages of growth. If low temperatures are in your forecast, cover the fruit and its vine, but take care not to deprive the plant of sunlight.
How to Harvest Your Pumpkin
A pumpkin is ready to pick when its skin has turned a solid, deep color (usually orange, naturally). But there’s another way to tell when a fruit is ripe: give it a thump. If it sounds hollow and has a firm rind, it’s ready.
To harvest, use a sharp knife to cut the stem, leaving three to four inches attached to the fruit. If you plan to keep the pumpkin for a while (and not carve a face on it), let it cure in the sun for a week before storing it in a cool, dry place for up to six months.
Ready to eat your homegrown pumpkin? During the growing season, you might notice that the crop requires frequent feeding. But it returns the favor in the form of very tasty and nutritious food.
A healthy vine will pump its fruit full of fiber, potassium, copper, riboflavin, manganese, vitamins A, C, and E... and lots of flavor. Yep, it’s more than a spice for an expensive coffee!
And did you know that pumpkin seeds are the most nutrient-rich part of the pumpkin, ounce for ounce? Season and roast them for a savory snack.
As for the pumpkin flesh, you can process it to make many types of cakes, breads, sweets, pies (of course), and even pasta dishes.
Do you have questions about growing pumpkins? Leave us a comment below.
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