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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Pumpkins for Fall Decorations

Posted by John Fulton -

Many pumpkins are already on their way, with seeds being sown a month ago. While this practice is great for producing pumpkins for pumpkin pie, it really doesn't work very well for producing the Halloween jack-o-lantern pumpkins. The Halloween pumpkins are best planted around Father's Day. This timing helps prevent the pumpkins from rotting before we get to the end of October.

Many different varieties are available, and they come in many sizes and shapes. The small pumpkins, ranging from two to five pounds, are called "pie" types. They are normally used for cooking and fall decorations, and include the Baby Bear variety. Intermediate and large varieties are primarily used for jack-o-lanterns. Many of the newer varieties have stronger side walls to aid in display and carving. The flesh of these varieties is generally poor in quality and not used for cooking. Processing pumpkins, that are canned commercially make poor carving pumpkins, and are more like a buff colored watermelon in appearance. The jumbo or mammoth varieties are mainly used for exhibition. These jumbos can weigh in the 900 pound range. For most homeowners, you might want to pass on these since moving a 900 pound pumpkin isn't for everyone. The other option is to try and grow one in place.

Pumpkins should be planted about now for carving or fall decoration. Vining pumpkins need at least 50 – 100 feet per hill, with the larger pumpkins requiring the larger area. Hills should be five to six feet apart and rows of hills should be 10 – 15 feet apart. Each hill should have about four seeds per hill, planted about an inch deep. The miniature varieties such as the Jack-Be-Little are sometimes grown in rows with seeds planted every eight to twelve inches, then thinned to about two feet apart in the rows. Fall decoration pumpkins should be cut from the vine before the vine dries in order to have a good stem attached to the pumpkin, but after the color is acceptable.

Keep the pumpkin bed free from weeds by shallow hoeing, and make sure it is watered during extended dry periods. Major pests are squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and vine borers. Most often, frequent applications of an insecticide such as carbaryl will help protect the new runners from the vine borers and also control the beetles that transmit the wilt virus. Make sure no applications are made to open blooms, that attract the bees for pollination, by applying insecticides in late afternoon or early evening.

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