Pumpkins are a fall favorite, and they’re so much fun to grow in your garden. But when you don’t have the space for full-size gourds or you want to experiment a bit, small pumpkins are a wonderful solution!
Small pumpkins typically weigh a maximum of 5 pounds, and miniature varieties are usually 1 pound or less. In addition to the compact fruit size, small and miniature pumpkin plants themselves also stay more compact, usually reaching a vine length of up to 8 feet. The smaller fruits also mature faster, with some varieties ready to pick in as little as 75 days. Small and miniature pumpkins come in various shades, from solid orange to white to other festive color combinations.
In this article, you’ll learn more about some popular varieties of mini and small pumpkins as well as care tips for growing healthy plants and fruits. We’ll also troubleshoot some pumpkin-growing problems and answer a few common questions.
Let’s get started!
Small Pumpkins: What Are They?
You’ve probably heard the terms mini and small regarding pumpkins, but is there really a difference?
According to Oregon State University, yes- they are two distinct size categories:
- Small pumpkins weigh between 1 and 5 pounds and take about 100-105 days to mature. The classic pie pumpkins fall into this category, and you can look forward to harvesting anywhere from 8 to 12 pumpkins from each plant, depending on the variety.
- Miniature pumpkins weigh less than 1 pound. They reach maturity in about 80-95 days, and you’ll typically get around 12 pumpkins from each plant on average.
For both small and miniature pumpkins, colors range from white to dark green, striped to dappled depending on the variety. And good news- you can grow mini or small pumpkins just about anywhere there’s warm temperatures and sunlight!
10 Popular Varieties of Small Pumpkins
So now you’ve seen that small and miniature pumpkins make a fun addition to the garden. There are lots of varieties to choose from- here are some suggestions to consider:
1. Jack Be Little
Jack Be Little is a mini variety that averages 3 inches in diameter and 2 inches in height. They’re a solid orange color and weigh in at only 4 to 8 ounces. These little pumpkins are great for decorations and take about 95 days to mature.
Hooligan is a gorgeous miniature pumpkin with mottled yellow and orange rind. They’re between 3 and 4 inches in diameter and only about 8 ounces, and they’re great for both decorations and snacking. Expect to harvest your Hooligan pumpkins about 95 days after germination.
The lovely Casperita mini pumpkins are stark-white and weigh between 1/2 pound to 1 pound. These pumpkins are quick to mature, only taking about 77 days. Casperita makes pretty decorations and is similar in taste to acorn squash.
4. Baby Boo
Baby Boo are mini white pumpkins that change to pale yellow upon full maturity at about 95 days. These average 3 inches in diameter and 2 inches high and are great for decorating, but they’re also packed with beta-carotene.
Munchkin is a bright-orange mini pumpkin that’s great for decoration and is sometimes used in dessert recipes. This variety takes 100 days to mature and gets up to 4 inches in diameter and 8 ounces in weight.
6. Black Kat
Black Kat is a striking dark-green to almost black small pumpkin- but if you leave it in storage for more than 2 months, that rind will begin turning orange. This variety is about 1/2 to 1 pound and takes about 80 days to mature. Black Kat is great for crafts, pumpkin pie and even pasta!
Tiger mini pumpkins average 3 to 5 inches in diameter and have a round, short shape. They come in many gorgeous color varieties from orange to white, with vertical stripes on the ribs. They’re both ornamental and tasty in curries, custards or a side for poultry.
Cannonball is a small pumpkin that matures in about 90 days. It averages 7 inches wide with a near-perfect round shape. It’s a little on the larger side, at about 5 pounds in weight. It’s got a great shelf life and a gorgeous polished orange color. Its best use? For lovey autumn decorating and crafting!
9. Wee Be Little
Wee Be Little mini pumpkins take about 95 days to grow to about 3.5 inches wide and up to 14 ounces in weight. They’re a bright orange color, and the perfect round shape is ideal for crafts. However, Wee Be Littles is also great for pies or muffins.
10. Bat Wing
Bat Wing mini pumpkins are almost perfectly round with a striking bi-color look. The plants produce a variety of pumpkin color combos, from all-orange to dark-green mottled with orange flecks, and everything in between! Expect your Bat Wing pumpkins to reach maturity at about 90 days and be a maximum of about 3 inches around.
How to Grow Mini Pumpkins
Growing mini pumpkins is actually quite similar to growing standard pumpkins but on a smaller scale. Whereas the standard carving pumpkin plant vines can get as long as 30 feet, small pumpkins tend to reach a maximum of about 8 feet in length.
So all you need is a little bit of sunny space to grow some fall pumpkins. Here are the details of getting your small and mini pumpkins planted and thriving!
When to Plant Small Pumpkins
In general, pumpkins are a bit more temperature-sensitive than some other garden plants, so getting the planting timing right is a critical first step.
According to the University of Illinois Extension, pumpkin plants will not germinate in cool temperatures and the seedlings cannot handle frost. If you live in the northern parts of the U.S., wait until the soil is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit to plant your seeds or seedlings outdoors.
