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Time to Plant Pumpkins

Growing pumpkins is relatively easy as long as you have rich soil, full sun, and lots of water. I've successfully grown pumpkins of smaller varieties in large containers, which is especially helpful in taming the wild vines. Now is a good time to get started!

General Tips for Growing Pumpkins:

  1. For best results, plant good quality seeds rather than the seedlings you see at the gardening centers (they don't transplant very well).

  2. Plant after there is no chance for frost and the days average at least 70º. Most varieties take about 4-5 months to fully mature.

  3. The area to plant must have full sun, rich soil, good water drainage and be big enough for the large vines. Also, note that it's not the most attractive plant after the pumpkins begin to grow.

  4. Water deeply but only as needed, and never get the leaves wet.

  5. Watch for pests like aphids and powdery mildew which can kill a whole vine.

Pumpkin Varietals

You should also consider what kind of pumpkin you'd like to grow. There are countless varieties but they generally fall in four general categories:

  1. Sugar pumpkins - thinner skins, sweeter, dryer flesh perfect for baking a pie

  2. Carving pumpkins - thicker, more stable rinds perfect for jack-o-lanterns

  3. Miniature pumpkins - smaller versions with longer shelf life usually used for decorating

  4. Ornamentals - warty, unusual colors, inedible, and typically much harder to carve

Here's a visual guide to some of the many pumpkins (and squashes) available. My favorites are the greenish Jarrahdale, the fairytale Musque de Provence, the white-skinned Lumina (similar to the Casper White pictured here), and of course, the cute as button Jack-Be-Little.

I last grew pumpkins in 2014 right as Northern California fell in to a severe drought that lasted several subsequent years. Pumpkins require a lot of water and we were on rations. None the less, i got five healthy pumpkins. Here they are still in the vine.

Pumpkins... on a Stick?

What looks like a pumpkin but isn't? Every Autumn, our local Trader Joes carries bunches of flowers which include a stick of miniature pumpkins. It's called Pumpkin on a Stick (but goes by many names: Hmong Eggplant, Red China Eggplant, Mock Tomato, Pumpkin Tree, Pumpkin Bush) and grows 3-4 feet tall on upright purple-throned stalks. As it turns out, they aren't pumpkins at all, but rather eggplant! The bitter, spicy fruit is edible and used in many Asian cuisines, but it's grown mainly as an ornamental in the U.S. The reddish fruit can be dried on the stalk which then take on the familiar orange hue. Learn how to grow it on and buy seeds at or Botanical Interests. And keep an eye out for them at Trader Joe's when they show up every fall in the floral department.

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