When to Plant Pumpkins for a Bountiful Harvest
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Pumpkin lovers everywhere know that planting pumpkin seeds at the right time is key to a successful harvest.
You don’t want to miss out on this versatile fall crop- carving for Halloween, using in pies, or sprucing up the front porch as a decoration. So a little planning needs to be done to make sure your pumpkins are ready to harvest in time.
The best time to plant pumpkins is typically between early May and mid-June, but several factors come into play as well:
- First and last frost date
- The pumpkin variety & maturity date
- Soil temperature
- Soil moisture
- Air temperature
- When it’s necessary to plant pumpkin seeds indoors
- Planting to avoid insects
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about when to plant pumpkins for a bountiful harvest this year.
Let’s get started!
RELATED: Seeing yellow leaves in the pumpkin isn’t a good feeling, but it’s usually something you can fix pretty easily. In our post on reasons for yellow pumpkin leaves, find out what might be going on and what you can do.
First and Last Frost Dates
Frost dates are a critical factor in deciding when to plant pumpkin seeds. Pumpkins go through several growth stages before they reach maturity, and you want to make sure that you’re giving the pumpkins enough time to mature. But you also don’t want to risk them being harmed by frost.
Pumpkins are not a frost-hardy crop, and even a light frost can kill them outright. So it’s definitely better to err on the side of waiting a bit too long to plant your pumpkin seeds than risk damage from a late frost.
A good rule of thumb would be to sow your pumpkin seeds in your garden 1-2 weeks after the last frost has passed.
To determine when your first and last frost dates for the season might be, check out the chart below. You can also check out Almanac to know when to expect your frost dates.
The Pumpkin Variety & Maturity Date
Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiniest gourds to the massive Atlantic Giant pumpkins. When you’re choosing your pumpkin variety, make sure to check the maturity date on the seed packet.
Once you have the maturity date figured out, subtract that many days from the time you want your pumpkins ready. Then subtract another 2 weeks to create a buffer in case your pumpkins have a slow-growing season.
Example: Let’s say you want pumpkins ready to carve by Halloween, and your pumpkin variety has a maturity date of 110 days. Subtract 110 days from October 31st, which would be July 13th. Then subtract another 2 weeks(14 days), which would be June 30th.
Here are examples of some pumpkin varieties you might find and their maturity dates:
- ‘Autumn Gold’- 110 days
- ‘Jack Be Little’ – 90 days
- ‘Dill’s Atlantic Giant’- 130 days
- ‘Winter Luxury’- 95 days
Katie Krejci, an integrative & functional dietitian at The Homesteading RD, says “If you live in a cold climate with a short growing season, consider fast-maturing varieties like Cinderella, Cider Jack and Baby Pam that mature in under 100 days. If you have a long growing season, consider Howden, Long Island Cheese, New England Pie , or even Musque de Provence (weighing in at 15-25 lbs!).”
RELATED: Wondering how many pumpkins your plant will produce? Check out our blog post where we go into detail on what you should expect from your plant!
Another important factor that determines when to plant pumpkins is soil temperature. When the soil is too cold, it slows down the germination process. This could extend the time it’ll take to mature and be ready for harvesting.
Pumpkin plants love warm soil, so you’ll want to make sure that the ground temperature is at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 Celsius) before planting.
You can use a soil thermometer to check the temperature of your soil, or you can wait until late May/early June when the temperatures are typically warm enough.
Pro Tip: To raise the temperature of the soil you can create mounds/hills or soil to plant your seeds in. The raised mound helps the soil warm up faster and also has a handy benefit of deterring pests.
Keep in mind that pumpkins thrive in warm soil. So much so that they might even grow quicker than expected in it. So if you live in some warmer areas (southern states for example), then be sure to factor that into when you plant your pumpkin seeds.
Pumpkin seeds need well-drained, moist soil in order to germinate and thrive. Not having the optimal soil moisture could lead to stunted growth and throw off the time you’re expecting to have your pumpkins ready to harvest.
When you plant pumpkin seeds, make sure that the soil is moist about 2-3 inches deep (but not too wet).
If the soil isn’t wet enough, you can add some water to it before planting.
But while too-dry soil can seriously slow your pumpkin production down, you also don’t want your soil to be overly wet. If the soil is too wet, wait a few days to let it dry a little before planting your seeds. If your soil is compact clay soil, then you can also add compost or peat moss to help improve the condition of the soil, which would in turn help with drainage.
Katie Krejci adds, “Pumpkins need a lot of moisture in the beginning, so be sure to water weekly and consider mulching with straw to aid in water retention. Once the temperatures start dropping in the fall, reduce watering to encourage the fruit to ripen.”
Pumpkin plants love warm air. When temperatures are too cold, your pumpkin seeds will grow slower.
Ideally, you’ll want the nighttime air temperature to be at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12 Celsius) when planting pumpkins.
If you live in a warmer region (Texas, for example), then you could potentially wait to plant your pumpkins until early July since your growing season is longer and warmer.
If you live in a colder region and your growing season is shorter, plant your pumpkins as soon as possible (two weeks after the final frost date) to ensure that they have adequate time to mature.
When It’s Necessary to Plant Pumpkin Seeds Indoors
What do you do if you live in an area where the growing season is short? What if you want your pumpkins ready to harvest pretty early? Or what if you want to grow those HUGE Atlantic Giant pumpkins but don’t have 130+ days of a growing window?
This is when indoor gardening comes in handy. You can plant pumpkin seeds indoors to squeeze out a few more weeks for your pumpkins to grow.
A full-sun window is helpful here to mimic the sunny outdoor conditions. But if you don’t have direct natural light for 12 hours a day (most people don’t!), a grow light provides the UV exposure you need for germination and early growth.
The maximum time you should grow your pumpkins indoors is 3-4 weeks. So if you plant your seedlings indoors 2 weeks before the last frost date, that should put you around the 1-2 week mark after the frost date when you’ll need to transplant it in your garden outside.
A non-negotiable step for starting seeds indoors is the hardening-off process. This means that you bring your pumpkin seedlings outdoors for a gradually increasing amount of time each day, giving your plants a chance to acclimate to outdoor conditions before transplanting them. Be sure to harden off the plants roughly 1 week before you plan on transplanting your plant outside.
If you’d like to learn more about how to harden off seedlings, the University of Nebraska outlines the process in detail.
RELATED: Pumpkins love to have companion plants around them. Find out which plants you should (and shouldn’t) put next to your pumpkins to help them grow even better!
Planting to Avoid Insects
Squash bugs are annoying bugs that wreak havoc on your pumpkins and squash. They love to feast on the leaves and can quickly kill your plants if not controlled.
According to the University of Minnesota Extension, squash bugs cause little harm to plants during the late summer and fall months.
So if you live in a warmer climate, then it is worth considering planting your pumpkins later rather than earlier to avoid an infestation.
That being said, for those of us that live in a colder climate and need to plant earlier, there are some steps you can take to help prevent an infestation of squash bugs.
Frequently Asked Questions about When to Plant Pumpkins
Pumpkins are a fun and easy crop to grow, as long as you know when the best planting time for your region falls.
By taking into account the factors we described in this post, you’ll be well on your way to growing a successful pumpkin crop.
If you have any questions or tips to share, we’d love to hear them in the comments below!