Growing Pumpkins in Containers: Tips for Perfect Pumpkins
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When you think of container gardening, leafy greens, peppers and herbs may be the first plants that spring to mind. But you should be thinking bigger- much bigger. You’re missing out if you don’t realize that many types of pumpkins are an excellent choice for your container garden.
What supplies do you need for growing pumpkins in containers? Mini and small pumpkins thrive in 5-20 gallon containers, and larger ones grow well in containers that hold 20 or more gallons. Plastic tote bins, 5-gallon buckets, wooden half-barrels and even hard plastic children’s swimming pools can all be used as pumpkin containers. Pumpkins need a full-sun location, well-draining soil, frequent watering and regular fertilizer, and many varieties also benefit from a vertical support structure.
In this article, you’ll learn more about selecting the right pumpkin variety to grow, how to set up your container for pumpkins and how to keep your plants healthy and productive. With just a little know-how, you’ll have a bountiful harvest of this delicious superfood in no time.
Let’s jump in!
The Best Pumpkins for Growing in Containers
When it comes to growing pumpkins in pots, mini and small pumpkins tend to do the best, and medium varieties can also thrive if you’ve got enough space. When it comes to large and giant pumpkins, these plants are just huge, and you’re usually better off growing them in the actual ground.
There are several different varieties you can choose from, with these being just a few examples:
Jack Be Little
The Jack Be Little pumpkin has been around since the early 1900s and was initially developed by Jack Ziegler of Ohio. It’s a hardy crop that grows well indoors and outdoors and produces a small fruit that weighs about 8 ounces – it can comfortably fit in your hand.
The vines of the bright orange Spookie pumpkin grow up to 5 feet long and produce fruits that weigh between 5 to 8 pounds. These pumpkins have an intense flavor and are great for carving. They’re also easy to grow in containers and will keep producing until frost hits.
Baby Boo pumpkins take 95 days to mature and weigh approximately half a pound each. They’re a good choice if you want beautiful white pumpkins as part of an autumn harvest and are happy with smaller fruit.
What’s more, these little guys are perfect for kids who love Halloween!
These miniature sugar pumpkins are a favorite among growers at 7-8 inches in diameter because they’re sweet and petite. Of course, they’re not quite as sweet as their larger cousins, but they still make tasty treats when baked into pies, cookies, and more.
Wee Be Little
Wee Be Little pumpkins are a miniature variety that produces round fruits that are roughly the same size as a baseball. A single plant can produce up to 12 pumpkins throughout its lifetime. They are perfect for children to grow, and they require less water than other types.
The medium-sized, delicious, bright-white Casper takes 90-120 days to mature and weighs up to 15 pounds. It’s one of the most popular pumpkins for carving and baking.
Jack O Lantern
This medium-sized pumpkin is a fall classic for carving or displaying uncut on your front porch. Reaching a maximum of about 15 pounds, the Jack O Lantern variety is about as large as I’d recommend for a container garden.
Choosing the Best Pots for Pumpkins
As we’ve just touched upon, pumpkins come in various sizes. They will require different types of containers depending on how they grow best. There are many different kinds of containers available for growing pumpkins- really, you’re only limited by your creativity.
Let’s take a look at the materials, sizes and drainage that makes a container a good fit for a pumpkin plant.
Container Materials That Work Well for Pumpkins
There are lots of options available for growing mini pumpkins in containers. Here are some of our favorites:
- Plastic containers. These are lightweight and inexpensive, and you can buy them at any hardware store or garden center. Plastic containers are also durable and will last for years. Here’s one that I’ll be using for my own pumpkin container garden:
- Wooden containers. Wooden containers are sturdy and arguably more aesthetically pleasing. They are also easy to maintain and age well. Although wooden containers are more expensive than plastic ones, you may get a longer lifespan from them.
- Clay containers. Clay is ideal for growing pumpkins since it’s porous and allows air to circulate freely.
- Concrete containers. Concrete is heavier than plastic and wood and will last a long time. In addition, concrete containers are relatively cheap and readily available. They tend to be used more for commercial purposes, such as features to section parts of a hotel courtyard. But they work in gardens, too.
- Creative containers. Try using old tires, buckets, and other items to create your container. Just make sure that whatever you choose has enough drainage holes, and if you’re growing pumpkins to eat, avoid petroleum-based materials that could leach chemicals into the soil.
Use the Right Container Size for Your Pumpkins
Mini varieties. Choose a container that’s between 5 and 10 gallons for miniature pumpkins. A 5-gallon bucket or a flower pot that’s at least 20 inches in diameter work well for a single mini pumpkin plant. If you’d like to try growing more than one mini pumpkin plant in the same container, use one that’s 18-25 gallons.
