How to Grow Pumpkins From Seed
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The only thing I love more than our annual trip to the pumpkin patch each fall is being able to harvest pumpkins right from our own garden. Sugar Pie pumpkins, French heirlooms, Jack-O-Lanterns, white Luminas… there are so many varieties to choose from, and growing pumpkins at home allows you to grow types that you might not find at your local pumpkin patch (and ones you certainly won’t find at your average grocery store!)
While pumpkins do require a bit of space to grow (ie. they’re probably not the best candidate for a container garden on your balcony), if you’ve got room for a garden, then be sure to make room for a pumpkin patch because these fall fruits (yes, they are technically a fruit) are fun, easy and rewarding to grow at home.
Selecting pumpkin varieties for your home garden
When selecting the types of pumpkins you want to grow, the varieties you choose will depend on whether you’re looking for a good pie or eating pumpkin, a large carving pumpkin for Halloween or something more unique and decorative.
Now, just to clarify, all pumpkins are technically edible, however some varieties have a lower sugar content and a higher water content, making them less flavourful and appealing, but good candidates for carving and decorating.
If you’re just getting started growing and using pumpkins at home, here are a few of the varieties I recommend.
If you’re looking for a good pumpkin for making pumpkin pie, sugar pumpkins (aka. sugar pie pumpkins) are the quintessential pumpkin pie pumpkin (hence the name).
These pumpkins have a high sugar/low water content and are excellent in all sorts of fall baking dishes as well as savoury pumpkin dishes like pumpkin soup or pumpkin ravioli.
There are many good eating pumpkins, but this is definitely one of the most popular for cooking and baking.
If, however, you’re looking for a good carving pumpkin, you’ll want to opt for a larger variety like a Jack-O-Lantern or a white Lumina pumpkin if you’re looking for a white carving pumpkin.
A tip to avoid confusion: if you’re looking for Jack-O-Lantern seeds, some seed companies simply call them Jack-O-Lantern seeds while other companies sell varieties of Jack-O-Lantern seeds such as Wolf Pumpkins and Early Giants.
Unique Heirloom Varieties
If you want something a little different, there are some really cool heirloom varieties that are as visually stunning as they are delicious. Some that I recommend include the French “Rouge Vif d’Etampes” (aka. Cinderella Pumpkins), “Galeux d’Eysines” and “Musquée De Provence,” as well as Long Island Cheese and Flat White Boer pumpkins.
A ‘heads up’ about pumpkin seeds
Remember to always start with organic seeds from a reputable source. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest, I like to get almost all of my seeds from West Coast Seeds (not an affiliate… I just love this company).
But there are lots of great seed companies out there, and I always recommend going local, especially when it comes to seeds because they’ll be better acclimated to your growing area, so check at your local farmer’s market and garden store for a good local seed company in your area.
Also, don’t bother trying to save seeds from pumpkins you bought at the grocery store or got at the pumpkin patch. While those seeds are perfectly fine for roasting and eating, different types of pumpkins and squashes are notorious for cross-pollinating with each other, so the plant that grows from one of those seeds likely won’t turn out to be quite what you’d expect it to be, but rather a fish-mash between two different varieties of parent plants. These “hybrid” offspring usually aren’t very good to eat either.
Case in point, we had a volunteer pumpkin grow in our garden last year from a seed that had been in our compost. We had been growing a mix pumpkins and spaghetti squashes in our garden the season before, so the resulting plant had the colouring of a pumpkin, the shape of a spaghetti squash, and the flavour and texture of neither.
Moral of the story: start with good seeds. Then it’s time to start planting:)
How to grow pumpkins from seed
- Choose a location with well-drained soil that gets full sun and lots of room for pumpkin vines to sprawl out.
- You can start seeds indoors or direct sow them.
- If you live in a cold climate, start seeds indoors 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost to give pumpkins enough time to mature.
- If you live in a cool/temperate climate, start seeds indoors 3 to 4 weeks before planting out OR direct sow them in late May/early June.
- In warm locations, direct sow seeds all the way up to mid July for a fall harvest.
- Add some finished compost, composted manure or organic fertilizer to each mound before planting.
- Plant in hills or mounds that are 5 or 6 feet apart.
- If direct sowing, plant seeds 1 inch deep. Plants should germinate in 5 to 10 days.
Pumpkin seeds germinate easily, but they require warmth, so depending on where you live, you may or may not want to start seeds indoors to give them a jump on the growing season.
Most of the time it’s best to direct sow seeds so as not to disturb their roots when transplanting. Wait until the soil warms up to 70-95ºF (25-35ºC).
In cooler climates, direct sow seeds a few weeks past your last frost date once soil has warmed up and all danger of frost has passed (usually late May/early June), or start seeds indoors 3 to 4 weeks before your last frost date if you’ve got a really short growing season.
If you live in a warmer climate, you can plant all the way into July for a fall harvest.
Pumpkins typically need abut 75-100 frost-free growing days, so if you’re not sure when to plant, check the last and first average frost dates for your area and calculate the number of days in between to determine the best time to start seeds and whether to start indoors or direct so them. Click here to find the first and last average frost dates for your location.
