In New England, pumpkins are some of the best bumper crops you can grow, and they have a reputation for producing overflowing patches of the orange gourds in the fall as they go through the stages of pumpkin growth. But, how do you get to the point that you have large pumpkins to harvest? In this guide that walks through the stages of pumpkin growth, we’ll break down what you need to know to grow your own. We’ll also share a few popular uses for the leftover pumpkins, and some popular pumpkin cultivars you can pick to grow in your garden.
The stages of pumpkin growth near the end when the pumpkin’s color starts to darken and the skin hardens. Pumpkins can take between three and four months to be ready to harvest, and to get there, the following steps will help.
All pumpkins go through the same stages of pumpkin growth, no matter the final size, color, or cultivar. So, it’s easy to grow several different pumpkins at the same time.
Six Stages of Pumpkin Growth
After you get in the habit of growing pumpkins for a few years, you’ll learn a few nuances with the stages of pumpkin growth that can help you maximize your crops. Luckily, pumpkins are easy to grow, and figuring out the stages and when they’re ready to harvest is even easier. The growth stages are:
Stage One – Pumpkin Seed Germination
The beginning of the stages of pumpkin growth is quick. Pumpkin seeds tend to germinate and grow very quickly with the right conditions, and every pumpkin plant starts at this stage. However, before you start trying to germinate seeds, you want to know a few things. First, pumpkins are a warm-weather crop. They don’t do well in colder temperatures, and if the temperature should drop below 50°F, this can drastically slow the pumpkins’ growth rate.
Also, any exposure to frost will kill your crop. Pumpkins are also available in a range of cultivars and sizes. To start the stages of pumpkin growth, make sure the temperature will stay between 65°F and 85°F to get the biggest crop. You don’t want to sow any seeds outside until the last frost of the spring has been there and gone.
Generally speaking, in the United States, you sow the pumpkin seeds between late May and early June. You should double-check the final frost date in your area before you do anything. If you live in the southern portion of the United States, it’s easier to plant your pumpkins a little earlier in the season without worrying about frost.
If you’re trying to give your pumpkins a head start on the stages of pumpkin growth, you can germinate the seeds inside a few weeks before the final frost date. If you use peat pots, your pumpkins should germinate easily. Water your plants using warm water once a day, and they should sprout within a week. Room temperature water is the trick to quick germination here, and it should be just a small level above room temperature to be perfect.
If you decide that you want to plant your seeds right in the garden, you should sow them roughly an inch deep using a nutrient-rich soil. You should separate the seeds by two or three feet. Remember that your plants like to spread out, so they’ll need room. They can stretch between 10 and 20 feet long, depending on the cultivar.
Stage Two – Pumpkin Seedlings
Once you have seedlings, you can sow them right in the ground between one and two inches deep. Pumpkin seedlings are relatively low-maintenance and hardy, and they look very similar to baby zucchini plants at this stage of pumpkin growth.
After you water your seedlings for a week or so, you’ll notice the next stage of pumpkin growth starting, or the pumpkin seedling. As you look at these seedlings, you should notice that they plant looks robust, thick, and rubbed compared to most other seedlings in your garden. You also shouldn’t have a problem with leggy pumpkins when you germinate them inside, and they grow very fast.
It shouldn’t be long before the roots on your plants start coming through the bottom of your peat pot. You should transplant your seedlings within one to two weeks after they germinate. The more sunlight you can give them inside before you plant them, the better. Try to plan on planting the seedlings the day after the last frost date for your area.
Stage Three – Developing Pumpkin Plant
A few weeks after you transplant the seedlings, you’ll notice the next stage of pumpkin growth starting. The plant will start creating a pumpkin leaf canopy, and the vine will start to stretch a lot further from the plant. As the plant develops and matures, you’ll notice a few key details. First, the mature pumpkin plant will form a hardy canopy after a few weeks. You’ll have to keep an eye out under this leaf canopy for pests because it makes it easy for them to hide. You’ll also notice that your plant is starting to put out tendrils at this stage of pumpkin growth.
These tendrils will help the pumpkin vine survive winds, and they will also work to secure it in your garden. This will stop the vines from moving all over the place. The other important reason why you plant your pumpkins two or three feet apart on each side is because the tendrils will choke out the weaker vegetables and flowers. Under the right temperature conditions, your plant will grow very quickly.
Now that you have a general overview of the pumpkin plant growth rate and stages, let’s look at the pumpkin itself. This way, you can tell at a glance how far along your pumpkin is during the various stages of pumpkin growth.
If you get the growth conditions correct, you’ll have a huge bumper crop of pumpkins come fall.
Stage Four – The Pumpkin Flower
When your pumpkin flowers bloom, this is arguably one of the most exciting stages of pumpkin growth as the flowers represent new life. Pumpkins will produce both female and male flowers, and like many other plants in the garden, they produce the male flowers before the female ones. The male flowers can show up a few weeks before the females. As both of these flowers start to develop with your plant, the pumpkins will need all of the help they can get with pollination with bees. If you don’t have enough bees around to carry out this task, your plants can fail to pollinate.
