Mid-June: Plant pumpkins soon for Halloween arrival

Tracy Courage U of A System Division
Booneville Democrat

LITTLE ROCK — Pumpkins, once grown mainly for food, are valued just as much today for their decorative uses. Whether you plan to have pumpkin pie or a homegrown jack-o-lantern this fall, the time for planting is fast approaching, and timing is key. Plant too early and you’ll end up with a rotten pumpkin. Plant too late and frost may damage your pumpkin.

“Pumpkins are warm-season summer annuals, but they are frost sensitive, so planting them early enough to allow them to mature before the frost is crucial,” said Berni Kurz, Extension horticulture specialist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Peak planting times will depend on a pumpkin’s variety, the length of maturity and the date of the first frost. Mid-June to early July is the prime planting time for smaller varieties of pumpkins that mature in 90 days. The Mystic Plus, Pure Gold, Touch of Autumn, Prankster and RockaFellow varieties are good for both pumpkin pies and decorating.

Medium-sized carving pumpkins, such as Spirit, need about 100 days; even larger varieties, such as Big Moons, need 120 days. The latter can be planted as early as late May to give them time to mature.

“It’s a long season to get the large pumpkins to fruition,” Kurz said. “You have to know what you’re planting in regard to how long it takes to mature.”

Varieties such as Hobbit, Charisma, Oktoberfest and Scarecrow have shorter maturities and can be planted in early July and still be ready for fall festivities.

Kurz offers an easy way of remembering when to plant: “When you’re hosting your Fourth of July party, plant your pumpkins and then invite your guests back for Halloween to harvest,” he said.

ldeal conditions

Pumpkins, which are native to Peru, were grown exclusively for food by Native Americans who brought the pumpkins to North America. Pumpkins are sensitive to cold weather, so the soil temperature needs to be above 65 degrees for planting, with optimum soil temperature being 95 degrees.

“They start germinating best around 65-degree soil temperatures. If you plant them too early before soil temperature gets to 65, the young seedlings will struggle early on,” Kurz said.

Room to grow

Small pumpkin varieties can be trellised, but larger varieties need lots of space — about 50-100 square feet per hill, with two or three plants per hill. The hills should be spaced four feet apart with eight feet between rows.

“Give them a lot of elbow room for those big leaves to spread out and capture the sunlight they need for food,” Kurz said.

Seeds should be planted one inch deep with four to five seeds planted per hill. As the plants grow, they can be thinned down to two plants per hill. Kurz does not recommend transplanting the seedlings.

“They have a taproot that really needs to go down, and once you transplant, you’ve interrupted that taproot.”

Fertility needs

Pumpkins grow best in sandy loam soil. Since most backyards aren’t sandy, Kurz recommends incorporating two inches of composted manure into the soil before planting. The pumpkins’ roots will eventually extend beyond the hill, so compost should be added around the planting area as well.

The Cooperative Extension Service offers free soil testing, which can determine if your soil is low in micronutrients.

Kurz recommends applying two pounds of balanced all-purpose fertilizer, such as 10-10-10 preplant, per 100 square feet at planting time. When the plants are two inches tall, apply another two pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet.

“The boost in fertility with manure, the preplant applications and the side dressing applications will carry the pumpkin to fruition,” Kurz said.

Other tips

Keep pumpkins weed-free.

Water pumpkins during hot, dry conditions with a drip or soaker hose.

To ward off cucumber beetles, use floating row covers until plants bloom.

Monitor plants for aphids, which can cause deformation. Use insecticidal soaps.

Keep garden free of log piles and debris that can attract squash bugs.

Watch for moths hovering around plants, which can indicate the presence of the squash vine borer.

For more information about pumpkins, see extension’s fact sheet FSA6074, available online at https://bit.ly/3dyL5HQ. To learn about soil testing, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.

Fast Facts

Plant pumpkins in mid-June to early July for Halloween arrival

Pumpkins typically need 90-120 days to mature, depending on variety