Plastic cloches create a moist, uniform environment for pumpkin seedlings.
Photo/Illustration: Mark Vassalo
Besides being easy to grow, pumpkins are available in numerous varieties, each possessing its ownappeal. To decide which to plant, consider what you want to do with the pumpkins: eat them as a sweet or savory dish or use them as an autumnal ornament. Also consider whether you are growing pumpkins to store for mid-winter dining and how much space you have in the garden and root cellar.
Whatever you decide, keep in mind the length of your growing season. Most varieties need at least 95 days to mature, with some larger varieties taking as many as 120 days. I have grown pumpkins in Zones ranging from 1b to 5b, but I know others as far south as Zone 9 who grow them as well. In the South, pumpkins are generally grown as a winter food crop (they mature at the wrong time of the year for Halloween activities), and they do well even in high heat as long as they have enough water.
Use the information in the seed catalogs and recommendations from gardening friends and neighbors to help you choose varieties. Keep in mind that the average size shown in acatalog is the size of the pumpkin at maturity. If you want smaller pumpkins, start with seeds that produce small pumpkins.
I usually grow atleast two varieties of small to medium pumpkins, and I try to make sure that at least one variety matures relatively early, just in case the weather gets weird in the fall. My preference for smaller pumpkins—in the 4- to 10-pound range—is based on their being easier to handle. Several of my favorites are ‘New England Pie’, ‘Rocket’, ‘Racer’, ‘Small Sugar’, ‘Howden’, ‘Montana Jack’, and ‘Long Pie’, an heirloom that is harvested green and turns orange in storage. While I don’t normally grow tiny decorative pumpkins, I have friends who have had great success with ‘Sweetie Pie’, ‘Jack Be Little’, and ‘Fairy Tale.’ For a big carving pumpkin or pumpkins to sell in a farmers’ market, ‘Rocket’ and ‘Tom Fox’ do well in most growing zones.