This gorgeous gourd adds smashing good color to garden displays.
When you need a long-lasting spot of color that instantly says “autumn,” there is no better go-to plant than a pumpkin. That’s why you see them featured liberally in every October issue of Southern Living. A round, bright orange pumpkin does the trick for traditionalists, but anyone who visits garden centers knows there are lots more choices. White, gray, light blue, apricot, and tomato red selections are all the rage for a sophisticated Halloween look.
So you want to grow your own pumpkin? First you will need to determine what type of pumpkin to grow. There are many varieties to choose from. Are you looking for the perfect pumpkin to carve? Try ‘Howden Field’ or ‘Jack-o-Lantern’. Want something tasty for pumpkin pies? You’re going to want a sweeter flesh like ‘Small Sugar’. For smaller display pumpkins you can go for traditional ‘Jack Be Little’ and ‘Wee-B-Little’ or novelties with white skin like ‘Baby Boo’ and ‘Lumina’. Want to roast some pumpkin seeds? The best pumpkins for this purpose are hull-less selections like ‘Trick or Treat’. Want to take on the jumbo Halloween pumpkin? ‘Atlantic Giant’ can weigh upwards of 500 pounds.
Now that you’ve decided on your pumpkin, you need to plan your growing. You will need to sow your seeds in late spring (yes, you have to start this early!) You will need about 500 sq. ft. for a single vine plant and about 20 sq. ft. for a bush plant. For vining pumpkins, you can sow 5 to 6 seeds in 1-in. deep hills 6 to 8 ft. apart. Bush pumpkins can be planted in rows 3 ft. apart. Place 3 or 4 seeds in a cluster, each cluster being 2 ft. apart along the row.
You will need to fertilize your soil before and during the growing period. You will also need to water during rainless periods, but it is important to keep the foliage dry to prevent leaf diseases.
Once you’ve made it to late summer, you will need to protect your pumpkins from wet soil and rot. Slide wooden shingles under each fruit to prop it off the ground. After 90 to 120 days, you can start harvesting your beautiful pumpkins. Be sure the shell has hardened. The first frost will kill your plant, so pick your pumpkins then. You can use a sharp knife or hand pruners to remove them from the plant. Leave the stem at 1-2 inches. This will prolong the life of your pumpkin.
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To make them last for weeks outside, don’t carve them. Keep them dry, and (if possible) place them so the spot of rind that was on the ground when they were growing is on the bottom. And never leave them unattended when teenage males are nearby!