Wisconsin Giant Pumpkin Growers
Serving Wisconsin Growers Since 1984
Pumpkin Growing Basics
Article by Joe Ailts - 2001 No publisher information available
Growing a giant pumpkin can be very easy. It can also be very complicated. The neat thing about growing is that its up to the grower as to how complicated it becomes. Beginners usually just want to know the basics. Usually after one year though, many become hooked, and even obsessed with growing the big one. But we all have to start somewhere, which is the point of this writing. This article provides the most basic guidelines for growing big pumpkins. There are three aspects of growing that one needs to have in order to produce consistently large fruit. These are good seed, good weather, and good soil. The only way you are going to grow a fruit larger than 300 lbs is with the Dill's Atlantic Giant variety. Contact giant pumpkin growers and ask them for seed. It's that simple. You don't have to pay anything more than postage to get your hands on some good seed. You also need to have good weather. Simply stated, good weather means you don't get a frost in July. The ideal climate for growing pumpkins lies 4-5 degrees north and south of the 45th parallel. Climates in these areas have sunny warm summers, with an appreciable amount of rain from May through September. The ideal temperature for a pumpkin is 85 degrees during the day, with no more than a 20-degree drop in nighttime temps. A relative humidity of 60% (+/- 20%) is optimal as well. Finally, a good soil consists of well-drained sandy loam. Soils with a pH of 6.8 and an organic matter content of 10% are desirable. Soil tests will tell you this information and are highly recommended on a yearly basis. It is a must for the beginner.
Depending on the degree of involvement, giant pumpkin growing is a yearlong process. There are many things that can be done all months of the year that will ensure success in the years to come. During the off-season months of Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar, and Apr, many growers spend their time collecting seeds, reading informative material, and preparing their patches. The fall is a great time to add compost, manure, leaves, and other organic materials to the patch. Till the garden in before the frost sets in, so the organics have the opportunity to decompose into nutrient-rich pumpkin food. Even after the ground freezes, you can add organic materials to the garden. The growing season usually begins around the last week in April. By this time, you will want to have your garden prepared for seeding. I suggest preparing at least 500 sq feet of area per pumpkin plant. Make sure the soil within this area is well tilled. Pumpkins do best in 100% sunlight. Try to remove any obstacles that may prevent this. Try to choose an area where water drains well. Pumpkins do not like wet feet!
You want to set your seedlings into the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Pumpkins will NOT survive even a light frost. Therefore, I start all my seeds indoors during the last week in April. Begin by soaking the seeds in a warm, wet paper towel for an hour. Transfer the seed to a 4" peat pot filled with potting soil. Keep soil moist but not soaked. Keep container in a warm area. Within a couple days, a sprout will appear. After a week or two (depending on the outdoor temperature), plant the seedling into the prepared garden space and water thoroughly. You may want to cover the seedling during the night until nighttime temperatures have climbed into the 40's-50's. The pumpkin plant should receive at least 1" of water per week, whether its from rain or hand-watering throughout the whole season. I suggest fertilizing once per week with Miracle Grow 15-30-15 or a similar mixture.
By June the plant should be vining in many directions. This is a very important time for the plant, as it is establishing a large root and leaf system necessary for large fruit growth. You can train the vines to go in any direction you like. I suggest preventing the vines from crossing each other, as this helps to prevent disease and maximizes plant area. Many growers like to bury vines with soil. At each leaf node, the vine will grow a root straight down. This greatly enhances the root system of the plant. This is good, because more roots=more food for the pumpkin.
During the first week of July, you should see flowers appearing on the vines. When you see flowers appear, discontinue fertilization. Pumpkins have two types of flowers, male and female. Males have long stems, and grow upright. Females have a baby sphere-shaped fruit at their base and have short stems. Pumpkins are pollinated by bees, bugs, and people. Successful pollinations are necessary for the fruit to develop, and sometimes there are not enough bees around to do the job. Therefore, it's suggested that you become the "pollinator". This is done by pulling the pollen-loaded anthers from the male flower and rubbing them on a freshly opened female stigma (its that thing in the middle of the flower). Female pumpkin flowers are only receptive for a couple hours in the morning they open (6-10am). So it's a good idea to keep an eye on what flowers are opening.
Try to pollinate as many flowers as you can. This provides a greater opportunity for more fruit to grow. You will know a pollination is successful if the fruit reaches volleyball size and is still growing (in most cases). Once the fruit are set and growing, you then want to thin them out to 2-4 per plant. Fewer fruit per plant means more energy for each pumpkin. Wait until the fruit reach beach ball size to cull them. Simply cutting them off at the stem will do. Make sure to keep the fastest growing, best looking fruit. After you have culled your fruit, slowly reincorporate your fertilizing program.
During the months of July and August, pumpkin will be packing on big weight. In order to maximize this, maintain a consistent watering and fertilizing schedule. Plants do not like stress, anything that can be done to decrease the amount of stress in a pumpkin's life will benefit it (just like people, aren't they?) When the fruit reaches basketball size, align your fruit so that the stem makes a 90-degree angle to the vine. Move slowly, less than an inch per day until the right angle is achieved. This relieves stress and gives the fruit more room to grow. Don't allow summer heat to wilt the leaves, this is very stressful to the plant. Protect your pumpkin from the sun's scorching heat by building a small sun shelter. Prune back vine growth by mid-August so that the plant forces energy into the pumpkin. This is done by pinching off the tips of the vines, a couple per day, until all vines have been pruned.
By September, the nights will become cooler and the fruit growth will slow considerably. Some growers cover the fruit at night with a blanket. This keeps moisture/frost from deteriorating the soft skin. Begin decreasing the amount of fertilizer towards the end of September. This decreases the likelihood of a split, due to quick growth spurts. The final step in the season is to harvest the pumpkin. Most weigh-offs occur the first weekend in October, so check around for information on exact dates. Finally, make sure to sit back and enjoy all the hard work you put into the season, and think about how you are going to beat your record next year!
To download an interesting beginner's seminar Powerpoint presentation