Rampant Cucurbita maxima vines crawl up and over the mounded soil and other obstacles, seeking the sun as the tiny green fruits grow into mature pumpkins worthy of Cinderella's coach -- or your Halloween Jack 'o lantern. Because pumpkins require 90 to 120 frost-free days from planting to harvest, planting the seeds varies according to the length of your growing season and the variety of pumpkin.
Planting the Seeds
In general, pumpkins are planted directly in the garden two to four weeks after the last frost date. The soil temperature must be above 65 degrees Fahrenheit for the seeds to germinate; the seeds may rot in cold, wet soils. If your growing season is less than 90 days from the last spring frost to fall's first frost, give your pumpkins a four-week head start. Plant the seeds indoors in 6-inch peat pots and transplant them into the garden when the weather warms and night temperatures are above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
When planting pumpkins for a specific harvest date, check the days until harvest, which is usually in the planting instructions on the back of the seed packet or in the seed company's catalog. A month averages 30 days; begin with Halloween and count back three months for varieties that mature in 90 days, and four months for varieties that mature in 120 days. If the first frost date is before Halloween, move the planting date back by the same number of days to ensure that you can harvest your pumpkins before the first frost.
Selecting Pumpkin Varieties
Winter squashes (Curcurbita spp.), including pumpkins, are natives of South America's subtropics. The annual vines may grow up to 20 feet long, but there are bush varieties suitable for small gardens. Pumpkins may be small at 2 to 5 pounds, intermediate at 6 to 15 pounds, large at 16 to 25 pounds or jumbo at 50 to 100 pounds.
The fastest maturing pumpkins are the smaller varieties. They generally mature in 85 to 105 days.
- 'Autumn Gold': 100 days, 10 to 15 pounds
- 'Cinderella' or 'Rouge Vif D'Etampes': 84 to 100 days, 20 to 25 pounds, bush-type
- 'Jarradale': 95 days, 8 to 10 pounds, white, heirloom
- 'Long Island Cheese': 100 days, 6 to 10 pounds
- 'Pie' or 'Sugar': 100 days, 4 to 6 pounds
- 'Small Sugar': 100 to 105 days, 5 to 8 pounds, heirloom
- 'Spirit': 95 days, 10 to 15 pounds
- 'Winter Luxury': 85 to 100 days, 7 to 8 pounds, heirloom
Pumpkins grown in climates with long growing seasons have time for the fruits to grow and mature. Giant pumpkins, such as the world record pumpkins, need the extra time to grow to immense sizes. While you may aspire to growing the next world's record pumpkin, many giant pumpkins are hybrids created by the winning growers.
- 'Big Max': 110 to 120 days, 100 pounds
- 'Big Tom': 120 days, 18 pounds
- 'Connecticut Field': 120 days, 15 to 25 pounds, heirloom
- 'Dill's Atlantic Giant': 110 to 125 days, 200 to 300 pounds
- 'Prizewinner': 120 days, 200 pounds
- 'Red Warty Thing': 110 days, 20 pounds