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Halloween pumpkins – how to grow your own

A beginner’s guide to growing these spooky veg. By Hannah Stephenson.

Pumpkins are fairly easy to grow and you’ll be impressed by the results of your labours (Alamy/PA)

It’s Halloween season, when pumpkins are carved to make all sorts of spooky shapes and tealights added to make a ghoulish lantern.

If you’ve space in your veg patch or a large pot, or even room on your compost heap, you could be growing your own pumpkins next year.

As well as decorations, these annuals can be added to hearty stews and curries, create a filling for pies and a base for rich, warming soups. Winter squashes, from the same family, make a tasty alternative.

If you have enough space, pumpkins could be on your beginner gardener growing list.

How easy are they to grow?

Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes (Hannah Stephenson/PA)

If you have enough space and a sunny, sheltered spot, and prepare your soil well, they are very easy and grow quickly.

What type of soil do they need?

They need a very rich soil, ideally prepared the previous autumn. Dig a hole or reserve a part of your vegetable patch, adding compost material to it over the winter and then top it off with some soil in spring ready for your pumpkins.

When do I sow pumpkin seeds?

Sow the seeds inside in early spring or outside in early summer, as they won’t withstand frost. Sow seeds singly on a windowsill indoors or in a heated propagator in the greenhouse, then grow them on in a cooler room before hardening them off, placing them outside during the daytime in late spring and bringing them indoors overnight. They can be planted out from June, after the risk of frost has passed.

They prefer a sunny spot out of the wind and most varieties need plenty of space, as they can spread between 1.2m and 2.5m, and some are enormous.

Will they need support?

Larger types are best leaving on the ground, because of their weight, but trailing types can be trained up sturdy trellis and arches, although you may need to support individual fruits with hammocks of netting to stop the stems breaking.

How much water do they need?

You’ll need to water them well when first planting them, and when the fruits set, but make sure you water the soil around the base and not the fruits, which may rot through damp. To be on the safe side, raise the fruits on to wooden blocks or tiles to reduce the risk of damage.

Pumpkins love long, hot summers, so give them a good soaking if the weather is really dry, although make sure they’re not waterlogged. As they grow, the vines will cover the ground and suppress weeds. Once fruits have set, trim the end of the vine to focus the energy on the fruits.

What about feed?

Pumpkins thrive in long, hot summers, but keep them well watered (Alamy/PA)

To maximise the chance of success, feed your plants every two weeks with a liquid fertiliser, or add chicken manure pellets around young plants when first planting out.

How many pumpkins will each plant produce?

Not many – you’ll probably get around two or three pumpkins from a large variety or a few more from a smaller fruiting one.

If you are growing large fruits, limit the number to just two or three per plant, and for giant pumpkins leave just one, removing any further flowers or fruit that start to form, the RHS advises.

Can you grow them in pots?

Grow smaller types in pots (Alamy/PA)

Yes, but you may be best choosing a small variety such as ‘Baby Bear’ or ‘Jack Be Little’. Only grow one plant per 45cm pot filled with a mix of three parts loam-based potting compost, to one part all-purpose compost.

Sow seeds 2.5cm deep and cover the pot with a cloche after germination, or delay planting out young plants until there’s no danger of frost.

Water the young plants and keep the soil moist, mulching to conserve moisture.

When should I harvest my pumpkins?

From around September. Fruits need to be allowed to ripen in the sun for as long as possible, and leaving them on the vine for as long as you can will help the skin harden.

Gently remove surrounding leaves to allow the fruit more exposure to the sun. However, make sure you cut your pumpkin and store it indoors before the first frost, because the flesh will turn mushy if exposed to extreme cold.

Let it ripen – or cure – for around 10 days either outside in the sun or in a cold frame, or move it into the greenhouse where it can soak up the sun, but won’t get wet.


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