Teri and her husband live on five acres in Central Ohio, with a vast lawn, three gardens, a farm pond, many trees, and a lot of yard work!
Pumpkins are popping up in Ohio! Be ready for the autumn harvest; you can have your own field of pumpkin orange when planting fruits, vegetables, and flowers in your backyard garden.
In our Central Ohio vine garden, planting pumpkins is simple—we embed the seeds directly into rich, warm, well-draining soil.
Toil the Soil
Tilling and aerating soil is fun if you like to dig in dirt and be greeted by a bunch of squirmy worms. But turning soil does take some muscle power, whether doing it by hand or with a rototiller. Till a garden when soil temperature is at 65 degrees F. In Ohio, that could be late March, early to mid-April, or as late as mid-May. Do not till wet soil.
Prep the Dirt
After tilling an Ohio vine garden:
- Remove stray weeds.
- Shape dirt into small hills to allow for adequate water drainage.
- Add manure or compost into the soil mixture to fertilize naturally.
- Break up large clumps of dirt missed by a motorized tiller.
- Test the soil for acidity. Pumpkins prefer a neutral pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Amend, as necessary.
Spacing Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin vines need a lot of space to spread. Plant your pumpkin garden in an area with full sunlight or late-day filtered shade.
Measure the space available for rows or hills. Vine pumpkins typically need about 50 to 100 square feet per hill, or, if they are small fruits, you can put them in rows at 6 feet apart. For giant pumpkins, follow the direction on the seed package to determine their spacing needs. Pumpkins grow best in rich, well-draining soil. Dig about 18 inches deep for pumpkin plant roots to settle in.
Placing pumpkin seeds directly into the ground of your specially-dug vine garden is best, but in Ohio, our growing season can vary with the weather. If you want to get them started early, plant the seeds indoors about 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost.
Pumpkin seeds do not like cold temperatures; garden soil must be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. (Take the guesswork out of it by purchasing a soil thermometer). Plant pumpkin seeds during the last week of May or early June for harvesting in September or early-mid October.
For soil hills, place four or five seeds into each—an inch deep—in rows that are about 6 to 10 feet apart. Space the hills about 4 to 8 feet apart to accommodate for growing fruits. When the seeds germinate, pull out the weaker plants so that that there are only three sprouts per hill.
Plant flat-land pumpkins in rows; one seed for every 6 inches.
If the soil temperature is ideal, pumpkin seeds should germinate within a few days of planting; seedlings sprout in 5 to 10 days.
As the plants grow, thin out extraneous vegetation by trimming off the shoots.
Watering a Pumpkin Vine Garden
As with most growing vines, pumpkins drink up a lot of water—about an inch per week. But too much water can oversaturate the roots. Digging trenches around the edges may help somewhat, but otherwise, there is little we can do to prevent overflooding in gardens from hard, ongoing rain.
- Hydrate deeply into the soil, especially when fruits are setting.
- Keep foliage and fruits dry (unless the sun is out) because excess water and dampness can lead to root rot and other disease.
- Mulch the topsoil to keep in moisture, prevent weeds and keep pests at bay.
- Cover young plants and seedlings but do not keep them under wraps for too long; they need the sunshine!
Pumpkins attract aphids, squash bugs, snails, slugs, vine borers, and beetles to feast on their young flesh.
Aphids produce a sticky goo called honeydew. Small numbers of aphids can spread disease among pumpkin plants. Treat aphids with light insecticides or a powerful spray of water. Ladybugs are natural predators.
Squash bugs destroy leaves and stems. Carbaryl is an effective insecticide.
Snails and slugs dig into tender flesh of very young, soft-skin pumpkins. Place a ring of sand around the crops to keep snails and slugs away. As the pumpkins grow, their harden skins will protect them.
Beetles are common pests on pumpkins, cucumbers, and squash. Soaking the soil with neem oil or other insecticidal soap controls larvae.
Vine borers are larvae of black and orange sesiid moths that dig into feeding stems to suck up nutrients and kill your growing pumpkins. The Organic Materials Review Institute suggests applying Bacillus thuringiensis (aka “Bt”) on the main stem and leaf stems of the pumpkin plant, but not the flowers. Mulching plant stems, performing vine “surgery,” and using row covers may help keep borers at bay. A fun trick is to place a yellow bowl full of water near pumpkin and squash vines. Because the color attracts moths, insects will try to feed on the bowl and may fall into the water.
Like every garden crop, pumpkins are susceptible to disease. Common problems include gummy stem blight, downy mildew, powdery mildew, white speck, and anthracnose.
Gummy stem blight is an active black rot fungus that spreads during warm, wet weather—targeting pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, and watermelons. Fungicides that treat downy or powdery mildew often work for blight.
Downy mildew shows up as sores on the tops of leaves. The lesions contain yellow spots, or they may have the look of water spots. Fungal spores floating in the wind land on plant vegetation and grow from there. In Ohio, we see a lot of downy mildew on trees and plants, especially when the weather is cool and rainy.
Powdery mildew is easy to spot, it has a white dusty covering of spores that spread from leaves’ lower surfaces to the tops. Unlike downy mildew spores, powdery mildew prefers dry weather. Treat with fungicides, as necessary.
