Pumpkin Varieties & Growing Big Ones
by National Gardening Association Editors
Pumpkins are the quintessential fall crop in many parts of the country and a favorite winter squash-yes, pumpkins are squashes, too! Most pumpkins are in the Cucurbita pepo species, directly related to acorn and spaghetti squashes. There are many varieties to choose among. Some are best for carving into jack-o-lanterns, some are bred for cooking and still others were developed just for their tasty seeds. The "Atlantic Giant" types were bred purely for size-they can be truly enormous. Pumpkins are grown similarly to winter squash and require plenty of space to vine.
Growing the Great Pumpkin
Whether you want to challenge the world's record for pumpkin size (it's presently more than 1,000 pounds), or just want to have fun growing a huge pumpkin, that fruit will need lots of water, fertile soil, pampering and care. If you want to go for it, follow these steps.
- Prepare the soil. Apply three to five yards of composted manure per 30-foot-diameter circle where you plan to set each pumpkin seedling.
- Sow seeds. Start 'Atlantic Giant' seeds indoors in six-inch peat pots four weeks before your last frost date. Keep the soil temperature between 80° F and 90° F for best germination.
- Transplant seedlings. When the roots show through the peat pots, transplant the seedlings into the garden.
- Protect seedlings. Place a hot cap over each seedling to protect it from wind and frost. When the seedlings outgrow the hot caps, remove them and place a temporary fence around the patch to deter raccoons and other animals from damaging the vines.
- Pollinate flowers. Hand pollinate the flowers. The sooner you get pumpkins to set fruit, the longer and larger they can grow.
- Fertilize. Give seedlings a 15-30-15 water-soluble fertilizer once a week. Change to a 20-20-20 fertilizer after the fruits have set. Fertilize at a rate of one to two pounds per week per plant until harvest. Keep the plants mulched and well watered all season long.
- Select the best fruit. Select a young plant that's especially tall and seems to be growing the fastest. Prune off all the rest.
- Reposition pollinated pumpkins. Once pumpkin fruits are growing, positioning is important. The largest pumpkins are produced on stems growing at right angles from the main vine. Over the course of one week, gently train the stem of the fruit you've chosen to that position.
- Prune vines. Prune all vines 10 to 12 feet beyond your chosen fruit. Cut all side shoots (shoots that grow between the main vine and a side stem) back to eight feet long and bury the ends of cut vines to reduce water loss.
Pick a Peck of Pumpkins
Days to maturity are from seeding in the garden until first harvest.
'Atlantic Giant' (115) 1,000 pounds; Requires lots of water, heat and feeding to reach its 1,000-pound potential; also good for pies.
'Baby Bear' (105) 2 pounds; All American Selection (AAS) winner; the semi-naked (thin-hulled) seeds of this miniature variety are great for roasting and the flesh is good for cooking.
'Connecticut Field' (115) 20 pounds; Flat-bottomed jack-o-lantern type; great for carving or baking.
'Lumina'(95) 20 pound; Unusual white-skinned, orange-fleshed variety good for ghostly jack-o-lanterns.
'Rouge Vif d'Etampes' (115) 10 pounds; Attractive red-skinned, French type that looks like a cheese wheel; good for pies. Also known as 'Cinderella'.
'Small Sugar' (95) 8 pounds; The pumpkin for pies; fruits have smooth flesh and a small seed cavity.
'Trick or Treat' (110) 8 pounds; All-purpose type developed for seed roasting, but also good for carving and pies; the "naked" seeds are slower and more finicky about germinating than other pumpkin varieties.
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