Thought to have originated in South America; related to squash, gourd, and melon. Pumpkins are available in vining and bush types. Both need lots of room: a single vine can cover 500 sq. ft., and even bush sorts can spread over 20 sq. ft. Fruit varies greatly in size, depending on the variety. One of the best for a jumbo Halloween pumpkin is ‘Atlantic Giant’. ‘Orange Smoothie’ is smooth skinned, making it easy to decorate with paint. ‘Small Sugar’, a smaller pumpkin with finer-grained, sweeter flesh, is great for pies. ‘Jack Be Little’ and ‘Wee-B-Little’ are miniature (3–4-in.) types used for decoration. Novelties with white skin and orange flesh include miniature ‘Baby Boo’ and 8–10-in. ‘Lumina’. Seeds of all are edible, but the easiest to eat are those of hull-less varieties like ‘Trick or Treat’.
Giant pumpkins aren’t special varieties; they are ordinary full-size pumpkins grown in a special way (though gardeners aiming for colossal fruits do have favorites, such as ‘Atlantic Giant’). As the plant develops, cut off all but two main stems. After blossom set, remove all but one fruit on each stem. Along each stem’s length, mound a 4-in.-wide hill of soil every 2 ft.; roots will form there.
Where the growing season is short, start plants indoors and use floating row covers early in the season. In most areas, sow seeds outdoors in late spring after the soil has warmed; plant in rich soil. For vining pumpkins, sow five or six seeds 1 in. deep in hills 6–8 ft. apart; thin seedlings to two per hill. Plant bush pumpkins in rows spaced 3 ft. apart; plant seeds 1 in. deep in clusters of three or four, spacing clusters 2 ft. apart along the row. Thin seedlings to one or two plants per cluster.
Give periodic fertilizer. Water regularly during rainless periods, but keep foliage dry to prevent leaf diseases. Plants do not perform well in high heat and humidity. In late summer, slide wooden shingles or other protection under fruit to protect it from wet soil and rot (not necessary if soil is sandy).
Squash bugs cause leaves to wilt and may damage fruit. To control, destroy yellowish to brown egg clusters on undersides of leaves; trap adults with boards or burlap set in the garden at night, then collect and destroy your catch each morning. Various insecticides are also labeled for control of squash bugs.
Depending on the variety, pumpkins are ready to harvest 90 to 120 days after sowing, when the shell has hardened. Pick after first frost kills the plant. Use a sharp knife or hand pruners to harvest fruit, leaving 1–2 in. of stem. Subject to same pests and diseases as squash.
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