I’ve got two Jack Be Little plants in this gray 18-gallon plastic tote:
Small varieties. Since they’re a little bigger, small pumpkin varieties require a container that holds at least 10 gallons.
Medium varieties. For medium-sized pumpkins, I recommend using 20-30 gallon pots.
I’ve got one Jack O Lantern pumpkin in the black 20-gallon tote:
Ensure Good Drainage
Regardless of size, the best pots for pumpkins allow water to drain quickly instead of getting trapped in the pot. Like most plants, pumpkin roots do not appreciate sitting in waterlogged soil, so your container needs to have plenty of water escape routes.
If you’re using a large flower pot or another container designed for gardening, it likely already has drainage holes. But if you’re converting a container for planting pumpkins, you’ll have to make your own drainage.
I’m using plastic tote bins for my pumpkins, and I drilled a total of nine drainage holes in each one. I put five holes on the bottom:
I also added two holes on each of the long sides, about an inch high. These side holes allow the water to drain out even if the bottom of the tote bin gets obstructed.
Choosing the Right Location for Pumpkin Container Gardening
Choosing the right location is key to a successful pumpkin harvest. Consider these factors when choosing where to plant your pumpkins:
Sunlight needs: Pumpkins of all sizes are sun-lovers, and they need plenty of sunlight to produce enough energy to grow vibrant pumpkin fruits. Place your pumpkin container in an area that gets at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day.
Spacing for large leaves and trailing vines: Pumpkin vines can get quite large, and they tend to have a sprawling growth pattern that takes up a lot of space.
According to Pam, AKA the Scaredy-Cat Gardener and creator of the Youtube channel Container Crops, being proactive in helping your pumpkin vines grow in the right direction is key. “The vines of pumpkins spread tremendously so give your pumpkins plenty of room to spread its wings. One space saving suggestion if you’re growing on a balcony is to guide the pumpkin vine around the edge of the balcony, or the perimeter of a deck.”
Gently shift your pumpkin vine in the direction you want it to go. But take action early- I had a vine split when I waited too long to move it in a better direction. (Epilogue: The vine thankfully suffered no long-term effects. But still- it’s better to take action early to avoid potential issues down the road.
Fill Your Containers with the Right Soil
Soil is what keeps your pumpkins alive. Here are some pumpkin-friendly soil types:
Light texture: A loose, sandy mix allows air to circulate around the root ball. It also helps prevent disease.
Never fill any plant containers with “topsoil” or “garden soil.” These are designed to be used in the actual ground; they’re far too heavy for containers, leading to compacted soil that doesn’t drain well or allow the roots to spread out.
Here’s a photo of the soil I filled my containers with:
You can see how light and fluffy it is. I used a bag of potting soil specially formulated for containers, and I added some homemade compost.
Plant Your Pumpkins at the Right Time
Pumpkin container planting should be done from early May to mid-June for a bountiful harvest. However, the best time to plant pumpkins vary depending on various factors such as soil type, frost dates, pumpkin variety, and maturity date.
One thing is sure: the earlier you start, the more time you have to enjoy your harvest.
How to Plant Pumpkins in Containers
While you can transplant pumpkin seedlings into your containers, pumpkins are fast-growing plants that can experience transplant shock if they’re left in their starter pot for even just a bit too long.
So planting pumpkin seeds is the best option, and fortunately, it’s pretty easy:
- Soak the pumpkin seeds overnight in warm water.
- Dry the seeds thoroughly before placing them into the prepared potting soil.
- Make a shallow hole, about 1 inch deep, in the soil.
- Plant 3-4 seeds in the hole.
- Cover the seeds with soil and press down gently to make sure the seeds are covered.
- Keep the soil moist but not wet. Give water when the top 1 inch of soil feels dry.
- Your seeds should germinate in 7-10 days. Once your pumpkin plants have two sets of true leaves, thin to the strongest 1-2 seedlings. I personally hate thinning plants- it’s just so cruel! But it is an essential step since overcrowding the container usually means that no plants do well.
Caring for a Pumpkin Container Garden
Now that your pumpkin plants have started their life in your container garden, you want to keep them healthy and strong. Here’s what you need to do to have the best chances for a bumper pumpkin crop:
Consider Using a Trellis or Support Structure
It’s not totally necessary, but training your pumpkin vines to grow vertically can save you space and help reduce the risk of a few plant diseases or pest problems. For example, growing mini/small pumpkins on a trellis, arbor, or fence is a great way to save space and free up room for more plants.
