Have you ever wondered how to time your planting of the perfect Jack-o-Lantern for Fall festivities? Well, I have. My wife and I have 5 kids & I could never fully justify buying 5 pumpkins from the local grocery store just so each kid could carve their own pumpkin masterpiece; even the single "family pumpkin" was a hit-or-miss activity most years.
If you enjoy decorating your environs with large, ripe, pumpkins in the Fall then now is the time to get your pumpkin patch prepared and your seeds or transplants in the ground! The ideal time to plant pumpkins for Fall harvest is between June 1st and July 1st for the majority of pumpkins varieties. Frankly, you only have a few days left.
Now, I acknowledge that I COULD have mentioned this to you a bit sooner and given you more time to prepare. However, I am too busy, & there is still time. Besides, I'm giving you a lot of advance notice for 2022 and beyond.
Pumpkins are space hogs, meaning, each pumpkin vine needs about 100 square feet to mature the fruit, so your patch will take up some serious real estate if you plant many vines. Mounding is a good method and some folks just let the vines go wherever they want to. These plants have extensive root systems and prefer goldilocks conditions (i.e. loose, organic, well-drained soil with a pH above 5.5). Pumpkins will produce better if you start with 3"-4" of good shredded hardwood mulch and it will be easier to maintain your pumpkin patch. This will also keep the fruit off the soil and the roots cooler.
East Texas has hot, humid Summer afternoons and you may notice that the leaves of the plant wilt some in the heat of the day. Adequate watering will keep them productive and the wilting is not cause for much concern unless they are not getting enough water. Irrigate no less than once a week, and water slowly and deeply each time. This volume can be lessened if you have received an inch or more of rain during a week. Almost all plants prefer rain to municipal water supplies, but supplemental watering is likely to be necessary for a good crop of pumpkins by Autumn.
Some of the best varieties to try in our area include:
Big Max (Large)
Dill's Atlantic Giant (Large)
Mammoth Gold (A good choice for pumpkin pie)
I fertilize with Osmocote because I like the time-release feature and trust the standard formulation, but the standard product is not considered "organic". If you prefer organics then a good compost tea or fish emulsion fertilizer will do the trick at watering time. Top dressing with a layer, composted rabbit manure just after planting is a great idea (if you can get your hands on some).
Avoid chemical pesticides unless you intend to hand pollinate each flower yourself. (This practice could be fun for creating your own hybrids.) There are organic pesticides available that can help if you notice squash beetles or other obnoxious pests. Just perform your organic treatments in the afternoons and evenings if possible to avoid the morning honeybees. Don't kill the bees.
Pumpkins can be harvested at any time prior to the death of the vine and once they reach the desired size. Most are ready for picking about 90 - 120 after planting. Harvesting often extends from September through the end of November. Remember to keep about 4"-5" of stem on the pumpkin as this will help the pumpkin "keep" longer. As the cut stem dries out it seals off the fruit and prolongs the useful life of the orbs.
When we get a little closer to the Fall season I will share more thoughts on pumpkins.
Don't expect too much though. I don't really like pies.