Success growing backyard pumpkins

Last year we tried to grow pumpkins and failed miserably. Admittedly, the attempt was half hearted. The planting bed was hard-packed clay in an area that was formerly used for storing pipe. I dug deep holes and filled them with planting mix and compost, but the resulting vines were spindly and produced a small, thin crop.

Our first try at Big Max (Giant), Lumina (White), and Jack-Be-Little (Miniature) produced only a few little pumpkins. I blamed the poor production on the lack of bees, but after the changes we made this year, I can say that the bees were not totally to blame.

On the left is the BEFORE pic of our strawberry box in front of the newly planted pumpkin patch. On the right you can see our flourishing pumpkins (AFTER), now invading the strawberries.

Before

After

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Success! Two white “Lumina” pumpkins on the vine.

Two white pumpkins

After making the changes below, I am happy to say that we have a strong crop of pumpkins this year and daily visits by the local bees. We’ve never been more excited to see bees in the garden.


If you want to grow pumpkins in your backyard, try these 6 steps:

  1. Full sun. We planted our pumpkins in the same spot this year because it gets full sun all day long. It has a southern exposure and is the warmest and sunniest spot in our yard.
  2. Raised bed. This year I built a 4ft x10 ft box and filled it with 6 inches of “garden mix” from the local landscape yard. In large beds, always add a few stepping stones or boards to walk on so that you won’t compact the soil. Pumpkins like to root their vines into the soil as they grow, which provides more nutrients to the plant and, more importantly, the pumpkins! A raised bed creates the perfect environment.
  3. Drip irrigation. Pumpkins like water…lots of it…and at regular intervals. I recently read about a woman who lost her prized Big Max pumpkin when it received a large amount of water all at one time and swelled to the point of cracking. Our drip system is on a timer so the pumpkins get a daily dose of H2O.
  4. Mulch. We added a 2 inch layer of shredded cedar mulch to the raised bed once the plants were about 4 inches tall. This serves two purposes: (1) Moisture is retained in the soil and is less likely to dry out on hot days and (2) the pumpkins have a dry surface on which to grow. If pumpkins come in contact with damp soil for an extended period they can discolor and, in the worse cases, soften and rot.
  5. Flowers and Bees. Pumpkins need bees. Bees like flowers. Attract bees to your pumpkin patch and your flowers are more likely to be pollinated. We planted a row of sunflowers along the back of the box, along with zinnias, marigolds, and rosemary, but the pumpkins grew faster than expected. There are pumpkins on the vine but no sunflowers yet (we’ll plant them earlier next year). Other bee-friendly flowers that we have in the yard include azalea, rhododendron, rose, thyme, red apple, agapanthus, lobelia, lavender, columbine, cosmos, daisy, pansy, primrose, lamb’s ears, sage, poppy, basil, boysenberry, orange. Check out this list of bee-friendly flowers for ideas.
  6. VF-11. We apply VF-11 plant food weekly. This stuff is incredible, and seems like magic. Buy some and use it on all your plants.

Check out these amazing photos that Calvin took of the bees in our pumpkin patch.

Two Bees

Can you say pollination?

Can you say pollination?

And here a few more pumpkin pics…

Jack-Be-Little

Jack-Be-Little

Lumina (white) on the left & Big Max (giant) on the right

Lumina (white) on the left & Big Max (giant) on the right

Trevor just finished an iPhoto class. Here’s his take on the pumpkin patch…

Thank you, Sarah, for the seeds!