To give you an idea, I live in zone 5b and I planted my pumpkins seeds directly in the soil in late May. That’s past our last estimated frost date in mid-May, and still early enough to get my plants well-established before pests and diseases tend to attack in the early to mid-summer.
Plus, if anything happens to my pumpkin seedlings (a freak late frost, getting eaten or dug up by animals, etc), there’s still enough time to re-plant and get a fall crop.
You can also start your pumpkin seeds indoors about two to three weeks before the last projected frost. It’ll take about 7-10 days for seeds to germinate, and your seedlings are ready to transplant outdoors once they have at least one full set of true leaves and nighttime temperatures stay above 65 degrees F.
We’ve covered this topic in much greater detail in our post on figuring out when you should plant pumpkins, so stop by to learn more and see some helpful charts.
Where to Grow Small Pumpkins
You’ve got quite a bit of freedom when it comes to where you can grow small and mini pumpkins, primarily because the fruits and plants are smaller than standard pumpkins.
You typically need somewhere around 20 square feet to grow a standard pumpkin, but you can fit mini/small pumpkins in a small garden plot, a large plastic tote or even in a 5-gallon bucket. For reference, I’ve got mine in an 18-gallon plastic tote.
Here are the basic requirements for a planting site for small and mini pumpkins:
- Needs to get at least 8 hours of direct sun daily.
- The soil should be loose and well-draining- no standing water after rainstorms.
- Test your soil for nutrient levels, using an at-home test kit or sending a soil sample out for lab analysis. Amend the soil as needed according to the results of the soil test.
- Soil testing also typically includes a pH reading, but if it doesn’t, you can use a pH meter to find out. According to Gabriel Croteau, Master Gardener and consultant at Juliei Salone, “most pumpkins prefer a pH around 6.0-6.5, so if this is not already where it needs to be, you may want to consider adding lime or sulfur to adjust it.” If your soil acidity is lower than 6.0, add some garden lime to increase the alkalinity. If it’s higher than 6.5, add sulfur powder to bring the pH down.
How to Plant Small Pumpkins
For the greatest small pumpkin plant success, it starts with proper planting. Here’s how to plant in the different areas:
In the ground, use the hill method. Make a mound in the soil about 6 inches high and 15 inches in diameter, and space your hills 4 feet apart. Hilling helps warm the soil and also optimizes drainage. You can plant up to 5 seeds in each hill at 1 inch deep, and thin to 2 healthy pumpkin plants once the seedlings are about 3 inches tall.
In raised beds, sow your seeds directly into the soil. Since the soil in raised beds tends be stay warmer anyway, you don’t need to create planting hills like you do with sowing in the ground. Plant 3-4 seeds 1 inch deep, and space the plants about 4 feet apart. Once the seedlings are 3 inches tall, thin to the two strongest seedlings. You can allow the vines to trail or grow them vertically on a trellis.
In containers (think 5-gallon buckets or plastic totes), use equal parts high-quality potting mix and compost. Just like with raised bed, you don’t need to make planting hills if you’re growing in a container. Plant four seeds per container, eventually thinning that down to the single strongest seedling. If you’d like, you can set up a trellis or plant cage to grow your small pumpkins vertically.
Caring for Small Pumpkins
Growing small pumpkins is very similar to standard pumpkins. Here are a few growing tips for small pumpkins:
Watering. Small pumpkin plants like moist soil, so water only the base of the plant with 1 inch of water per week. Use a long-spouted water pitcher or wand to accomplish this and prevent watering the leaves and avoid disease.
Pruning. If you’d like, prune your pumpkin plants to keep the size in check and promote pumpkin growth. Wear poke-resistant gardening gloves and cut back any vines that aren’t flowering or growing pumpkins to redirect nutrients to the fruit.
Fertilizing. Miniature pumpkins also need quite a bit of fertilizer to grow fruit, so fertilize about every 2 weeks with a balanced vegetable fertilizer. Or use a targeted approach (high nitrogen early in the season, followed by more phosphorus and potassium once the flowers and fruit appear) to maximize fruit production.
If you’d like to learn more, we cover the feeding process in much greater detail in our post on using pumpkin fertilizer, along with product suggestions to get you started.
Pollinating Mini Pumpkins By Hand
Pumpkin fruits grow from pumpkin flowers, and there will be no pumpkins if the flowers don’t get properly pollinated. Hopefully you’ve got some friendly pollinating insects in the area like bees, but sometimes we need a little help in that area. Pollinating mini pumpkins by hand is easy to do- and can maximize your mini pumpkin yield!
Use your finger, a small paintbrush, or even a cotton swab to collect the pollen from the male flower, which has an anther in the middle that is fuzzy with pollen. Then touch the female flower’s pistil with the pollen you collected from the male. You can recognize the female flowers by the round green fruit at the base.
There’s usually enough pollen from one male flower to cover several female flowers. That’s all it takes!
