Birds & Blooms

At-home Harvest


- By Niki Jabbour

A guide to growing your own pumpkins and gourds.

Whether dressing up indoor and outdoor spaces in fall or starring in seasonal desserts, pumpkins and gourds are autumn musts.

To harvest them from your own garden next year, follow these simple tips to get a head start on your personal patch.

Pumpkins and gourds are members of the Cucurbitac­eae family. When growing your own, pick from the wide assortment available in seed catalogs or online. Certain pumpkins are best for carving, while others make the sweetest pies. Read carefully to select pumpkins that meet your garden goals.

Fruit sizes range from mini to massive; colors include classic

orange as well as white, red, green, blue and yellow; and shapes vary from flat to round to tall.

Gourds are also rewarding to grow. Two main types are available to gardeners: hard-shell and ornamental. Hard-shell gourds, such as birdhouse or long-dipper gourds, can be dried and kept indefinite­ly. The fruits are also edible when harvested immature. Ornamental gourds produce unique fruits in a wide mix of shapes, sizes and colors, but they aren’t edible and don’t dry well, so they’re best used as decor in autumn and then added to the compost pile.


Though they are pretty easy to grow, success with pumpkins and gourds begins with selecting the right spot. They need at least eight hours of sun each day as well as room for the vines to roam. If you lack growing space, plant bush or semi-bush options that don’t produce long vines.

Pumpkins and gourds are greedy plants, growing best when the soil is enhanced with several inches of compost or aged manure. It’s also a good idea to apply a slow-release organic vegetable fertilizer to the garden bed before planting. The heat-loving fruits shouldn’t be rushed into the spring garden since the seeds don’t germinate well in cold soil. Wait until your area’s last frost date has passed and the soil has warmed to 70 degrees. Then direct sow or transplant seeds into raised beds, in-ground gardens, straw bales, or hills, which are small mounds of soil piled up to improve drainage and raise soil temperatur­e. Sow seeds a half inch to an inch deep. Spacing depends on the selected variety.

Refer to your seed packets for specific spacing informatio­n.


Once in the garden, pumpkins and gourds are easygoing. Keep an eye on soil moisture, watering deeply when the soil is dry. Water the soil, not the plant, as splashing water can increase the risk of soil-borne disease. Promote healthy growth by fertilizin­g every two to three weeks with either a liquid kelp or fish fertilizer.

Also watch out for pests like squash bugs and squash vine borers.

If borers are an annual issue in your garden, wrap a 6-inch piece of aluminum foil around the bottom of each stem. This helps reduce the number of female vine borers laying eggs on the plant stems. formed the plant’s existing more won’t When growing flowers. have energy on fruits, several each time tip. The into not vine, This to pumpkins late mature producing maturing pinch directs flowers into back have the good-sized also Pinching leads hard-shell to pumpkins. bigger pumpkins. gourds Pinching is helpful to prune too, back but the there’s plants no of need ornamental gourds.

During summer, another task to consider is pollinatio­n. Gourds and pumpkins produce separate male and female flowers. Pollen needs to be transferre­d from a male flower to a female flower for fruits to form.

Bees typically take care of this, but you can lend Mother Nature a hand by using a small clean paintbrush to move pollen to the flowers. Hand pollinate on a dry, sunny day.


First-time hard to gourds. With harvest time a sharp The knowing their growers biggest pair pumpkins of may when clue pruners, have is it’s color. and time clip a fruits turned from their vines mature when color. they’ve Leave a 2-to-4-inch-long stem attached to each fruit. Be sure to harvest before a hard frost, which can damage the fruits.

Let pumpkins and gourds cure in the sun for five to seven days if the weather allows. Curing keeps pumpkins from decaying too quickly. If cold and frost are threats, bring the fruits indoors to a warm spot with decent air circulatio­n to cure.

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