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8 Responses to “Success growing backyard pumpkins”

  1. Aunt Linda Says:

    That is awesome you guys! The video was fun and informative and the still photos are amazing! (Sheila must be most impressed.) Yes, I’m the proud Aunt and will be forwarding this to everyone I know to show off my creative nephews and niece!!! Dig that music too 🙂

    -Linda

  2. plantgirl Says:

    Awesome post – great ideas for pumpkins – & thanks for your comment on my blog 🙂

  3. mike barone Says:

    This is my second year. Last year I harvested 2 mystic pumpkins. This year I planted 10 giant pumpkin seeds and unfortunately only 1 came up. However I have 2 growing on that plant. One looks dominant and is growing quickly. I have a yard with limited options for sun, even the best parts of the yard are not sun from start to finish. I built a raised bed for then this year wich they share with tomatoes, asparagus, peppers and basil. I have allowed and trained the vines to grow outside the bed alongside the garden. The plant is healthy with many giant leaves and is over 20 feet long and still growing. I have heard you should eliminate other pumpkins on the vine once one appears to grow at a faster rate. I am still searching for an answer which is how I stumbled onto your site. I also transplanted 2 plants from my other bed wich came up from composting my bed. The mystic pumpkin plant is back and has 2 plants on it from the transplant. I also must have thrown a gourd or something sle in there last year as I have a yellow part squash/pumpkin/zucchini ? It will make a nice decoration. I am hoping my giant pumpkin keeps going. It is August 13 and we have had a cooler and rainier season than usual. It will not come close to a prize pumpkin, but I am hopeful to reach respectable jacko-lantern status. I hope build on my success next year with a little research. Thanks for the info and the pictures. Your fellow grower Mike Barone

  4. Chris Says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the news on your garden. I love hearing what others are doing.

    I’ve read that the folks who grow pumpkins for competition definitely remove all but one pumpkin per vine. We’re like you, just trying to grow future jack-o-lanterns. I do remove any weak or shrively (is that a word?) pumpkins as I find them.

    We planted four “Big Max” plants this year. All vines look healthy but we only have two pumpkins growing. One is probably 3 ft around and the other is still pretty small. Two other giant pumpkins got soft and mushy so I threw them in the compost pile.

    We have four or five Luminas (white) from four vines and six to eight Jack-be-Littles (miniature).

    I’ve been very happy with the results given the space we have to work with. Keep us posted on your pumpkin progress! -Chris

  5. D. Stiltner Says:

    I tried this year…halfheartedly like you said the first time you did. For the kids, but I have found myself running out every morning to check on my plants. I planted a few seeds from my jack-o-lantern that I saved & I had ordered some specialty seeds online. A few seedlings had untimely deaths at the hands of my husbands weed eater…oh did he pay for that…haha. But it was kinda my fault cause I had let the kids put them everywhere & I didn’t mark the well.

    The only pumpkin I have is one lone Lumina. It is the size of a large softball right now. But next year, thanks to you, I will do it right. Thankfully I still have most of the seeds I ordered & the guy said they will still be good next year.

    Good luck on the pumpkins guys. Oh and BTW another tree that is a bee attractor…also attracts hummingbirds by the hundreds, is a Mimosa. They grow 5 feet a year & are beautiful. They can be invasive so you have to watch for sprouts, but that tree could be fun for your kids.

  6. Debra Says:

    I just came across your site while looking at pumpkin vines on the web. We cleaned out a pumpkin last fall in our backyard and today I saw a strange plant growning in the middle of my backyard.. It was a PUMPKIN VINE.. that came up from the seeds that got left in the yard. :0) My kids want to keep it but I’m not sure about transporting it.. I think it might not make it.
    Cute site.. I loved the video.. makes me want to plant my own garden.. I will make sure to show your site to my kids.
    Debra Stevens

  7. eric knight Says:

    this was my first year experimenting with pumpkins.i found out that they arent easy to grow.i planted 2 mounds in full sun with plenty of water and nutrients.vines were thick and spread out quickly.when i saw small yellow pumpkins begin to develop i ofcourse got very excited.they devoloped small black spots and rotted right on the vine yet the vine continued to grow.dunno what happend.any advice on that?thanks.

  8. plumcrazytreehugger Says:

    Hi! Thank you so much for this awesome post! i especially adore the iPhoto take on the patch…such pretty colors.
    My brother grew his first pumpkin successfully last year…i think the trick is growing them with corn. We are going to try companion planting a little more extensively this year.
    It’s so nice to see another family that loves to garden!
    ~Happy gardening!

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