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Get Ready for Gorgeous Gourds & Pumpkins

While it may seem counterintuitive to think of autumn when it’s barely summer, now is the time to plan for an abundant fall harvest of gourds and pumpkins. Both species are sown in May and June when the danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature is at least 70°F. 

Planting pumpkins
Pumpkins require a lot of garden space. When grown on the ground, they need 10 feet or more between rows and vines can reach 20 to 30 feet long. However, if space is limited you can cut off long runners after some fruit has set as long as you leave plenty of leaves to feed the developing fruit. Smaller varieties can be trained up a trellis or fence to save garden space. 

Pumpkins thrive in rich soil with good drainage. Site your pumpkin patch in an area that receives 6 to 9 hours of full sun. Plant two seeds ½ to 1 inch deep at the spacing interval for the variety you are growing. Thin to one plant and mulch to prevent weeds and preserve moisture. 

Pumpkin plants need an inch of water weekly. Water during stretches of hot, dry weather. They are heavy feeders and will benefit from an application of a balanced 5-10-5 fertilizer every three weeks during the growing season. Pumpkins can tolerate light frosts, but freezing temperatures can damage the fruit. 

A pumpkin’s bright orange color comes from beta-carotene, an antioxidant and precursor to Vitamin A. The fruit is low in calories and a good source of fiber and potassium. And don’t throw out those pumpkin seeds! They are nutritional powerhouses packed with protein, fiber and the minerals iron and magnesium. To roast, separate seeds from strings, rinse, pat dry, toss with oil and spread seeds out on a baking sheet. Roast at 325ºF for 10-15 minutes or until crisp. 

There are two general types of pumpkins: larger pumpkins that are grown primarily for carving and decoration and smaller pumpkins that are the choice for culinary dishes and decorating. While the flesh of both types is edible, the flesh of large pumpkins tends to be stringy. Smaller pumpkins’ flesh has a smooth texture when cooked. 

Harvest when the pumpkin has turned to its fall color and the stem, also known as a handle, is brown and dry. Clip, leaving a generous handle. Sun cure for 5 to 7 days and then store in a cool spot with good ventilation.

Try these varieties

  • Captain Jack Hybrid: These pumpkins boast a rich orange color, a classic tall barrel shape, a flat bottom and a nicely curved handle. Weighing up to 45 pounds, pumpkins reach to 15 inches high and 13 inches in diameter.
  • Sugar Pie: Since the 1800s, cooks in the know have turned to Sugar Pie for fine-grained orange flesh and rich flavor. Because they are 6 to 7 inches in diameter with flattened ends, these pumpkins are also good for autumn decorations or miniature jack-o’-lanterns.
  • Long Island Cheese: Named for its resemblance to a wheel of cheese, these medium-sized pumpkins (6 to 10 pounds) are sweet with deep orange flesh, an excellent choice for pies.
  • Jarrahdale: Medium to large (12 to 18 pounds) these slate gray pumpkins have thick orange flesh. A particularly attractive pumpkin, it is also good for pies.
  • Baby Boo: Children love this miniature pumpkin. Two inches high and 3 inches wide, weighing about a half a pound, it is an ideal pumpkin for kids to gather. Like its name implies, it is pure white, but be aware that the pumpkin has to be picked before it reaches full maturity to maintain its whiteness. At maturity, it turns a pale yellow. Lovely for decorations.

Growing gourds
How to grow gourds? Just follow the same guidelines as with pumpkins; however, harvest gourds need to be washed in a solution of 10 parts water and 1 part bleach, carefully removing all dirt. Also, keep in mind that ornamental gourds should not be eaten as they can be toxic. 


  • Gremlins: Bright, bold, and typically warty, the most popular gourd to grow for fall decorations are these small to medium (5 to 7 inches) gourds in various solid and speckled colors.
  • Birdhouse: This hard-shelled, smooth, pear-shaped gourd reaches to 10 inches wide and 15 inches tall. Cultivated more than 10,000 years ago, they are native to northern Africa. Used to make bottles to carry water, utensils, musical instruments and birdhouses, these gourds make perfect birdhouses to attract purple martins.
  • Ornamental Snake: Don’t grow this gourd if you have a fear of snakes as the gourd does, indeed, resemble a serpent either hanging from a fence or “crawling” along the ground. Striped, speckled or green, this hard-shelled gourd can reach 6 feet long. Harvest when the vine is brown. Dry in a warm area with good ventilation. Kids love to paint these “snakes” and when dry the seeds rattle.

Whatever your plans for fall décor or cooking, don’t miss your window to plant pumpkins and gourds now. You’ll be glad later!

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