Medium pumpkin varieties are often too heavy for vertical support unless you’re using a sturdy metal frame. In this case, you may want to consider using stakes and strings to create a framework.
Give Pumpkins Plenty of Water
Pumpkins require lots of water- after all, these plants are producing large fruits, and in some cases, lots of them! And when you’re growing a container, watering becomes even more critical. Containers are smaller than the open ground, and your plants also don’t have access to the deeper layers of soil where there’s typically more moisture.
So regularly watering your container pumpkins is a must. Aim to give your plants about 1 inch of water a week, and be sure to account for rainfall in your total. If there’s no rain in the forecast, it’s typically best to water every 2-3 days, soaking the container deeply each time.
Avoid putting water directly onto the foliage- wet leaves are prone to scorching or developing fungal spots. Instead, water the soil around the base of the plant.
Fertilize Pumpkins Frequently
Just like pumpkins need lots of moisture to produce a prime crop, the plants also need plenty of nutrients for energy. This means that you’ll need to fertilize the crop frequently. Use a balanced fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and trace elements.
Add Plenty of Mulch
Growing pumpkins in containers requires plenty of mulch. Mulching helps prevent weeds, keeps the soil cool and prevents the spread of disease.
Use shredded bark, straw, grass clippings, pine needles, or even newspaper for your mulch. You can also mix these materials to create a unique mulch mixture.
Spread a layer of mulch over the entire surface of the pumpkin container, to a depth of 1-2 inches. Apply fresh mulch as needed as the older material breaks down.
Prune to Control Growth and Increase Pumpkin Production
One way to both keep your pumpkin growth checked and encourage optimal production is by pruning.
Remove all dead vines and branches, and cut off unnecessary tertiary vines. Once you’ve got a few healthy pumpkins on the vine, you can also prune off the plant’s growing tip to stop forward growth and focus energy on the developing fruits.
We cover the topic of pruning in more detail in our post on pumpkin vine care, so stop by to get more details.
Hand Pollinating Pumpkin Flowers
Ideally, pollination happens through bees or other garden-friendly insects or birds.
If you do not have pollinators or can’t passively wait to have your pumpkins pollinated, you can do it by hand. The process is easy and takes a short time, provided you follow the steps for hand pollination.
Potential Problems with Growing Pumpkins in Pots
Whether in the ground or in a container, pumpkins can run into a few problems from time to time. Here are the most common ones:
Many diseases attack pumpkin plants, such as bacterial wilt, crown gall, corky root rot, leaf spot, and more. The most common one is powdery mildew, which often shows up in the highest summer humidity or after a rainy period.
This video from CaliKim shows what powdery mildew looks like and how to treat it without harsh chemicals:
NOTE: She’s talking about zucchini specifically, but they’re close relatives of pumpkins and the treatment is exactly the same.
These diseases can be prevented by good growing practices and proper sanitation procedures. In addition, most infections can be controlled by applying fungicides. However, this practice may affect the health of your pumpkin plants.
One of the problems with growing pumpkins in containers is pests like aphids, squash bugs, and spider mites. These pests can cause damage to your crops.
To remove pests, you must know which one is attacking your plants. Once you identify the problem, you can treat it accordingly.
For instance, if you find aphids on your pumpkin plants, you can spray the affected area with insecticidal soap, neem oil, or any natural repellant like garlic. These solutions kill the aphids but do not harm the rest of the plant.
Leaves Turning Yellow or Brown
Discoloration, usually brown or yellow pumpkin leaves, can be caused by:
- Low light levels
- Hot weather
- Plant disease
If you notice discoloration on your pumpkin plants, then you should act quickly to treat your plant. For example, move your container to a brighter location for more sunlight or into a cooler part of your garden if the heat is the problem.
How to Harvest Pumpkins in Containers
To know if your pumpkin is ripe, check the color. A ripe pumpkin should have a vibrant color that’s appropriate for the variety.
Another clue is the skin. Try pressing your fingernail into the skin- if you can’t puncture the skin, the pumpkin is ready to pick.
Once the pumpkin is ripe enough, use a sharp tool and cut the stem at least 5 inches from the pumpkin to prevent the fruit from rotting quickly. Store your pumpkins in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Pumpkins in Containers
Growing pumpkins in containers is an excellent way to enjoy the classic autumn fruits of your labor even if you don’t have a lot of ground space to work with. With some planning and creativity, you can set up a thriving pumpkin container garden of your own!
We want to hear from you! Do have any more questions about growing pumpkins in containers? Have you tried it before and found out any other helpful tips to share? We learn best as a community of growers, so please let us know your thoughts in the comments!