Pumpkins For Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns – Pumpkins are the quintessential symbol of Halloween. Children all over America carve or help carve them into Jack-O-Lanterns each year. Next year, try growing your own Halloween pumpkins. Pumpkins, along with their close relatives, squash, are native to the Americas. Like American cities, they sprawl all over the landscape and require a lot of room to spread out.
They fall botanically into one of three categories: Curcurbita moschata, the squash and commercially canned varieties; Curcurbita maxima, the giant ones for contests; and Curcurbita pepo, the miniatures and Jack-O-Lanterns.
Pumpkins take a long time to mature, from 90 to 160 days, depending on the variety. Start seeds indoors 2 to 3 weeks prior to your last frost. You can also direct seed after the date of your last frost. Plant in hills 4 to 6 feet apart or 1 to 3 feet apart in rows 4 to 6 feet apart.
Because they like rich soil, add compost and fertilize with high nitrogen (first number) fertilizer as they begin to grow. Switch to high phosphorous (middle number) fertilizer just before the flowers begin to bloom.
Pumpkins have both male and female flowers on each plant and each flower lasts for only one day. They unfurl at dawn and begin folding in on themselves about midday. By dusk, the bloom is closed in on itself and sealed forever.
Water heavily because they are 80 to 90% water. Watering is best done with a soaker hose to prevent spreading disease.
Leave the two main vines on each plant and selectively prune the side shoots, depending on how much room they have in which to grow. Clip the shoots off when they first develop.
You may need to adjust their position to achieve the symmetrical shape that is so desired for a Jack-O-Lantern. Gently adjust them so that they are sitting on their “bottoms.” Use care when relocating; don’t bend or break the vine. It’s OK to uproot a portion of the vine to relocate the pumpkins, just don’t break or bend it.
Harvest your pumpkins when the fruit deepens in color. Cure in the sun for ten days (cover if frost threatens). After curing, move to a cool place, ideally around 45 to 55 degrees F. Each vine will yield about two pumpkins.
The vines can grow six inches or more in a single day and are the largest vegetable in cultivation. Growing pumpkins for Halloween can be a rewarding way to teach children about gardening.