Sometimes, if it’s very wet out, the pumpkins can fail to pollinate. Both bees and pumpkin plants like moist weather that isn’t too wet. If there are no bees around, you’ll most likely see flowers but no pumpkins.
Stage Five – Baby Pumpkin Development
If your flowers are successfully pollinated, this will kick off the next stage of pumpkin growth. You’ll see a baby pumpkin start to form on the female flower. So, if the female pumpkin flower pollinates, you’ll see a baby pumpkin forming. This is where all of your hard work will start to show potential. As the pumpkin starts to form, you’ll want to pay close attention and ensure that they get plenty of sunlight and water with moderate temperatures. The soil should be moist but not soaked, and most pumpkin cultivars will do best in a temperature range of 50°F and 85°F.
But, should the temperature drop below 40°F at night, it can stunt the stages of pumpkin growth, and they won’t get to their full potential. The same is true should the weather get too dry and humid. If the temperatures start to get around 95°F, your pumpkins can shrivel up and fail to reach their true mature size.
Stage Six – Mature Pumpkin Ready for Harvest!
During the final stages of pumpkin growth, you may notice that not every mature pumpkin will turn a dark orange color. You may see orange, red, black, tan, white, or multicolored pumpkins, depending on the cultivar you picked out. The pumpkin will be ready to harvest when it’s a very deep orange color and the skin feels hard to the touch. Not all pumpkins are necessarily orange, and it can turn a deep blue, tan, or red instead.
Do a little research on your cultivar so you know how your mature pumpkin looks at the end of the stages of pumpkin growth. As you harvest the pumpkin, you may want to protect your hands as the vines come with small thorns, like roses. Get a pair of gardening gloves and a sharp pair of gardening scissors and start working on them.
Also, when you start harvesting your pumpkins, make sure there is a few inches of stem left on the pumpkin. This can help prevent the skin from puncturing when you remove it from the vine. If you want the pumpkin to survive until Halloween or Thanksgiving, a puncture will prevent it. Pumpkins also tend to be more aesthetically pleasing with a longer stem attached.
- Curing – Once you harvest your pumpkins, you’ll need to leave them outside in a sunny spot to cure for roughly two weeks. Curing will harden the skin of the pumpkins and make them last longer. If there is frost or rain predicted, you’ll need to move them to a protected spot to finish the curing process.
- Storage – Pumpkins can last for upwards of six months or longer if you store them correctly. Put them harvested and cured pumpkins in a dark, cool room in a single layer so that the air circulates between them. Check your pumpkins each week and discard any that show molding signs.
13 Popular Pumpkin Cultivars
Even though there are dozens of types of pumpkins available, they all go through the same stages of pumpkin growth. The following 13 cultivars are popular for use in decorations and eating.
This is a huge pumpkin cultivar that can easily get upwards of 200 pounds at full maturity and a spread of 12 feet. So, you’ll need a lot of space or an extra-large container to keep it happy. These pumpkins are usually grown for show because they’re not very tasty and seedy. However, they’re a fun project to attempt to display at your local harvest festival or country fair.
This is a special hybrid pumpkin cultivar because it has the “precious yellow gene” that turns it to a golden color a few weeks before other pumpkins complete the stages of pumpkin growth. So, it skips the green stage. This pumpkin offers picturesque ribbing that makes them an excellent contender to sit on your front steps, and they’re also great to use in pies. You can carve one and save the seeds to toast later.
These smaller pumpkin cultivars are great for eating or decorating, and they can survive frost and sunlight without a problem. This is technically a type of acorn squash, and they form on a vining plant. So, you’ll need space for them to grow on a fence or trellis. You can carve them, paint them, or stuff them to get pretty fall appetizers.
This pretty pumpkin comes with a flattened shape to it with a pale blue-gray rind and a bright orange interior. The vines will get roughly five feet long, so it won’t need as much space as other cultivars. They are usually seven to nine pounds at the end of the stages of pumpkin growth, and they are very pretty display pieces. The flesh on this pumpkin is creamy instead of stringy, and it’s sweet for baking and cooking.
White pumpkins aren’t something that comes to mind when you think of what to use in the kitchen, but this pumpkin comes with an ivory skin and a delicious, thick orange flesh that is great to cook with. They work well in baked goods or pies, and they’re also pretty as a decorative element.
This pumpkin has powdery-mildew resistant qualities that make them great for carving, and they’re also easy to grow. This pumpkin comes with shorter vines, tough, slender handles, and a stunning deep orange coloring that makes them a pretty, durable addition to your fall garden.
There are many types of pumpkins you can pick out to grow in your garden, and some are better for eating while some serve decorative purposes.
Cinderella’s Carriage is a heirloom type of pumpkin that makes a very nice display piece, especially if you stack them on top of one another for a centerpiece. It has a pretty color with a semi-sweet flavor, and it’s a great pick to make into pies.
You can consider this to be the original Halloween pumpkin. It was first grown in the New England area by Native Americans, and it’s one of the oldest pumpkin species available. They come with flat bottoms and round bodies, and this makes them excellent for carving once you allow them to go through the stages of pumpkin growth.
