With Halloween a mere growing season away, it’s time to get planting those pumpkins. Follow these easy steps and grow your own grinning Jack O’Lantern and you’ll have no reason to worry about a pumpkin shortage.  

Select your squash

When growing pumpkins and winter squash, there’s a field of different heirloom varieties to choose from. Like people, each variety has its own specific characteristics. Some are tough, some are sweet, and some are bright and orange. Buy pumpkin seeds at your local garden centre or order some online.

  1. Pumpkin Dependable: According to our friends at Arnprior Pumpkins this makes an ideal variety for large Halloween lanterns. Dependable has a vine habit and is tolerant of Powdery Mildew. 
  2. Butternut Squash Hunter: A butternut squash variety, perfectly suited to UK growing. Ideal roasted, mashed, curried or in a soup. It can cope with cooler summers better than the standard ‘Butternut’ types.
  3. Honey Bear Squash: A compact choice that’s excellent for growing in containers. The fruits are small but well-formed and the plants have good resistance to mildew. 
  4. Jack be Little: Beautiful small round orange fruits. 
  5. Crown Prince: Orange flesh is enclosed by a thick, silvery-blue skin, making this a stunning variety for exhibiting or storing. A high sugar squash. Beautifully sweet flavoured orange flesh and one of the best tasting winter squashes you can grow
  6. Burgess Vine Buttercup: This is a good choice for those with smaller plots as the vines are not too huge, but still make lots of squash just the right size for two or three people.
  7. Pumpkin Jack O'Lantern: the traditional pumpkin for Halloween carving. A versitile fruit that can be roasted, baked, or made into a variety of dishes such as soup or pie
  8. Hokkaido: This is a well-travelled squash - originally from Japan - but grown in Europe for many years, in the process being reselected for our northern climate, so it does well here. It is from the 'hubbard' family of squashes, which is the earliest and easiest group of squash to grow in the UK. The flesh is dense, with a good flavour, and it keeps well. 

Ready, set, grow!

Despite a short season, pumpkins grow quickly with seedlings planted in June ready for harvesting in October. Pumpkins grow in a vine and need loads of space. Larger varieties usually need 8 to 10 feet between the rows, but this will vary from variety to variety. Check the packet or do your own research for more precise instructions. If space is an issue consider growing miniature pumpkins or linking up with a community garden in your local area. 

Prep your pumpkin 

You can prep your seeds in pots or sow them directly into the ground

Indoor growing: 

  • Seeds can be sown in pots from April to June. Fill a 7.5cm pot with compost, place a seed on its side 2.5cm deep and cover. Label, water and place on a windowsill or in a propagator.
  • When roots begin to show through the bottom of the pot transfer into a 12.5cm pot. Once seedlings have established, plant outside spacing them 1 - 2m apart (depending on the variety, read on seed packet for specific instructions).
  • Remember to acclimatise seedlings for a week or so by bringing them in at nighttime. 

Outdoor growing:

  • Seeds can be sown directly into the ground from late May to early summer. 
  • Two weeks before planting or sowing seeds outdoors, make planting pockets 1 - 2m apart by making a hole about a spade’s depth, width and height and fill with a mixture of compost or well-rotted manure and soil. Sprinkle a general-purpose fertiliser over the soil. Plant one plant or seed on top of each pocket, 1 - 2 inches deep.
  • When your seedling sprouts, usually after 7 -10 days, add additional compost around the plant to keep weeds down and retain moisture. If you don't have compost, don't fret, pumpkin vines are pretty resilient.

Follow these simple steps to home composting and you'll never be without again. 

Guard your gourd 

Pumpkins are sturdy staples, but like the rest of us they depend on love and nurture to prosper. Pumpkins like lots of organic matter so work some manure, grass clippings, leaves, or compost into the soil ahead of planting. Once the first fruits start appearing add more every 10-14 days. 

Once pumpkins are in the garden and growing, they require very little maintenance, just plenty of sunshine, consistent watering, shelter from cold winds and a watchful eye for pests and slugs.

An easy and environmentally friendly way to defend young pumpkins against snails and slugs is to put a layer of sand beneath and a few inches around the pumpkin fruit. This effectively halts them from reaching the fruit. As the fruit grows, add more sand. Continue to provide a ring of protection until the skin shows signs of hardening. Get more tips on guarding your gourd here

Halloween harvest

Pumpkins are ready to be harvested when the skin has hardended and they have reached a deep rich colour. Leave on the vine as long as possible, but make sure to bring your pumpkin home before the first frost strikes. Let your pumpkins ripe off the vine for about two weeks. If storing, keep in a dry and cool space.

Make the most of your pumpkin

Pumpkins are not only delicious, they are packed full of vital antioxidants and vitamins. Get a taste of Halloween with our collection of pumpkin recipes.

Give your pumpkin a dignified end! Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of food sent to landfill. Get started with this simple guide to home composting.