A gardener’s guide to growing pumpkins

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Why not get a little green-fingered this halloween... with something big and orange

As the foliage covering allotments and veg patches begins to shrivel and fade, bright orange pumpkins start to catch the eye, readying themselves for Halloween’s carving knives. But there’s much more to pumpkins and winter squashes than a glowing accessory to the spookiest night of the year. Here are a few tips to help you grow them…

 

How to grow pumpkins

Pumpkins and winter squashes are members of the cucurbit family along with other fleshy veg such as courgettes and cucumbers. They’re among the easiest plants to grow from seed and starting them this way also gives you the widest range of varieties from which to choose (see below). 

Pumpkin seeds are best sown indoors during April. Push them into moist seed compost in 9cm pots and, when they germinate, let them get as much light and warmth as possible. When all danger of frost has passed—usually mid-May—they’ll be ready to move outside to their final position. They can take up quite a bit of space, so make sure you afford them a spot with plenty of room to grow.

Pumpkins are greedy veg so it’s important to dig plenty of compost or manure into the ground before planting out and consider giving them an additional feed in July or August. They’re also thirsty beasts so will need regular watering during hot, dry spells of weather. 

If you’ve got your eyes on the “giant pumpkin” prize at your village show, then concentrate all of the plant’s energy into producing just one large fruit by cutting off the rest of the emerging fruit before they start to swell. If you’re keener to stock the kitchen with pumpkins, then aim for three fruit per plant (but don’t be concerned if it can only muster the effort to properly grow only one or two).

Once established, pumpkins are quite resilient (they’re prone to slug attacks at a young and tender age, which is a good reason to start them indoors) although you’ll do well if you avoid attracting the fungus “powdery mildew”. 

This disease will produce white spots on the plant’s leaves which gradually spread, lightening the tone of the leaves and eventually causing them to perish early. It tends to be caused by humidity and is more likely to attack plants that are stressed due to lack of proper food and water. The good news is that it won’t affect the fruits, other than potentially slowing things down if it takes a hold early.

When your fruits are swelling nicely, lift them off the soil by placing them on a tile or other firm, dry surface. Most of their ripening will be done on the vine but you can finish them off (and clear the pumpkin patch early) by cutting them and placing them in a sunny spot in the garden or greenhouse.

 

Three pumpkin varieties to try

1. For huge pumpkins: Dill’s Atlantic Giant

These whoppers can swell to over 800kg so you’ll need a large pumpkin patch to handle them.

2. For carving pumpkins: Jack of all Trades

Classic round orange pumpkins that glow with spooky glee.

3. For eating pumpkins: Crown Prince

This tasty treat has blue grey skin and sweet orange flesh. Don’t forget to roast the seeds for an extra cucurbit snack!