By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Can you grow pumpkins in containers? Technically speaking, you can grow almost any plant in a pot, but the results will vary. A potted pumpkin vine will sprawl tremendously, so you still need enough space for the plant to do its thing. Outside of that little problem, all you need is a container, soil, and seed or seedling. Keep reading for tips on how to grow pumpkins in pots.
Can You Grow Pumpkin in Containers?
If you are dreaming of the great pumpkin, growing a pumpkin in a container may not achieve that goal. However, for those sweet little baking squash, container grown pumpkins will provide enough fruit for a holiday pie.
A potted pumpkin vine is a chaotic, yet gorgeous way to decorate your patio. The first step to growing a pumpkin in a container is selecting the pot. It needs to be spacious, although not particularly deep. For mini pumpkins, a 10-gallon container will work; but if you are going to try for bigger squash, double the size.
Make sure there are generous drainage holes and consider using an unglazed pot so excess moisture doesn’t build up.
How to Grow Pumpkins in Pots
Once you have your container, take time to make a good soil. Purchased potting soil will work, but buy one which is made for vegetables and fruits. Make your own soil with native soil mixed by half with compost.
Now, select your pumpkin variety. You can either get starts at a nursery or plant by seed. Some smaller pumpkins to try include:
- Wee Be Little
- Baby Boo
- Jack Be Little
- Small Sugar
Wait until temperatures are warm and plant three seeds 1 inch (2.5 cm.) deep. Water the container and wait. For quicker germination, put seeds wrapped in a moist paper towel in a plastic bag and set in a warm place indoors. Once you see the little sprout, plant it immediately. Place the container where the plant will receive full sun.
Caring for a Pumpkin in a Container
When all the seeds have sprouted, thin to just one or two vines for best results. Keep the plants moist by watering under the leaves so powdery mildew doesn’t form. Water deeply and frequently.
Give your potted pumpkin vine a time release fertilizer worked into the soil. This should last all season.
You may want to train the vine up a sturdy fence or trellis to help manage the growth. If you are growing large pumpkins, pinch off flowers as fruits start to form so the plant’s energy goes to forming larger fruit.
Harvest when the vine begins to die back and enjoy!
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Caring for Pumpkin Vines
Most gardeners like to plant pumpkins. They are easy to grow, thrive in almost any soil, and all planting zones, plus produce colorful, robust fruits. Without proper care of the pumpkin vine, however, the harvest will suffer.
What Do Pumpkin Vines Look Like?
Pumpkin vines start out with two small, bright green leaves. It does not take long for the plant to produce bunches of leaves, which grow at a rapid rate. Within several weeks of germination, it is not uncommon to see pumpkin leaves as large as your hand.
After the leaves appear, the actual vine will start to grow out from the base of the plant. In its initial stages, the pumpkin vine is not much thicker than a pencil, although that will soon change.
How Do Pumpkin Vines Grow?
Regardless of the variety of pumpkin you plant, the vines all grow the same way. They begin to shoot out from the base of the plant and travel across the ground. The rapidly spreading vines are why spacing of pumpkin plants is so essential plants that are too close together send out vines that quickly become tangled together.
Once the pumpkin vines are well-established, secondary vines also appear. These are the vines on which the actual pumpkin fruit grow, so it is vital to keep the secondary vines in good health.
Tip: Train the primary pumpkin vine to grow away from the central plant to avoid overgrowth.
Caring for Secondary Vines
Since the secondary vines are the fruit producers, it is essential to keep them thriving. One of the easiest ways to do this is to cut away any other shoots that begin to appear. These smaller shoots, called tertiary vines, are useful for nothing other than sapping the energy and nutrition from the secondary vines.
Some people bury the secondary vines to allow roots to form at the base of the leaf and the vine. Not only does this provide a more stable surface for your pumpkins to grow on, but it also strengthens the entire plant.
Tip: Bury the secondary vine with ordinary garden soil, mulch, or compost.
