The best pumpkin in the patch is just waiting to be yours. The trick is to know when to pick pumpkins for decorating and carving or eating based on some clear signs they give you while they’re still on the ground. Anyone can rely on these simple signals to bring home a big, orange beauty—or two or three. You can even plan for next year with our awesome tips on how to grow pumpkins. If you get started in May or June, you’ll have your own patch just in time for Halloween.
Grab a wagonful of varied sizes and shapes early in the season to embellish your yard or front porch. By pairing these early pumpkins with other natural decorations, such as Indian corn, gourds, or squashes, your home looks seasonal and welcoming all autumn long. You can start decorating as soon as the weather turns cool. Then, as Halloween approaches, add spookier stuff like Crate & Barrel’s Halloween Spooky Lit Tabletop Tree for indoors. In or out, playful Orb Lanterns look like pumpkins and hold your favorite fall candles.
Knowing when to pick pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns is a little different. These pumpkins need a few extra weeks to get bigger and stronger. Early or mid-October gives you enough time to hit the patch for some good ones. Look for pumpkins that feel heavy for their size. They should be firm and consistently colored. A little asymmetry might make a fun face, but pass over mold or soft spots, deep wrinkles, and cuts. Don’t forget to make sure it sits flat if you pick it from a big bin! If you go to the patch, bring a pair of G & F Soft Jersey Garden Gloves. Fresh vines or stems can be a little spiky sometimes.
Culinary pumpkins are different than decorating pumpkins, which, unfortunately, make tough, unappetizing pies. When selecting pumpkins for baking, look for smaller versions in your grocer’s produce section or ask your farmer for recommendations. The thumb test tells you if they’re fresh for cooking. Gently flip the pumpkin over and press your thumbs into the bottom. If it’s firm, you’re good. If it’s hard, pick another. If it’s soft, you’re too late.
How to Grow Pumpkins
Next year, you can have your own pumpkins if you want to! Decide which day you want to harvest and count back about 125 days. That’s when you need to plant—for most people, this is May or June. Pick a sunny patch where 20- to 30-foot vines can grow. Till the soil, then fill it with fresh compost. Start using a compost tumbler, like the Lifetime 80-Gallon Compost Tumbler from Walmart, to always have a fresh heap of nutrition for your garden. Composters use your kitchen’s produce waste or yard clippings to make plant food.
Order seeds online that are specialized for your region. If your climate is damp or rainy, plant them in mounds; otherwise, rows will do. Deep, infrequent watering is best for pumpkins, but watch out for wind, which can harm young vines. When the flowers bloom, you can rely on bees or you can hand-pollinate the bulbous females with pollen from the males. Stay alert! You have one morning to do this, then the female blossoms die and drop off.
When to pick pumpkins in your own yard is up to you. Look for withering vines or stems that twist on their own. These are almost ready. When the shell is fully hardened, it’s time: Cut the pumpkin from the vine, and enjoy! Happy Halloween!