Kenny Sharpe

Just as watermelons are a traditional part of Independence Day celebrations, pumpkins are a regular theme for Halloween.

But if you want to have pumpkins for the fall, you’ll need to start your preparations now.

Growers who want to sell Halloween pumpkins need to begin planting by July 20 in order to have them in the market and ready before the start of the trick-or-treat season. Home gardeners who are growing for their own use can get away with planting a little later since they won’t need to market their crop.

The total number of days from planting to harvest can vary between varieties, but usually it takes about 90-100 days.

Pumpkins are a great tool to instill the passion of growing into the next generation of gardeners. After all, what kid doesn't like to see things grow, especially pumpkins that can later be carved into frightening or comical jack-o’-lanterns?

The first thing to do is set up the growing area to accommodate the type of pumpkins you plan to grow. Pumpkins require much space for their vines, but you can opt to grow bush types or semi-vining types that require less growing area. If you’re growing on traditional rows that are 40-48 inches apart, you should only plant every other row. You need 6-8 feet between rows and room for vines to run.

Apply pre-plant fertilizer at the rate of 6 pound of 8-8-8 or the equivalent per 100 feet of row. Come back and sidedress with 2 pounds of calcium nitrate per 100 feet of row when vines begin to run.

Plant 5 to 6 seeds per hill and space the hills out every 5 to 6 feet within the row. Thin your plants down to one or two plants per hill once seeds germinate.

There are several sizes of pumpkins that you can grow.

Giant pumpkins are the varieties that win the top prize for the largest pumpkin. They are fun to grow and very interesting to young gardeners. (Note: You’ll have to top 2,261 pounds to claim the U.S. record). Recommended giant varieties are squash types and include Atlantic Giant, Prize Winner and Big Max.

Large varieties are considered to be those that will attain 10-30 pounds. These pumpkins are sized appropriately for carving at Halloween. Recommended large pumpkin varieties would include Connecticut Field, Aspen, Big Autumn, Sorcerer, Aladdin, Cinderella, Appalachian, Spirit, Pro Gold 510, Gold Rush , Gold Standard and Lumina, which is white.

Medium-sized varieties will typically run between 5 and 10 pounds and can be used to either make pumpkin pie or small pumpkins carvings. Recommended medium varieties would include Small Sugar, Neon and Orange Smoothie.

There are also small (1-2 pounds) and very small (less than 1 pound) varieties that are used for decorations. Recommended varieties would include Baby Bear, Jack Be Little, Wee-B-Little and Hooligan. Also consider Gooligan and Casperita which are white.

For those who have limited growing space, Orange Smoothie (5-8 pounds) grows on a bushy plant that is non-vining and Sorcerer (15-22 pounds) is semi-vining.

Cushaws are striped pumpkins that have a tapering neck and a bulbous bottom. Recommended varieties include Cushaw Gold Stripe and Cushaw Green Stripe.

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