Pumpkins and squash come in all shapes and sizes, from traditional Halloween pumpkins and butternut squash to more unusual varieties such as ‘Turk’s Turban’ and ‘Crown Prince’. Versatile, pumpkins and squash can be roasted, used in stews and curries or blended to make a delicious autumn soup. Most varieties store for up to a few months, so you can enjoy your home-grown fare throughout the winter months.
How to grow pumpkins and squash
Sow pumpkin and squash seed in pots of peat-free, multi-purpose compost in April and May. Transplant into larger pots when large enough to handle and plant outside when all risk of frost has passed. Pumpkins and squash are hungry plants and will benefit from a fertile soil enhanced with well-rotted manure or compost. When the fruits start to swell, gently lift them onto bricks so they ripen off the soil. Harvest when the stem connecting the fruit to the plant begins to crack.
More on growing pumpkins and squash:
How to sow pumpkin and squash seed
How to grow pumpkins and squash – sowing seed
Sow pumpkin and squash seeds indoors in spring. Soak seeds in water overnight to speed up germination, then sow two seeds into 8cm pots filled with seed compost. Place seeds on their sides and not flat to stop water sitting on top and causing rotting. Place pots on a warm, light windowsill and water well.
When the seedlings grow, remove the weaker one so the strongest has plenty of room to develop.
How to plant out pumpkins and squash
How to grow pumpkins and squash – planting out
Transplant young plants into larger pots when big enough to handle. This enables the plants to develop their rootball and grow larger and more robust, before planting out. Then, once all danger of frost has passed in late May or early June, plant them out into their final growing positions. Choose a sheltered, sunny spot and dig in lots of garden compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. Plant at least 90cm apart, according to the variety. Cover the surrounding soil with a mulch of garden compost to retain moisture. It’s a good idea to insert a bamboo cane next to each plant, so you will always be able to find its centre for watering, no matter how large each plant grows.
Cover young plants with a cloche to ward against slugs and snails.
Growing pumpkins or squash in a small space? Monty Don explains how to grow them up a support:
How to care for pumpkin and squash crops
A big, ripe pumpkin in a pumpkin patch
After planting, pumpkins and squash plants will rapidly put on growth. Depending on space, either let them trail over the ground or train them up a support. Stems touching the ground can be pegged down to encourage them to root down into the soil.
Pumpkins and squashes have separate male and female flowers. You can tell them apart as the female has a swelling behind it, which is the immature pumpkin or fruit. In cold or wet summers you may need to aid pollination. Simply remove a male flower and insert it into the female flower to transfer pollen from the stamen onto the stigma.
While plants are getting established, keep the ground weed free, but once they get going the large leaves will prevent any weeds from growing. Water plants regularly, especially in dry weather. As the pumpkins and squash develop, lift them gently onto a brick or straw, so they don’t ripen on the ground. Cut away any foliage shading the fruits to help them ripen.
Growing pumpkins and squashes: problem solving
Powdery mildew can be a problem on pumpkin and squash leaves, especially if the soil is dry. Water well and mulch to retain moisture at the roots and maintain good air circulation around leaves. If the infection hits early in the year, pick off infected parts promptly.
Harvesting pumpkins and squash
How to grow pumpkins and squash – squash nearly ready to be harvested
Pumpkins and squash are ready to harvest when the stem begins to crack and the skin hardens. Pick before the first frosts in October or November, cutting to retain as long a stem as possible.
Here, Monty explains when and how to harvest pumpkins and squash, and how to store them:
Preparation and uses
How to grow pumpkins and squash – Halloween lantern
Pumpkins and squash can be boiled, steamed or roasted and the seeds can be dried and eaten. Some varieties can be used to make an attractive autumnal display (pictured).
How to store pumpkins and squash
Pumpkins and squash keep best if you place them in the sun for about 10 days before storing, as this toughens the skin, helping to prevent them drying out in storage. Remember to cover them on frosty nights, then put them somewhere cool, dry and well ventilated. They should keep for about six months.
Great pumpkin and squash varieties to grow
A colourful selection of pumpkins and squash
‘Baby Bear’ – a compact pumpkin, perfect for smaller gardens
- ‘Sprinter’ – a fast-maturing butternut squash with sweet, firm flesh
‘Crown Prince’ – a prolific cropper with delicious, blue-grey skinned fruits
- ‘Hasta La Pasta’ – a yellow skinned squash with noodle-like flesh
- ‘Sunshine’ – a winter squash with a deliciously sweet, nutty flavour
- ‘Turk’s Turban’ – a decorative squash with orange and green flesh