With October upon us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about pumpkins. Many of us love to use pumpkins in our decorations this time of year, whether it’s a few simple pumpkins next to a hay bale and a corn stalk, or an elaborately manicured Jack-o-Lantern. Pumpkins are generally fairly easy to grow, but here are a few tips for getting the most out of your efforts.
Pumpkins grow best when started from seed. Most pumpkin varieties take 110 to 120 days from seed to reach full maturity, so in order to have pumpkins ready for Halloween, you’ll want to plant them between June 15th and July 1st. Form a hill, or several hills depending on how many plants you want ultimately, and plant 3-5 seeds per hill. Shortly after the seeds sprout, remove all but one plant from each hill, keeping the strongest of the group.
For most varieties, a handful of 10-10-10 fertilizer shortly after the plants sprout and periodic watering will suffice. However, if you plant ‘Mammoth”, ‘Big Max’ or another of the gigantic pumpkin varieties and want to grow award winning pumpkins, fertilize with a half cup to a cup of 10-10-10 every other week starting 3 weeks after seeding. Water adequately and allow only one pumpkin to grow per vine, picking of all others as soon as they begin to grow.
Like any plant, pumpkins face some potential insect and disease problems. Many of their potential pests are the same that would affect squash, cucumber, or watermelon, as all four of those vegetables are in the same plant family. Potential insect pests include squash bug, cucumber beetle, and squash vine borer. Squash vine borer is perhaps the most problematic, although the other two can transmit harmful diseases. Look for signs of squash vine borer beginning a few weeks after planting. You may see green moths hovering around the base of the stem, or their young larvae, a creamy white grub with a brown head. These larva chew their way through the stem beginning at the bottom and are nearly impossible to control once inside the stem. Ortho Max Bug-B-Gon Lawn and Garden Insect killer can be used if applied before the larva get inside the stem.
Diseases that are of potential concern are powdery mildew, bacterial wilt, and anthracnose. Bacterial wilt is often transmitted by cucumber beetles, yellowish-green beetles with either black spots or stripes. Powdery mildew occurs when temperatures are cool but humidity is high (often in late spring or early fall) and can be controlled with the fungicide chlorothalonil. It can also be worse when plants are irrigated by overhead sprinklers, causing excess moisture on the surface of the leaves, so it is best to avoid watering this way. Chlorothalonil can also be used for anthracnose, though that disease is harder to control and often more destructive.
While I’ve listed several different potential pests, the reality is pumpkins are fairly easy for the average gardener to grow. They are relatively low maintenance, and fun to watch grow, particularly if you have small children or grandchildren following their progress.
While growing your own is fun, those who haven’t planted pumpkins can find some locally at both Hawkins Farm and Isles Farm on Highway 48 near Aurelian Springs.
Matthew Stevens is the horticulture extension agent for Halifax County Cooperative Extension. If you have any questions about this article or other aspects of your home gardening, please contact Matthew at 583-5161 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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