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October 27, 2011

Tips for growing and displaying pumpkins

- by Debra Anchors

Raising a pumpkin isn't difficult; just about anyone can do it. But, growing a great jack o' lantern requires concentration plus rich soil, plenty of water and protection from insects, animals and high winds. Successful pumpkin gardeners give their vines lots of room and they feed them often (compost, well-rotted manure, an organic plant food/fertilizer and frequent doses of manure tea are good soil enhancements).  A hot-weather crop, pumpkins should be sown only after the weather warms; seeds planted too soon will rot. It’s wise to remember to rotate your crop (plant in a different area every year). Pumpkins cultivated in the same patch of soil two years in a row will be susceptible to insect attracts. Good companions include petunias and nasturtiums, both of which repel squash bugs.

Growing pumpkins:

To grow a symmetrical pumpkin (one which doesn't have a flat side), use a trellis for smaller varieties so that fruits don’t touch the ground. Gently rotate larger, earthbound pumpkins a little at a time every few weeks.

Pumpkins need about 14 feet of space in all directions to grow well. Gardeners with space limitations might consider applying for a plot at a local community garden or adopting a vacant lot (permission and access to water will both be required).

A soil pH of 6.0 and 7.0 is optimum.

Try growing a square pumpkin. Set young fruit inside a half-gallon cardboard milk carton, and then snip away the carton as the pumpkin outgrows it.

Prepare to surprise a guest of honor with a pumpkin emblazoned with his or her name. Etch the name into the immature fruit and watch it grow along with the pumpkin.

As for varieties, sculptors of all ages will want tot try ‘Connecticut Field’ (an heirloom plant) and ‘Jack-O-Lantern’. For cooking, try ‘Small Sugar’.  The best pumpkin for both cooking and carving is ‘Howden’. Ask the staff at your favorite garden center for suggestions.

To prevent critters from eating your pumpkins, put up a fence. To keep mice from gnawing pumpkins on display, spray your gourds with acrylic coating.

Display your pumpkins:

When it comes to pumpkins, excess is best. While many gardeners enjoy growing the biggest pumpkin possible, miniatures are equally irresistible. Of course, if you don't have the space to grow your own pumpkins, your garden center will have them available for purchase. 

Use the hallowed-out shells of small varieties to serve fall soups. Or, fill the shells with dips for a Halloween party.

Clean harvested pumpkins and gourds with a clean cloth dipped in a ten-to-one solution of water and bleach.

Cornstalks and pumpkins can be brought into service to create a charming vignette in front of your home.

You can extend your pumpkins’ display time by coating them lightly with acrylic or varnish.

A garden chair can be used to display your sculpted pumpkins off of the ground and closer to eye level.

Decorate a tree with miniature pumpkins (such as ‘Jack Be Little’, ‘Baby Boo’, and ‘Sweetie Pie’). Fasten a string around each stem and hang them from the tree’s branches.

Use items you have. Pumpkins piled into a wheelbarrow with mums as a backdrop creates a beautiful fall display. Don't worry that you didn't grow mums this season - your garden center will have many to choose from!

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