Potential Problems with Small Pumpkins
There are a few potential problems to be aware of when growing mini pumpkins. Here are the most common and how to deal with (or prevent) them:
Squash bugs, cucumber beetles and squash vine borers are the most common pests that can take out your small pumpkin plants.
Squash bugs look like small gray beetles about 1/2 inch long. If you’ve ever seen a stink bug, you’ll notice squash bugs look quite similar:
Squash bugs damage your small pumpkin plants by puncturing the leaf surface with their mouthparts and sucking the sap from the foliage. They lay eggs on the undersides of pumpkin leaves, which look like a small cluster of tiny red dots.
If you find them on your mini pumpkin plants, pick them off your plants by hand and spray your plants down with a mixture of castille soap and water. Dr. Bronner’s Hemp Peppermint soap seems to be an especially effective choice.
This video from Your Own Victory Garden shows some pretty impressive evidence of how this soap mixture works:
Also, be on the lookout for squash bug eggs, and crush any eggs you find. As an alternative to crushing the eggs, try sticking a section of clear packing tape over the egg cluster, pressing down and pulling the tape off. This should remove all or most of the eggs. Close the tape over the eggs to seal them off, and dispose of them in the trash.
Cucumber beetles look like yellow-spotted ladybugs, but they’re no friend to your garden. The cucumber beetle in the photo below has a spotted pattern, but some species have stripes instead:
Regardless of whether they’re spotted or striped, the danger from cucumber beetles is two-fold:
- They suck sap from plant leaves/stems.
- They can be carriers of serious plant diseases.
If you see cucumber beetles on your pumpkins, act quickly. Knock them off and trap them with cardboard or sticky traps. You could also try to encourage populations of friendly garden insects that are natural predators of cucumber beetles:
- Braconid wasps
- Soldier beetles
- Beneficial nematodes
Squash vine borer adults look like mini red wasps with black wings and a black thorax, but it’s the larvae that really cause the damage to your plants.
As the name implies, these pests bore into pumpkin vines, eating through your plant’s lifeline between the roots and the foliage. If you see holes and what looks like sawdust on your pumpkin stems, you’ve likely got vine borers. Use a clean, sharp knife to carefully slice up the stem, and manually remove any borer larva you find. There can be several borers in a single vine, so keep moving up the stem until you see healthy plant tissue.
Also, keep an eye out for tiny orange eggs spaced out on leaves, which will need to be removed. You can crush the eggs or use the tape removal strategy outlined earlier.
For all pests above, prevention is the best strategy:
- Don’t plant pumpkins or other cucurbits in the same area of the garden every year. Pests can live in the soil, so switch up your pumpkin patch location!
- Proper watering methods: Don’t splash the leaves or water late in the evening.
- Cover seedlings with barrier fabric, like floating row covers, to keep pests away.
- Pests love to shelter in debris, so keep the garden clean of dead plant material, excessive debris mulches (like straw) and pull weeds often.
Bacterial wilt and powdery mildew are two of the most common diseases to afflict pumpkins of all sizes, mini and small ones included.
Bacterial wilt is a common disease for pumpkin plants, which usually starts as leaves wilting.
If you see your plants turn brown and droop for no apparent reason, it’s probably a wilt disease. Unfortunately, this is a fatal condition, so pull the affected plant and dispose of it in the trash.
Cucumber beetles are known vectors for bacterial wilt, so be vigilant for these pests and deal with them right away.
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that looks like white patches on pumpkin leaves.
There are a few ways to treat this condition, including organic fungicide or one of several anti-fungal home remedies. If treated early, your plants can recover and go on to produce a crop, albeit a smaller one. However, if you allow powdery mildew to advance, it will kill your pumpkins and potentially spread to other plants.
There are also a few preventative strategies to take:
- Avoid splashing leaves with water
- Choose mini pumpkin plants that are mildew-resistant
- Use appropriate spacing between plants
- Water early in the day
Harvesting Mini Pumpkins
Harvesting mini pumpkins is fairly easy-it’s just about figuring out when they’re ripe.
- The first clue is the pumpkins are the mature color the seed packet indicates.
- The next clue is the pumpkin vine itself- the stem has dried out and the leaves have died back.
- The last clue is a hardened rind.
When ready to harvest, use pruning shears to cut the pumpkin stem off the vine. Don’t be tempted to twist or pull mini pumpkins off- this could damage the plant or the stem attached to the pumpkin.
And make sure to leave at least 3 inches of stem when cutting your pumpkin from the plant. The stem section is key to preventing your pumpkin from succumbing to rot and also adds a decorative touch.
Frequently Asked Questions about Small Pumpkins
Small and mini pumpkins are fun and pretty easy to grow at home, both in the ground and in containers. With so many fun and colorful varieties that have uses from crafts to pumpkin pies, there’s almost no reason not to grow them!
We’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other questions about growing miniature and small pumpkins? Or maybe you have another great pumpkin variety to tell us about. We learn best as a community, so please share your thoughts in the comments!