Pumpkin season is just beginning but really it’s kind of already over.
Life moves fast — faster still for squash — and besides, the growing season actually started a few months ago. All that’s left now is deciding where you want to carve the eye holes.
Cheer up, though. It’s never too early to start planning.
“This is a good time to keep an eye on what you’re favorite pumpkin varieties are,” said Shari Edelson, director of horticulture and curator at The Arboretum at Penn State.
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The early bird catches the worm
Pumpkins and super-villainy have a lot in common — which is to say that the earlier you can start fine tuning that overly-elaborate master plan of yours, the better.
“Take advantage of cold winter weather to sit by the fire and look through seed catalogs,” Edelson said.
If you’re looking to lock down the bragging rights to the biggest pumpkins on the block, take a page out of The Arboretum’s playbook and try some seeds from the Big Moose branch of the family.
Take advantage of cold winter weather to sit by the fire and look through seed catalogues.
Curb your enthusiasm
So now you have your seeds and you’d like to plant them, wouldn’t you? Well too bad!
Edelson advises to wait until the soil temperature is at least 70 degrees.
“You have to wait until all danger of frost is gone,” Edelson said.
If your thermometer is on the fritz but your calendar works just fine, take a big red pen and circle June 1 — Edelson’s recommendation for optimal pumpkin planting.
There’s never too much compost
When it does come time to put seeds in the ground, you’ll want to get them at least an inch under the soil.
“Otherwise, they don’t really stand a chance against hungry birds,” Edelson said.
Also, you’re going to want to add compost. A lot of compost. Almost too much compost.
“That makes a huge difference in terms of how successful you’ll be,” Edelson said.
Plant the seeds at least 6 inches apart. After a few weeks of growth you’ll have to go in and thin the heard. It turns out that what Darwin said applies to pumpkins too — only the strong get to survive.
“Seeds are so inexpensive that this is the way to do it,” Edelson said.
Protect your investment
Edelson recommends using row covers — basically thin, white blankets for plants — to help protect your pumpkins from menacing insects.
“It looks kind of crazy but it really, really works,” Edelson said.
As soon as yellow flowers start to appear, remove the covers to make way for helpful pollinators like your friendly neighborhood bumblebee.
It looks kind of crazy but it really, really works.
Conserve energy (and water)
This one depends on the scope of your ambition — or backyard. If big pumpkins and big pumpkins alone are the mandate, consider cutting some of the smaller ones loose, along with any other excess buds that may have blossomed.
“The plant has a certain amount of energy that it can put into producing its fruit,” Edelson said.
Eliminating stragglers helps to channel that energy where it’s needed most — ditto when it comes to water consumption.
Once the vines start to become long and unwieldy, Edelson advises focusing the bulk of your water wherever the roots are located.
Take your pumpkins for a spin
Once the fruit starts to turn orange, rotate your pumpkins to promote a rounder shape and even coloring. Nobody likes a jack-o’-lantern that looks like the victim of a bad spray-on tan.
No such thing as waiting too long
Once your good and sure that the pumpkins are ready to harvest … go read a book or something.
“There’s no such thing as waiting too long,” Edelson said.
Use pruning sheers to cut your pumpkin from the vine, making sure to leave a few inches of stem.
“It actually helps to keep it from rotting,” Edelson said.
Just to be sure, keep your pumpkin in a warm/dry place for up to five days.