White speck (Plectosporium) displays tan-colored lesions on leaf surfaces. White speck dots can damage a pumpkin’s fruiting flower.
Anthracnose on leaves develops as light brown spots with a darker margin. It punches small holes into the foliage which can spread to the fruit.
In our central Ohio pumpkin and cucumber vine gardens, we find a few damaged gourds every season. But weekly care allows us to have our own home-grown pumpkins each year.
Harvest and Storage
When it comes to picking pumpkins, remember this; It does not matter how big they are. If the fruits are a deep solid color—orange, for most varieties—it’s time for harvesting. Vines start turning brown and then die off.
Do not pick pumpkins because of their size (if you want small ones, choose small varieties) or when they are green. Harvest pumpkins at maturity on dry days after vines have died back. Miniature pumpkins typically ripen about 85 days after planting, while Jack O’Lanterns can take up to 125 days.
Tap the pumpkin and listen, hard rinds sound hollow. Push your fingernail into the rind … if the pumpkin skin resists the poke, it is ripe.
Cut the fruit from the vine with a sharp knife or pair of pruning shears, leaving 3 or 4 inches of stem on top of the pumpkin.
Set pumpkins in the sun for about a week to toughen the rind.
Store in cool, dry rooms, cellars, garages, or locations where the temperature is about 55 degrees F.
Popular Pumpkin Varieties for Ohio Gardens
There is more to choosing the right kind of pumpkins for your patch than picking up a pack of seeds at the garden store. Whether you display them on a front porch, cook them in a pie, carve them for Halloween, or use them with fall décor, there is a pumpkin variety best suited for just about everything. Here are a few recommendations for Ohio gardens.
Mini pumpkins vines are prolific, producing up to 12 fruits per plant.
- ‘Jack Be Little’
Carving pumpkins are perfect for Halloween and other fall decorations.
- ‘Autumn Gold’
- ‘Harvest Moon’
- ‘Connecticut Field’
- ‘Gold Fever’
Mega huge pumpkins are fun to display … if you can lift them. ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’ can weigh as much as 200 pounds, and ‘Big Max’ grows from 100 to 300 pounds. Whichever you choose, be sure there is enough room (and nutrients) in your vine garden for these babies!
Medium and large pumpkin varieties are perfect for baking into pies and roasting seeds.
- ‘Sugar Treat’
- ‘Baby Bear’
- ‘Cinderella’s Carriage’
- ‘Baby Pam’
- ‘Harvest Moon’
Pumpkins are supposed to be orange, right? Not always.
You can grow decorative white pumpkins like ‘Moonshine,’ ‘Baby Boo,’ ‘Casper,’ ‘Casperita,’ ‘Crystal Star,’ ‘Valenciano,’ ‘Polar Bear,’ and ‘Lumina White.’
Go green and orange with ‘Batwing.’ This variety has a tie-dye effect—some are completely orange, some are green dripping in orange (and vice versa) with batwing patterns, and some are dark green. You might even see deep blue hues.
‘Blue Doll’ is a “good eating” gray-white pumpkin with greenish blue hues.
“Blue Jarrahdale” is an heirloom pumpkin with blueish-green skin. The insides have stringless, thick, sweet orange flesh good for eating.
‘Futsu Black’ is actually a deep green pumpkin (that looks black) lwith bumpy skin and golden orange flesh.
‘Speckled Hound’ is a small light coral colored pumpkin with light green splotches.
‘Sweet Lightning’ is yellowish-white with orange stripes and speckles.
- Pumpkin flowers may not form fruits right away—both female and male blossoms must be open for pollination.
- Bees pollinate flowers. Insecticides kill bees. If necessary, use chemical bug killer late in the day (when flowers are closed).
- Manure, compost, water, and fertilizer provide food for pumpkins that are constantly drawing nutrients from the ground. Growing very large pumpkins, watermelons, apples and the like may be fun, but they are not easy to handle (or eat).
- Much like pruning a flower bush, remove old flowers of each pumpkin vine—this keeps the vine from growing too long while prompting new flowers to emerge. Pumpkin vines are delicate; be careful not to damage them.
- Gently turn growing pumpkins to promote firm shapes and even coloring.
- Ripening pumpkins draw hungry critters; placing thin boards or heavy cardboard over the soil (without twisting the vines) lessens insect damage and fruit decay.
- Poor sunlight, too much fertilizing, fewer bees to pollinate, and inclement weather can keep fruiting flowers from blooming. If there are a lot of vines and flowers but no pumpkins, your yard needs more flowers! Blooming flowers will draw bees and butterflies whose pollinating skills will get the job done.
Gardeners and the 5 W’s
After soil is tilled and seeds are planted, comes what we call the 5 W’s.
Water. Weed. Wait. Wonder. Worry.
Water and weed the soil. Wait to see how many seeds germinate. Wonder if the weather will cooperate. Worry that some (or all) of the crops won’t grow to maturity.
Gardeners know how farmers feel—albeit on a smaller scale.
But when it’s harvesting time, nature’s bounty makes it all worth it.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Teri Silver