I know it’s early, but the weather is cool, and the pumpkins I tossed behind the shrubs last fall are wrapped around my hinoki and blooming their heads off, and it’s been a long, hot summer.. So, pumpkin pie, jack-o-lanterns, painted pumpkins, planted pumpkins, pumpkins decorating fall tables, and, of course, pumpkin spiced lattes. Here’s your guide to growing pumpkins, which ones are best for decoration only and which ones are good to eat!

Growing Pumpkins From Seeds:

What’re the best pumpkins to grow?

  • Jack-o-lanterns: Try Connecticut Field Pumpkins, an heirloom variety that carves easily and makes tasty pies. Or a newer variety, Charisma pumpkin, is slightly smaller (12-14 lbs), mildew resistant, and pie-worthy.

  • Easy to paint: Lumina pumpkins or Ghost pumpkins. These are fun to paint because of their smooth, white skin. The paint glides on, and the color stands out.

  • Best to Eat: Sugar or PIe Pumpkin, also perfect for table decor. Small, weighing in at 5 lbs.

  • If You Need a Carriage Ride: The common name is Cinderella pumpkin. The fancy name is Rouge vif d’Etampes. Great for stacking pumpkins because of their flat shape, and the red-orange color is showy.

  • Colorful Pumpkins: Jarrahdale pumpkins are deeply ribbed, grey-blue slate but use only for decor. This one isn’t for baking. Porcelain doll pumpkins are deeply ribbed, pink pumpkins weighing 16-24 lbs, sweet to eat, and fun decor.

Sugar or Pie pumpkins are perfect for baking, and are small enough to use with tabletop decorations.


Sugar or Pie pumpkins are perfect for baking and are small enough to use with tabletop decorations.

Planting Tips for Growing Pumpkins:

  • Space is a consideration. The typical hill needs 50-100 square feet. If space is an issue, get creative with more miniature pumpkins by using containers or training up trellises, or allow vines to grow over the sides of the garden beds.

  • Full, direct sunlight is needed. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., direct, overhead sunlight is best.

  • Pumpkins are heavy feeders. They prefer fertile soil that drains well. Mix lots of compost (2-4 inches) or soil amendment (1-2 inches) into beds before planting.

  • Plant seeds directly into the soil. For Western North Carolina, May 10-June 15 (after the soil has warmed up to 70 degrees) is the time for planting pumpkin seeds.

  • Plant seeds in rows or “pumpkin hills,” allowing the soil to warm up faster and drain better.

  • For hills: Plant seeds 48″ inches apart and 1.5″ deep. (This is for the larger varieties, double check your package of seeds for instructions.) Plant 4-5 seeds per hill.

  • For rows: Plant seeds 6″-12″ apart in rows 6′-10′ apart.

  • Seeds germinate quickly. When seedlings reach 2-3″ tall, thin to 2-3 plants per hill. In rows, thin to 1 plant every 18″-38″.

  • Mulch well to retain moisture and give pumpkins a dry, better draining area to avoid rot as the fruit forms. Using a mesh under the fruit helps with rotting.



Ghost or Lumina pumpkins.

Care For Growing Pumpkins:

  • An inch of water a week is necessary for pumpkins. Be sure to water during drought and early in the day for vines and fruit to dry off.

  • Fertilize young plants with high nitrogen fertilizer for vine growth. As pumpkins grow, use a high phosphorous fertilizer to help with fruit production.

  • Roots are shallow, so be careful when weeding to avoid disrupting roots.

  • Pollinators are essential for fruit formation. Plant flowers nearby to encourage the bees, and be careful with herbicides.

  • Pinch off the fussy ends of the vine as the fruit forms to develop bigger and better pumpkins. If you’re going for the biggest pumpkin contest, leave only one or two pumpkins per vine.

  • Rotate fruit to avoid rot and develop a rounder shape (and remember to be careful not to damage roots).

  • Watch for squash bugs, cucumber beetles, aphids, and powdery mildew.

The tall 'Harvest Time Hybrid' pumpkins make good Jack-o-lanterns and last long past Halloween.


The tall ‘Harvest Time Hybrid’ pumpkins make good Jack-o-lanterns and last long past Halloween.

Fairy Tale pumpkins have deep ribs, mahogany color, and a thick stem. Great decor and good pies.


Fairy Tale pumpkins have deep ribs, mahogany color, and a thick stem. Great decor and good pies.


  • When pumpkins are a deep color of orange (or whatever their color), they are beginning to ripen.

  • Do not pick when the pumpkin is the right size. Wait until it is ready to harvest.

  • Let it ripen on the vine.

  • Thumb the pumpkin and push on the skin with your thumbnail. It is ready to harvest if it sounds hollow and the skin won’t puncture.

  • Cut from the vine. Use a sharp knife and cut 5″-6″ inches from the vine. Do not tear.

  • If storing for winter usage, let cure in the sun for a week, then place in a cool, dry place at 55 degrees.

Written by Cinthia Milner, Landscape Consultant, and blogger.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.