Top 10 Tips to Growing Giant Pumpkin
The average homegrown pumpkin weighs nine to 12 pounds, but with the right seeds, a little soil preparation, and a lot of tender loving care, you can grow a pumpkin to enormous proportions. Professional pumpkin growers are gardening enthusiasts who share a passion for growing potential contenders to compete for the title of largest pumpkin. Although this hobby is time-consuming, the rewards are enormous. Kirk Chenier, president of the Giant Vegetable Growers of Ontario (GVGO), shares his passion and advice on how you can grow your own 300- to the 500-pound orange monster. Even if you don’t plan to enter your gourd in a contest, you can grow the biggest jack-o’-lantern on the block.
So there are many tips and steps on how to grow pumpkins in your home garden:
1. Prepare the pumpkin patch
It’s best to start preparing the pumpkin patch in the fall. Designate a spot that is six feet by six feet, level and in full sun. Chenier suggests amending the soil with compost, manure, shredded leaves, dried grass clippings and natural additives like granular humic acid fertilizer, kelp meal, cornmeal, and even molasses. The soil and additives should then be mixed together and allowed to sit over the winter. Giant pumpkin growers have their soil tested in the spring to see if anything needs to be tweaked before the final tilling of the pumpkin patch.
2. Sowing the Seeds
To get a head start on Mother Nature, start your pumpkin seeds indoors in mid-April. Chenier recommends Dills Atlantic Giant variety as the best seeds to use when growing giant pumpkin. Plant individual seeds in four-inch peat pots filled with lightly moistened soil. Place the pots in a warm, sunny location and keep them moist. The seeds will sprout within three to five days.
3. Transplant the Seedlings
Once the seeds have sprouted and the first true leaves appear, it’s time to transplant the seedlings outside. The pumpkin plants are extremely delicate, and care must be taken when transitioning them outdoors. Don’t remove the plant from the pot; you risk damaging the roots. Dig a hole and place the peat pot directly into the soil; the pot will eventually break down.
4. Shelter your Plants
To keep your plant sheltered, a mini-greenhouse can be used to keep the plants warm. Pumpkin professionals use ground-heating cables to keep the soil warm and toasty in early spring. Once the cool spring mornings have passed, the greenhouse or cables can be removed. Chenier explains that wind barriers erected around the plants help keep the young plants sheltered, especially since the seedlings have shallow roots that prevent them from anchoring into the soil. Once the plants have had enough time to establish themselves in their new home, the barriers can be removed.
5. Keep your Pumpkin Patch Weed-Free
Until your seedlings are established, it’s best to weed your pumpkin patch regularly, but don’t stop there: By eliminating weeds throughout the growing season, you’ll also help prevent insects and other diseases from potentially spreading to your vines.
6. Pollinate the flowers
In late June or early July, flowers needs to be pollinated in order for pumpkins to develop. Pollination may occur naturally through bees and other insects in the garden, but Chenier and his fellow giant pumpkin growers hand-pollinate the female flowers with male flowers from other plants.
You can tell the difference between a male and a female flower by looking at the base of each bloom. If there is a small bulb resembling a tiny pumpkin, then you know the flower is female. If the bulb is missing, then the flower is male.
Once a chosen female flower develops into a pumpkin, the growth is tracked to see if it will reach certain benchmark levels that usually indicate a giant pumpkin in the making. Professional growers estimate the final size of their pumpkins by comparing measurements with a growth chart filled with data collected by GVGO members. The chart allows growers to compare the growth rate of their current crop to giant pumpkins from previous seasons that became record holders.
7. Choose your Champion Pumpkin
Check your vines every few days to see when new pumpkins are developing. In the beginning of July, choose one or two of the fastest-growing pumpkins and remove all of the others from the vine. By thinning out the crop, you’ll be directing all the energy and nutrients from the plant to your potential champion.
8. Caring for your vines
Many things can go wrong in the pumpkin patch during the growing season. Home gardeners need to be wary of several pests and diseases. Animals like raccoons, chipmunks, and moles may eat or mark the pumpkins. Insect pests like cucumber beetles, aphids, squash vine borers among other insects can also wreak havoc on the plants. By being vigilant, you’ll be able to deal with any pests and diseases before an invasion occurs.
9. Feed and Fertilize to Growing Pumpkin
Since pumpkins have shallow roots, the plants need a generous amount of water, especially during the hot summer months. It’s best to water them in the early evening, but allow the plants to dry out before nightfall. If the moisture is not kept even, the pumpkin might split after a heavy rainfall, which can cause a growth spurt. Giant pumpkins have an unquenchable thirst, and some of these monsters can use as much as 100 gallons of water a day during peak growing season. On average, giant pumpkins grow about 30 pounds a day, but some giants can gain as much as 60 pounds in twenty-four hours.
10. Harvest your giant pumpkin
When the weather starts to get cold, you’re ready to harvest your giant pumpkin. The last thing you want after all your hard work is to leave your pumpkin on the vine to freeze. Depending on the size of your pumpkin, you may need a few friends to help move it. Roll the pumpkin onto a blanket and have each person lift a corner to move it to a location where you can impress your friends and family.
Competitive growers continue to grow their pumpkins into September and October, or until the weekend of the official weigh-in, In Ontario, the largest weigh-off is the Port Elgin Pumpkinfest, where the grand prize for the heaviest pumpkin is $5,000. To move these giants, a special lifting device is used to cradle the pumpkin during harvest and moved to a padded pallet for transportation.
The secret to growing pumpkin is patience and constant attention. Home gardeners should have some fun along the way, and Chenier suggests that this gardening adventure should be taken slowly and steadily.