Pumpkins and winter squash are a versatile veg that can be mashed, steamed, roasted and turned into soup. Pumpkins and winter squash grow on sprawling vines that like plenty of space; grow them on a strong trellis or in a large garden bed.
Binomial name: Cucurbita spp.
Life Cycle: Annual
Pumpkin and winter squash varieties grow either on trailing vines or on bushes. In this guide, pumpkin and winter squash plants are classified as either vine pumpkins or bush pumpkins. Bush pumpkins include compact varieties such as 'Golden Nugget' and 'Baby Blue'.
When to Sow Pumpkin and Winter Squash Seeds
Pumpkin and Winter Squash is a warm season crop. Use the table below to identify the best time of year to sow pumpkin and winter squash seeds in your climate.
Low humidity with most rainfall in winter; hot dry summers and cold winters. Some regions will experience frosts and snow. Includes coastal areas of south-eastern Australia and alpine areas of Victoria, NSW and Tasmania.
Pumpkin and Winter Squash plants are best grown in full sun. Choose a location that will receive at least 6 hours of full sun each day.
Pumpkin and Winter Squash plants need a well drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter. Prepare soil by weeding it thoroughly, digging it over to loosen it and adding aged animal manure or compost. Keep the area free of weeds until planting.
Bush pumpkins only - Pumpkin and Winter Squash plants can be grown in containers. If possible choose a variety that’s recommended for container growing. Use a good quality potting mix and make sure your container is large enough for mature plants; a minimum of 40 litres litres is recommended for pumpkin and winter squash. During the growing season, keep in mind that container grown plants may need additional fertiliser to encourage healthy growth.
How to Sow Pumpkin and Winter Squash Seeds
Pumpkin and Winter Squash seeds do not require any treatment (eg soaking, stratification) before sowing.
Pumpkin and Winter Squash seeds grow best when they are sown directly into the garden.
Sow seeds directly in the garden 20mm deep and 100-150cm apart, with rows 100-120cm apart.
Keep soil moist but never wet or dry.
Seeds should germinate in around 5-10 days at a soil temperature of 21-35°C.
Young seedlings will need protection from pests, pets and weather until they are established.
Pumpkin and Winter Squash is a tender crop that’s sensitive to frost. Do not transplant seedlings or sow seeds outside until all danger of frost has passed.
How to Grow Pumpkin and Winter Squash
Pumpkin and Winter Squash plants may need watering during the growing season. Water when the soil is dry about 5cm below the surface (test this by scratching away a little soil with your finger). Water deeply in the early morning or late afternoon. Avoid watering the leaves of plants to avoid fungal diseases. Learn more about watering here.
If soil was well prepared no extra fertiliser should be necessary. In poor soil or to give your plants an extra boost, application of a balanced fertiliser or one formulated for fruit and vegetables can be beneficial:
Apply slow release fertiliser at the recommended rate when transplanting or when seedlings are 5-10cm tall.
Apply liquid fertiliser at the recommended rate and frequency while plants are fruiting or flowering.
Vine pumpkins only - Vines can sprawl along the ground or be grown up a strong trellis. If growing on the ground, allow at least 2 square metres per plant. If growing on a trellis, plants will attach themselves using their tendrils but extra support can be provided by tying plants gently using twine or plant ties. Large fruit may need to be supported with a sling made from netting. Make sure you have the support in place when you sow seed or transplant seedlings to avoid disturbing the plant’s roots later.
Tip: mulch under ripening fruit with straw or sugar cane to help prevent rot.
How to Harvest Pumpkin and Winter Squash
Pumpkin and Winter Squash should be ready to harvest in approximately 100-140 days.
Fruit is ready to harvest when the stems become tough and woody or when the leaves on the plant are dry and brown. Harvest by cutting them from the vine or bush, leaving 5-10cm of stem attached to the fruit. Cure fruit for a week to harden the skin by placing in a single layer in an airy location away from direct sun and frosts. Store in a dark, dry space with a temperature of 10-16C. Check and rotate the fruit regularly and discard any that show signs of rot.
Common Problems when Growing Pumpkin and Winter Squash
Like all plants, pumpkin and winter squash is susceptible to some pests, diseases and other problems. Below is a list of the most common problems gardeners encounter when growing pumpkin and winter squash plants:
Aphids are small (2-4mm long) sap-sucking insects that congregate on the new shoots or the undersides of leaves. They can cause leaves to wilt or become discoloured, and also excrete honeydew which can attract ants and other insect pests. To manage aphids, remove them by spraying with a garden hose, apply a soap or alcohol spray, or encourage predatory insects to your garden. Read more about aphids here.
Not setting fruit is a problem caused by lack of pollination. Flowers may fall off the plant or small fruit may form but then shrivel and rot. Wait until the plant is producing both male and female flowers. Use a paintbrush to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female ones. Learn more about hand pollination here..
Possums, birds and other animals can ruin a large percentage of your harvest overnight. Physically exclude pests by using netting or cages, or try spraying plants with a pungent homemade spray made from garlic, fish oil or mustard.
Powdery mildew is caused by fungal spores reproducing on the leaves of plants. First showing as white spots on leaves, affected areas areas can spread quickly to cover the entire leaf surface. While rarely fatal, powdery mildew can reduce yields. Water plants at soil level (not on the leaves) to prevent spreading spores, allow good air flow between plants, remove affected leaves and if necessary spray with an appropriate fungicide or homemade spray. Read more here about powdery mildew here.
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