You could have a pumpkin patch right in your own backyard.
One of the best things about the Halloween season is choosing the perfect pumpkin at the patch or at the store and then spending the afternoon with friends and family carving the pumpkin, drinking apple cider, and playing games. This year, get a head start and grow your own pumpkins in your backyard to save you a trip (and test your green thumb). Choose from store-bought seeds that are ready for planting, or collect the seeds from a pumpkin you just carved—it’s a pretty easy task. Keep in mind that you’ll need plenty of room in your backyard to space out the seeds, so those who lack outdoor space might want to stick to the pumpkin patch or store. Caring for the pumpkins when they’re in ground can be a time intensive process, but as long as you set a routine, there will be big orange gourds in your garden in just a few months. Here, Danny Watson, The Home Depot garden center associate, shares his tips on how to plant pumpkin seeds.
Prep and Select the Seeds.
There are two routes you can take when it comes to the seeds—you can either remove them from the inside of a fresh pumpkin or buy ready-to-plant seeds at your local garden store. If you’re going with the first option, there’s some prepping you’ll need to do before you plant them in the ground.
First, you’ll need to clean off the pulp. Place the seeds in a colander and rinse them with cold water. “Once you’ve rinsed all the seeds, separate and select the biggest seeds,” Watson says. “They have a better chance to grow and flower. Space them out on a paper towel, so they can air-dry.” If you’re not ready to plant them just yet, you can store the seeds by putting them in an envelope and placing in the back of your refrigerator.
For store-bought seeds, Watson suggests choosing from these three varieties: “Autumn Gold,” if you’re looking to grow ones you can carve; “Dill’s Atlantic Giant,” if you want to grow giant pumpkins upwards to 200 pounds; and “Casper,” if you like all-white versions.
Choose a Spot in the Garden.
The pumpkins will need some room to grow, so you’ll need to clear a big spot in your backyard. “Pick a planting site with full sun to light shade,” he says. “Keep in mind that the soil should be able to drain because pumpkins prefer soil that is not too soggy. Check the pH of your soil (which you can do with a kit), it should read between a 6 and 6.8. Make sure the area is clear of any pests, insects, and weeds: “You can use weed block two weeks ahead of planting, which will allow the weeds to die naturally,” he suggests.
Plant at the Right Time.
The best time to plant pumpkin seeds is by late May to early July, so you can enjoy them in the fall. “Pumpkins grow best when you plant the seeds directly into the ground about one inch deep,” Watson says. “Due to large vines, it is best to plant your pumpkin seeds five feet apart. If you are growing a smaller variety of pumpkins, the spacing changes—instead, space them three feet apart.”
Give Them TLC.
Pay attention to any pests, insects, and weeds, especially in the early part of the season. After the plants are about one foot tall, you can start fertilizing with a nitrogen-based fertilizer on a regular basis.
“Diligent watering is very important as the vine can become susceptible to disease,” he says. “Watering in the early morning (around 6 a.m.) is key, especially in the summer months as the hot weather can make the vegetables extra dry.” Watson suggests purchasing a soaker hose.
In addition to watering, you can help the pumpkins stay hydrated by adding mulch around the perimeter. Don’t forget to care for the vine and protect it (and ultimately the pumpkin) from damage. “Once the vines are showing, switch over your fertilizer to one that is high in phosphorous,” he says. “When you are ready to stunt vine growth (after a few pumpkins have formed) pinch off the fuzzy ends of the vine. Pruning the vine is a great way to help with space and focuses blooming plant growth.”
Get Ready to Harvest.
Pumpkins typically have a growing season of 75 to 100 days. A few weeks before it’s time to harvest, remove any leaves that are shading the plant—this will help give the pumpkins more color. “A sign of a ripe pumpkin is when the outside is the proper coloring and the skin is hard to the touch,” Watson says. “The stem is also a sign of the pumpkins’ ripeness. They will be dry to the touch and begin to shrivel.”
When the pumpkin is ready, wear gloves and cut the stem one to four inches, keeping in mind that if you cut it too short, it will not store as long. After cutting the stem, place the pumpkin in the sun for 10 to 14 days to harden and ripen properly.