There is nothing like harvesting the fruits of your labor- literally! I’ve been growing my own pumpkin patch for the past two years, and it brings me so much joy to fill up my porch and house with home grown pumpkins every fall.
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I always get a ton of questions about how to grow a pumpkin patch in your backyard.
I wrote a blog post about the whole process last year (Read it HERE!) But I thought it would be fun to do an updated FAQ with all the questions you have asked me both here on my blog, and on Instagram @welivedhappilyeverafter.
Here’s some DIY Backyard Pumpkin Patch FAQ’s I got from all of you:
-What kind of seeds did you get?
I’ve both purchase seeds, and harvested pumpkin seeds. But it’s really hard to guarantee that you won’t end up with cross pollinated pumpkins if you are growing several verities. I try and hand pollinate every female flower, but you still never know what the bee’s may be pollinating your vines with. If the flower gets cross pollinated with another squash, you won’t see any difference on that immediate baby pumpkin, but if you harvested seeds from a cross pollinated pumpkin, the next year’s fruit will look different. For that reason, I think I’m going to order my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds next year.
But here are the varieties I have grown so far:
-Is it true you have to plant pumpkins on a hill?
Yes and no. Creating a little mound will help them germinate faster in the seedling stage, and loose soil that drains easily will help the pumpkin grow without contracting any rot. I created my pumpkin patch right in the middle of my lawn. I laid down a big tarp to prevent any weeds, and cut out holes for the mounds. Not a traditional pumpkin patch set up by any means, but it worked.
-Whit size area is needed to grow pumpkins?
This year I used a landscaping tarp that was 6’x33′. I think I had about 20 pumpkin mounds in that space. I will probably space them out a bit more next year, but I still got a pretty good crop within that amount of space. The vines did grow out a bit past that, but how much space you need really depends on how many pumpkins you want to grow.
Some people even grow their vines up fences and trellises for a vertical garden.
-How do you water them?
Last year I literally hand watered thirty pumpkin mounds with a watering can every morning. But this year I installed a rainbird drip system, and am never going back to old fashioned watering. I love being able to control the watering process with my drip system, and it keeps the water off the leaves, preventing the sun from burning the plants. It was a bit on an upfront investment, but I SO reccomend a drip system if you are growing more than a couple pumpkin mounds.
-How long is your average growing season, and when do I plant them to be ready in time for fall?
First off, I like to decorate for fall early. We live in NC, and I planted in June, which technically should have been perfect for me to harvest in mid September (to ensure they would all be ripe for October!) But we had a dry period, and it took my pumpkins about a month to germinate. I honestly didn’t think any seedlings were going to make it (this was before I installed my drip watering system!)
Next year I think I’m going to plant in mid May. After two years following the planting recommendations on the backs of the seed packets, I have found that I need to plant at least a month or two earlier than they suggest. Pumpkins can last a LONG time if you store them properly, so it’s always better to plant them early, then to harvest them before they are truly ripe.
-I want to do home grown pumpkins! Do you just scatter some seeds in the dirt and they grow? When do you do it?
You need to follow the growing instructions on the seed packages (again, I am going to plant 1-2 months earlier than they suggest) But pumpkins like loose, soft soil that drains well. So build them a little mound (I used miracle grow soil for my mounds) and water the vines. I typically plant 3-5 seeds per mound, and let the strongest 1-2 seedlings mature. Pumpkins don’t like to be transplanted, so grow if your growing season allows, plant them in the ground from the start.
-Pumpkins have male and female flowers?! What?
Yep! The male flowers appear on the vine first. Then you will see some flowers with round little balls on their base. These are the females that will turn into pumpkins when pollinated with the male flower’s pollen.
-I planted pumpkins, but got no flowers or fruit. Only vines.
You probably needed either a longer growing season, or your soil lacked enough Phosphorous. This is what really feeds your plant and causes it to produce HUNDREDS of flowers (see the soil nutrients and fertilizers I reccomend HERE!)
-How can I get my plant to produce more? I planted four pumpkin plants and only got 1 pumpkin. Had only a few female flowers and most died before they even bloomed.
It’s totally normal for some female flowers to never mature, but you should get several healthy ones on every vine. If your plant is’t getting enough nutrients, it will abort the fruit, which is what I’m guessing is happening to your pumpkin… Make sure to fertilize! I use a combo of miracle grow, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (all added during different growing periods)
Another reason they could have been dying was due to lack of water, or too much water. I lost lots of baby pumpkins and flowers during hurricane season when the vines get too much standing rain water. Putting a board or a brick under the female flowers/baby pumpkins will help them from getting too wet and rotting off.
-How do you keep your pumpkins from rotting?
Proper pumpkin preservation process starts with harvesting and cleaning. First I cut a long stem (don’t pick them up by their stems as this may damage it and cause them to rot faster). Next I wash them with cold water and bleach. I’ve seen people suggest soaking them in a bathtub with water and bleach too. If my pumpkins have any deep scratches or skin damage, I always spray a little bit of diluted bleach on it until it dries and heals. I also keep all my pumpkins inside until the weather is consistently cold. Lastly, an un-carved pumpkin will last a lot longer than a carved one.
-How do you save your own seeds?
Cut the pumpkin up, and scoop the guts out. Then soak the seeds in water to get the goo off. Once the seeds are clean, let them dry completely, and then transfer them into a dry paper envelope & label them. I’ve heard they can last several years with proper storage, but I’ve only done this process once.
-What do I do if my vines are being attacked by pests and worms?
My vines were attacked by vine borers and pickleworms this year. so I closely monitored the almost ripe pumpkins, and made sure to harvest them if they showed any signs of holes. Several of my pumpkins had rotting stems (due to some worm holes in them) Solid stems are important for a long shelf life, so I needed to make sure there weren’t any living worms inside. My trick? I fully submerged the pumpkins in water (with a little bit of bleach) for about 5 minutes. And lo and behold, any worms that were inside crawled out of the pumpkin and stems. You can see one floating in the water in the above photo (I circled it in white) Once I was sure there weren’t any more, I cut away any rot that was too far gone on the stems, and bleached all the holes. This helped prevent any infection that would compromise my pumpkins lasting all fall.
I also had powdery mildew on my pumpkin vines last year, but I fixed it by spraying milk on the leaves in the early morning. It kills the mildew for some weird reason.
If you are having issues with rabbits, or bugs directly on your pumpkins, spray the fruit and vines with soapy water. That will make it bitter tasting to rabbits, and kill any bugs (be careful not to get any on the bees though!)
I’ve also read that diatomaceous earth works great for vine borers. I have’t personally tired this in my garden, but I know it works awesome inside my house to prevent ants and other bugs.
That’s about it! If you have any questions about growing your own pumpkins, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below and I will answer it!
Want to save your pumpkin seeds for planting next year? Go HERE for my seed saving tips!