If you do start pumpkin seeds indoors, your best bet is to grow them in newspaper pots or peat pots so that when it’s time to transplant you can plant the entire pot without disturbing the plant’s roots.
Pumpkins are heavy feeders that require lots of space, warmth and sunlight while growing, so choose a location that gets full sun (or at least only partial shade) with enough room for pumpkin vines to grow, and add in some compost or organic fertilizer to each mound before planting.
Plants also do best in areas with well-drained soil, so creating mounds or hills will help to ensure good soil drainage and will also help keep soil warmer than the soil deeper in the ground.
Space mounds at least 5 to 6 feet apart in order to allow pumpkin vines enough space to sprawl out as they grow. Direct sow seeds 1 inch deep. To ensure good germination rates, plant 3 or 4 seeds per mound and thin them out as they begin to grow. If transplanting seedlings, plant one per mound.
How to Care for Pumpkin Plants
- Keep soil around pumpkin plants well watered but try to avoid getting the leaves wet.
- Mulch around pumpkin plants to keep soil moist and keep weeds at bay.
- Feed pumpkin plants a weekly dose of nitrogen-rich fertilizer for best results.
- As pumpkins begin to grow larger, gently rotate them so that the same side doesn’t remain laying on the ground. This helps ensure more evenly rounded pumpkins.
- You can train vines up a trellis if you’re growing a small pumpkin variety and are short on space.
- Pumpkins require bees for cross-pollination, so do what you can to encourage bees into your garden and as always, refrain from using pesticides!
Pumpkins require lots of water but they don’t like to get their leaves wet. Water the soil deeply once a week and keep the soil moist, but try to avoid watering from overhead in order to keep the leaves dry. Setting up a drip irrigation system can help with this.
Mulch around the pumpkin plants to help keep the soil moist and keep weeds from growing. Hand weed any weeds that do pop up so that they don’t compete for nutrients.
Pumpkins are also heavy feeders. Fertilize regularly by applying a nitrogen-rich fertilizer weekly for optimum results.
As pumpkins grow, rotate them very gently to encourage even colour and roundedness. If you’re trying to grow large pumpkins, consider pinching off any other fruits that begin to form (aside from the one you want to grow) so that all of the energy goes into producing one large fruit on each vine.
You can also prune vines in order to direct more energy into the fruits or if you’re short on space. Another option for smaller spaces is to train pumpkin vines up a trellis. While all vines can technically be trained up a trellis, it’s obviously easier to do this with smaller pumpkin varieties as the fruits aren’t as large and heavy.
Also, refrain from using herbicides and pesticides (for obvious reasons), however especially because pumpkin plants are dependent on bee pollination. Encourage bees into your garden by companion planting flowers and perhaps even consider setting up a Mason bee “hotel.”
How to Harvest and Store Pumpkins
- Harvest pumpkins when they’re mature and have fully turned orange (or whatever colour they are meant to turn when fully mature).
- Harvest on a dry day once the vines have begun to die back.
- Cut pumpkins off the vine with a sharp knife or pruners. Leave a few inches of stem.
- Cure pumpkins off the vine in the sun for a week or two to harden up the skins. Then transfer to a root cellar or cold room.
Wait until pumpkins are fully mature before harvesting. If you harvest pumpkins too early and they’re still green and developing, they won’t be good to eat and they won’t continue to ripen off the vine like some fruits do, so be patient. Pumpkins are ready for harvest when the vines begin to die back (when they start to dry up and stop growing) and the pumpkins turn solid orange, or whatever colour they’re meant to be when fully mature.
At the same time, don’t wait too long to harvest them in the fall. A hard frost can cause pumpkins that have been left on the vine to rot once they thaw out.
Harvest on a dry day. Cut pumpkins off the vine with a sharp knife or pruners. Do not rip or tear them off as this can leave jagged ends on the stem that invite disease that could rot your pumpkin. Leave a few inches of stem.
Pumpkins store well for long periods of time if they are cured well and stored in the right conditions. For best results, cure pumpkins in the sun for a week or two to harden and thicken up the skins, then transfer to a root cellar or cold room.
If the weather turns or you can’t cure them outside for any reason, you can cure them inside. Try to cure them in a warm, sunny place indoors, like near a sunny window. Store in a cool place if you don’t have a root cellar. A garage works well or if nothing else, pop them on the floor or bottom shelf in your pantry.
Pumpkins last months when cured and stored correctly so they’re a great candidate for preserving through the winter, especially since you don’t have to do much to preserve them!
However, they can be a bit finicky to cut up and prepare. To save time while cooking (and make your pumpkins shelf stable for a much longer period of time), learn how to can pumpkin at home.
For more ideas on how to use fresh pumpkin, check out this post with 25 real pumpkin recipes to make at home.
For information on how to grow other common vegetables from seed, check out the following guides:
- How to Grow Tomatoes From Seed
- How to Grow Broccoli From Seed
- How to Grow Peas From Seed
- How to Grow Carrots From Seed
- How to Grow, Cure & Store Garlic At Home
P.S. Don’t forget to download a free copy of my seed-starting starting cheat sheet, with at-a-glance information on how to grow 10 common garden vegetables from seed!
Wishing you health, wealth and homegrown pumpkins:)
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