Pruning The Pumpkin Vines
To make sure the pumpkin vines produce large, healthy fruit, pruning them is a necessary part of caring for the vine. Otherwise, the plants grow into a tangled mess and the energy needed for fruits to grow is instead used for the growth of the vines.
When pruning, cut off all of the tertiary vines. It may go against your nature to get rid of healthy parts of the plant keep in mind that the pumpkins need the energy to grow, and without this pruning, they will not reach their maximum size. The tools you will need for pruning include:
- Sharp gardening shears.
- Heavy Gloves
- String or wire to train the vines.
Additionally, cut both the central and the secondary vine approximately 8-10 feet (2.5-3 meters) from the last fruit on the vine. Again, this allows the energy and nutrition to benefit the fruit directly.
Tip: Removing some pumpkins from the vine and leaving the choicest ones increases the size of the pumpkins.
Pests and Diseases to Watch For
Part of caring for the pumpkin vines includes getting rid of any pests or diseases that may damage them.
The pumpkin beetle and the vine borer are common pests that can damage or obliterate your entire crop. The best way to control either of these pests is to use an organic insecticidal soap and pick the bugs off the vines as they appear.
The two most common diseases pumpkin vines are susceptible to are powdery mildew and bacterial wilt. Without proper treatment, both these diseases can kill the entire plant, and will also spread. Using an organic antifungal spray can prevent the disease.
Tip: Digging up diseased vines is the only way to control the spread of a disease. Do not compost the vines, as the disease will spread through the compost pile. Burning is preferable.
Caring for Pumpkin Vines is Worth the Effort
Although it may seem like caring for pumpkin vines is a lot of work, the reality is that the steps you have to take to keep them strong and healthy are not any more complicated than the care you give any other plant in the garden.
Additionally, the end results are worth the effort. You will have monstrous pumpkins with vibrant colors that will be the envy of everyone.
How to Plant Pumpkins
Pumpkins are typically planted in raised rows or in hills that allow the sun to warm the soil early in the spring. Plant four or five seeds per hill, about 1 inch deep. Hills should be spaced 4 to 8 feet apart, as these plants require a lot of space to sprawl out. Where space is limited, pumpkins can be trained up a trellis make sure it is strong and study since there can be as many as nine pumpkins per vine. When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin out the seedlings to retain one or two of the most vigorous plants.
Growing pumpkins is mostly about giving them plenty of food and water, as both are essential for growing large fruit. Be very careful of the vines as the plants grow, as they are surprisingly delicate. As the pumpkin fruit begins to form at the base of the flowers, snip off all but a few of the developing fruits in order to direct energy to the remaining pumpkins. This is especially useful if your goal is to grow large jack-o-lantern pumpkins. A piece of cardboard or a wooden board placed under the fruit will prevent it from rotting.
Turn the pumpkins slightly every week or so, to keep the growth symmetrical. Do this gently—you don’t want to snap the vines.
2. Plant the seeds in a full-sun spot.
Pick a day after the last frost to sow seeds directly in the ground. Each seed packet will list how long on average the plant needs to produce full-grown pumpkins ("Days for Maturity"). For example, Small Sugar Pumpkins need 100 days to reach maturity. If you wanted them to ripen about a week before Halloween, then plan on planting them in mid-July.
Select a full-sun spot and space out the seeds based on the recommendations provided on the packet. Pumpkin vines can sprawl quite far, although there are some "bush" varieties that grow in a more compact form.
If you're feeling ambitious, plant the seeds in pumpkin "hills" — mounds of dirt slightly raised off of the ground. "The hills tend to warm up faster and they drain water faster than just planting them flat on the ground," Lerner says. "It gets the plant up and allows the long vines to cascade down a bit."
Growing Miniature Pumpkins in Containers
Miniature pumpkins create a splash of color in the fall garden and serve as fall and Halloween décor. Growing bush varieties, such as Jack Be Little, Small Sugar or Baby Boo, in containers allows you to grow them in areas where the soil is unsuitable for growing or space is limited. Like other pumpkins, miniature pumpkins prefer full sun for 6 to 8 hours a day and humus-rich, well-drained soil. Pumpkins thrive in nearly any region of the United States during frost-free months.