This is another classic pumpkin shape that is excellent for painting or carving. It has very smooth skin in an orange hue, extra-sturdy stems, distinctive grooves, and it gets between seven and nine pounds. They make perfect pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns, and they’re very resistant to powdery mildew.
Just going by the name, you know this is going to be an excellent carving pumpkin. They weigh roughly 20 pounds at full maturity, and they offer a very solid rind with a roundish or oval shape. Although most people won’t use it in pumpkin pie, it’s edible. You can actually roast it to use it in muffins, pies, and soups.
Marina Di Chioggia
This is an Italian heirloom cultivar that has a warty, dark green rind that is very eye-catching when you set up fall displays. It has a sweet flavor profile that makes it very popular in traditional Italian dishes like ravioli and gnocchi. You may want to grow your own as it can be difficult to find them in the store.
As the name suggests, these pumpkins are on the smaller side, and they max out at 10 inches in diameter. They have fine-grained, sweet flesh that is great for making pies or roasting. To make a puree, you wash the rind, clean out the strings and seeds, and roast it at 350°F for an hour. It’s done when you can poke it with a fork and have it pierce the rind easily. Scrap the cooked pumpkin out using a spoon and puree it to use it in quick breads and purees.
If you’re after a gourd that will impress everyone who sees it, look no further than this cultivar. They vary in size, shape, and color, but they’re very noteworthy for the prominent blossom-end that they produce that pokes out the top. It looks like a colorful, pretty, small pumpkin trying to grow out of the bigger one.
How to Use Pumpkins – Eight Suggestions
No matter if you bought a smaller sugar Pie pumpkin or a giant one to carve for Halloween, the day after the holiday can bring out a dilemma. What do you do with the leftover pumpkin that won’t result in a lot of waste? Luckily for you, there are a lot of things you can do when your pumpkins reach the end of the stages of pumpkin growth. We’ve listed eight suggestions below for you.
1. Bird Feeder
If you’ve got a light, small pumpkin and you don’t want to use it for pumpkin puree, you can make a bird feeder. Start by hollowing out the pumpkin and adding stick perches to it. Get a rope sling to hang it, and monitor it so you can throw it away when the pumpkin starts to rot.
If you have pumpkins that you can’t use for another purpose, you can compost it. This is especially helpful if it’s decaying. You can chop up your pumpkin and put it in your composting machine or pile. There are many different types of compost bins available today, and some will compost your pumpkin in as little as four hours. This allows you to create a very nutrient-rich compost for your garden in a fraction of traditional compost piles.
3. Garden Planter
Pumpkins will eventually break down, so if you want to do something with the leftovers that won’t have debris in the end, you can make it into a degradable planter. Fill the shell with your chosen potting soil and add a plant or flowers you like. Once the pumpkin starts to break down, plant the entire thing in the ground so the pumpkin will act like fertilizer.
4. Pumpkin Latte
Most items that get marketed as “pumpkin spice” are just the spices you use in pumpkin pie. However, if you have some puree left after making soup or pie, you can use it for lattes. With a little coffee, milk, spices, and a few tablespoons of your puree, you can get homemade pumpkin spice lattes in a few minutes.
5. Pumpkin Pie
Once you remove the stringy interior and seeds, the meat from inside the pumpkin can be made into fresh pumpkin puree once you scoop it out. You can save the rind for composting, as we outlined above, and you can puree the pumpkin and divide it up into measured portions. If you don’t want to use it right now, you can freeze these portions for up to a year.
6. Pumpkin Soup
If you like savory food instead of sweet, you can roast pumpkins and blend them into a soup. You can find virtually any recipes you need to cover specific dietary requirements, including vegan. Once you remove the seeds and cut the pumpkin up, you’ll roast sections and then peel them. Cooking the pumpkin first makes the outer skin easier to peel off. Smaller pumpkins are big enough to produce enough meat to make a lot of soup.
Pumpkin soup is a very fall-themed food, and you can easily make it with a few simple ingredients from your garden.
7. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Roasted pumpkin seeds are one of the easiest things you can make and eat, no matter which cultivar you pick out. When you carve your pumpkins, remove the seeds and refrigerate them straight away. If you have an old pumpkin from Halloween left, save the seeds as you carve the pumpkin to make pumpkin puree later. Remove the stringy bits and roast them low and slow in the oven with a bit of salt.
8. Vegetable Stock
Most vegetable stock uses celery, carrots, and onion trimmings, but you can easily make a pumpkin-based vegetable stock. This recipe requires you to cut up the pumpkin and combine the whole thing, including the stringy guts and seeds with water and onion. Next, boil, simmer, and strain, inside for a few minutes. You now have stock that you can use in place of water when you make risotto or for soup.
We’ve outlined the stages of pumpkin growth, 13 great cultivars to try, and what you can do with the leftover pumpkin when you get a big crop. You can take this guide and try it to get your own bumper crop just in time for fall.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.