Pumpkins are beloved in many cultures due to their tasty fruit, and many home gardeners plant pumpkins anticipating a harvest of large, orange, delicious and/or carvable round squash.
Pumpkin flowers typically appear in the late spring to early summer, and each plant produces both male and female flowers. The male flowers produce pollen, and the female flowers receive the pollen to start the fruit production process. Plentiful blossoms increase the chances of pollination and fruit development, and you can help your plants produce healthy flowers by proper fertilizing, companion planting and boosting pollinator populations.
This article will teach you how pumpkin flowers work, how to encourage your pumpkin to produce more of them, and how you can make sure that the male flowers pollinate the female flowers and create fruit.
Let’s jump in!
How Pumpkins Grow
Pumpkins are often called vining plants because they generate a handful of long, sturdy vines from a center point. This means that pumpkins take up a lot of square footage in the garden! They love rich, moist, warm soil.
The growth of a pumpkin happens in several stages, with leaves and vines developing first. Then the vines bear large, orange flowers in early to mid-summer. These flowers are both male and female.
The male flowers produce pollen, while the female ones, if pollinated, eventually produce the fruit, which starts small but can grow to be truly enormous. The more flowers and better pollination, the more pumpkins you get.
What Does a Pumpkin Flower Look Like?
Each pumpkin plant produces both male and female flowers, and each is essential for fruit production. All pumpkin flowers are large, orange, star-shaped blossoms that appear on the pumpkin vine, but some key differences set the male flowers apart from the female ones.
You can recognize male flowers by a few defining characteristics:
- A long, thin stem
- A smooth flower base
- Fuzzy, pollen-covered stamen inside the petals
- Typically the first blooms to show up on your pumpkin plants (about a week before the female flowers appear)
These photos show a male pumpkin flower from the side and front:
The female flowers have several features that make them easy to identify:
- A shorter, thicker stem
- A cluster of shorter, non-fuzzy structures in the flower center, known as a stigma
- An ovary bulge at the flower base (this is an ovary that will develop into a pumpkin fruit)
- Appear a few days later than the first male blossoms
You can see a female pumpkin flower in these photos:
How Pumpkin Pollination Works
Each individual flower generally only lasts a day or two days, so the pollination window is actually fairly short.
The pumpkin pollination process goes like this:
- A male and female flower emerge from the same plant.
- A pollinating insect–bee, moth, or fly–is attracted to the sight or scent of the flowers.
- When a pollinator touches down on a male flower, it picks up pollen, which it then deposits on one or more female flowers.
- The male pollen travels down a “pollen tube” in the female flower to an ovary. There, one male gamete fuses with an egg, where a fruit begins to develop inside the flower and, eventually, outside of it.
The key component in this process is the movement of male pollen into a female flower. Only this produces fruit.
Lots of Blossoms, No Pumpkins: What’s Going On?
Plenty of home gardeners report huge, sprawling, flower-decked pumpkin plants…. with no pumpkins. What’s going on here?
When you have many pumpkin blossoms but no actual pumpkins, it can be pretty frustrating. Basically, this means that the male-female pollination process is just not happening. The good news is that you can do something about it.
Encourage Pollinator Populations
Even though they’re engineered to be attractive to pollinators, the pumpkin flowers by themselves may not be enough to get these bugs in your garden.
One great way to boost pollinators in the pumpkin patch is through companion planting. This means that you add plants that are natural insect magnets, and when they visit the garden for the companion plants, the bees/other pollinators will likely stop by your pumpkin flowers as well.
To draw more of them in, plant other flowers near your pumpkin:
- Flowering herbs
Also, be cautious of using insecticides near your garden– some can impact pollinator populations as well as their target pest. Whenever possible, try non-chemical pest or weed management first.
Hand Pollinate Pumpkins
If you don’t have an abundance of pollinators or you just want to ensure the process happens, you can become the pollinator yourself. The process is simple and takes just a couple of minutes:
- Identify a male flower and several female flowers. Remember, male flowers have a pollen-covered stamen, and female flowers have a bulge at the base that the male flowers do not.
- Use a cotton swab or small paintbrush to pick up pollen from a male flower, and rub it generously against the pistils in the female flower. More is better!
- You can leave the female flower open or press the petals together to keep the pollen from being blown off.
This video from MBGC Weather does a great job of demonstrating a slightly different technique that skips the cotton swab/paintbrush:
How to Encourage Female Pumpkin Flowers
Female pumpkin flowers are where the fruit production happens, so you want several healthy female blossoms on your plant. There are a few things you can do to encourage the formation of female flowers:
- Apply a bloom-boosting fertilizer. Pumpkins are heavy feeders in general, so they’ll need extra fertilizer throughout the season. But early on is a great time to use a fertilizer with high amounts of phosphorus and potassium, like the Bloom Boost formula from Incredible Bulk. Both of these nutrients help the plant develop large numbers of bigger and stronger and stronger male and female pumpkin flowers early in the season.
- Water deeply. When pumpkins are forming vines and buds, they are extra thirsty, so make sure to add an extra watering session during this time. A soaker hose can be a lifesaver here.
- Plant extra pumpkins of the same type close to each other. This way you’ll hedge your bets by placing more flowers close to each other.
When Does a Pumpkin Plant Produce Flowers?
Pumpkin plants produce flowers at the beginning of summer and continue to flower for about four weeks.
After this, the vines and fruit will continue to grow, but no new flowers will appear.
How Long Do Pumpkins Take to Grow After Flowering?
It depends on the variety! Some pumpkins can be harvested 90 days after planting (which is about 70 days after pollination), but others take up to 110 days or longer.
Smaller types of pumpkins tend to grow faster than larger types, and they’re typically better for climates with cold winters and short growing seasons. Trellising can be a great strategy if you’re growing mini and small pumpkins- this keeps the fruits elevated off the ground, protected from soil insects and saves space in the garden.
You can also enhance the growth of your pumpkins by trimming off the long ends of the vines. This redirects the plant’s energy toward the growing fruit instead of outward expansion.
But be careful not to trim off large leaves. The broad leaves are a natural adaptation that prevents sunburn on the pumpkin’s skin. So make sure to leave plenty of shady foliage.
Some gardeners also find it helpful to put the growing pumpkins on pieces of cardboard. This gets the pumpkin away from the dirt and prevents any rot from starting on the bottom, and it also makes the pumpkin easier to turn if you’re after that perfect rounded shape.
Can You Eat Pumpkin Flowers?
Yes, you can! In addition to the flesh, seeds, and skin of the pumpkin squash, pumpkin flowers are 100% edible.
Pumpkin flowers have a flavor quite similar to that of the pumpkin squash, and they’re a mainstay in Mediterranean and Southern Indian cuisine. According to Health Benefits Times, pumpkin blossoms are a good source of many vitamins and nutrients, especially Vitamin C and B9.
Since the female flowers turn into fruit, male flowers are the ones most commonly harvested for fresh eating.
If you hand pollinate your pumpkins, you can remove the male flower afterward. Or, you can wait until the male flowers naturally wilt to harvest. Cook and eat the flowers as soon as possible, preferably that day.
You can stir-fry pumpkin flowers and add them to salads as an edible garnish. Another popular preparation is battered and fried– perfect for summer dinners outside!
Frequently Asked Questions about Pumpkin Flowers
Pumpkins are a garden classic, but sometimes they need a little help to get things started. You encourage more blossoms and better pollination in flowering pumpkin plants when you water well, fertilize early with bloom-boosting fertilizer, add other flowers to attract insects and hand pollinate when necessary.
Any pumpkin-related tips or tricks? Let us know in the comments below!