Mix one part potting soil or garden loam, one part moist peat moss and one part perlite or vermiculite to make soil for your containers. Potting soil or garden loam alone is too heavy for containers, as it compacts with repeated watering.
Add 2 ½ teaspoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 5 gallons of soil and mix it in well.
Fill the container to 1 inch from the rim with soil mix. This allows room for watering the miniature pumpkins without the water overflowing the pot.
Plant 3 to 4 miniature pumpkin seeds in the center of the container to a depth of ½ to 1 inch when the soil has warmed to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Pumpkins germinate in less than a week at 70 degrees, but optimal germination occurs at 95 degrees.
Water to moisten the soil and keep it moist until seedlings emerge in 7 to 10 days, depending on the soil temperature.
Cut all but two of the healthiest seedlings to the soil level when the seedlings develop the second set of true leaves.
Erect a tomato cage over the miniature pumpkin seedlings to provide support for the growing vines. Insert the legs of the tomato cage deeply into the soil to anchor it securely.
Direct the miniature pumpkin vines up the trellis as they grow. Tendrils on the vines will cling to the tomato cage or trellis as they grow upward. Tie them loosely with garden twine to get them started, if necessary.
Water your miniature pumpkins thoroughly until water runs freely through the bottom of the container whenever the soil feels dry 1 inch below the surface. Plants grown in containers need more frequent watering than those grown in the soil do. Your miniature pumpkins may require daily watering, especially during hot, dry periods.
Apply water-soluble fertilizer designed for vegetables in midsummer. Nutrients leach through the soil of containers quickly with repeated watering. Replacing them with water-soluble fertilizer is often necessary.
Seeking red-color small Japanese Maple tree to grow in container
Help with overgrown container! Cleome has taken over!
I want to grow avocados in a container, south facing and zone 9b
I just posted a Jack Be Little pumpkin message.
from what you say it sounds like maybe (one of) my mistakes was not fertilizing enough.
Did you mix the osmocote in with the mix before you planted, or is there some place in the earthbox to put the fertilizer?
The EarthBox and homemade versions of the EarthBox are way too small to sustain a large pumpkin. You would need a much larger container to grow a large pumpkin. Small pumpkins (
Advice well taken. I have space in my garden to grow a couple large pumpkin plants, so I might as well grow some sort of semi-determinate smaller variety . which brings me to my next question: What sort of smaller varieties would work well in an earthbox or half-whisky barrel or one of those 10-20 gallon platic storage things?
I came upon this old post while googling and thought I would add to it since I posted in this thread last year.
Growing pumpkins, including large ones like Atlantic Giant, is completely doable in self watering containers such as Earthboxes and equivalents as well as large, non self watering containers such as whiskey barrel halves.
I can assert this with confidence since I have grown Atlantic Giants in self watering containers for two years now.
I haven't shattered any world records, but I do get pumpkins large enough that I need a wheel barrow to move them to where I wish to display them.
One other point is that the smaller varieties of pumpkin/gourds do not necessarily require less water or fertilizer. The primary point to consider is the size of the vine. Some pumpkins such as Jack B Little produce 10-12' vines (on average) while others will produce 20+' vines if the growing tip isn't pinched off to limit it's length. The vine and it's leaves are what looses water, the size of the fruit is almost immaterial.
Think of it like this: Does a cherry tomato plant use less water/fertilizer than a beefsteak tomato plant? Of course not as the size of the fruits aren't what determines the water/nutrient needs, it is the size of the plant itself.
The moral is that if you have grown a small fruited pumpkin or gourd in a container, you can also grow the larger fruited varieties in the same container assuming the vine size is similar.
Why not give a really large variety a try this year? Even if you don't set any records for weight, you may well end up with a conversation starter when the Trick or Treaters come knocking :)