This guide will teach you how growing pumpkins in small spaces the right way can result in a healthy, plentiful pumpkin harvest in your small garden. Are you ready for your best season yet?
A couple of years ago, my husband built two arch trellises in our garden. He made the trellises from heavy duty cattle panels using this wonderful step-by-step tutorial. Arches are a great way to grow vining plants without a lot of space. Overcrowding is not too much of an issue for us on our 1.25 acres. However, we have discovered over 15+ years of gardening that letting pumpkin plants spread out and go wild isn’t always a good option. And it isn’t always the easiest way to grow healthy pumpkins either.
Let’s talk about the benefits of growing small pumpkin plants vertically in small spaces. Then, we’ll discuss the best practices to grow pumpkins vertically for optimum health and harvest.
Benefits of Growing Vertically
Growing vertically, especially on an arch, allows essential space needed for vines to spread out without needing to use precious square footage. You’ll have enough room to grow smaller pumpkin varieties in yards and gardens with limited space.
If you’ve ever dealt with squash bugs in your garden, you understand how ruthless they can be. This summer, I hardly knew what was happening before the squash bugs, also known as cucumber beetles, had completely demolished my zucchini plant. One day it was there, and the next it was beyond help.
They would have taken out my pumpkin vines too if they weren’t growing vertically up a trellis. Growing pumpkins vertically means the majority of the pumpkin plants are up off the ground, making the main stem/root area of each plant easier to see. From my experience, this is the first and main area the squash bugs attack. With that area clear, you will be able to find and manage (aka eliminate) the bug population as well as any eggs deposited on the vines before things get out of hand.
Prevent Fungal Diseases
Powdery mildew is a common fungal disease that can occur in both dry and humid conditions. The disease spreads more easily in dense foliage and crowded conditions which cause lack of airflow and/or shady conditions. Growing pumpkins vertically helps to prevent susceptibility to powdery mildew by getting the vines off the ground and up on the trellis where there is better air circulation and more sunshine.
Effectively Growing Pumpkins Vertically
The following are the best practices for growing pumpkins in small spaces.
Plant your pumpkin seeds in an area of your yard that receives full sun (at least 6+ hours of sunlight per day). Pumpkins love the sun and will thrive the more sunlight they have.
Pumpkins also need an area with fertile soil. You can either amend the soil in your garden area or fill your raised bed with good soil. My popular post on DIY Raised Bed Soil Mix will get you started out right. The recipe contains three ingredients: vermiculite, peat moss, and compost.
Pumpkins are heavy feeders, meaning they should be fertilized regularly throughout the growing season with a balanced fertilizer. They especially need a fertilizer high in nitrogen for their early growth.
For best results, water your small pumpkins regularly. Ensure you give your pumpkins a lot of water without oversaturating them. A lack of water, or too much water, can both cause issues for the female flowers. Female flowers are the flowers that bear fruit. Without happy females, you won’t have happy baby pumpkins.
You can maintain a moist soil easily with a drip irrigation system. Be sure to read our article on How to Install Dripline for Your Garden Boxes. We have used this method for 15 years and wouldn’t be able to keep up with watering during the hot summer months without it.
Pumpkin plants should be spaced at least 3 feet apart. In our 3×6 square feet garden beds, we planted pumpkin seeds in two separate holes with 3 feet between them and 1 1/2 feet on the other sides between the plant and the end of the garden bed.
Small Pumpkin Varieties
When growing pumpkins vertically on a trellis, smaller varieties are a good idea. Larger pumpkins can be 25 pounds or much heavier and will put a strain on the garden trellis. Those varieties are better left to the pumpkin patch. I am currently growing Small Sugar Pie pumpkins (small variety) and Cinderella pumpkins (medium variety) vertically in our garden bed. Mini pumpkins like Jack-Be-Little and Baby Boo would also be an excellent choice.
Train the Vines
Once the young plants start spreading out and growing tendrils (threadlike spiral), you will need to train them to grow up the trellis. Weave the plants in and out of the cattle panel and their tendrils will naturally cling onto the wire. This will also give the pumpkins extra support. Eventually the vine will grow to the top of the arch and you will weave the vine down the other side of the arch. Make sure to check on your pumpkin vines often as they grow quickly and are difficult to weave through the panel if they become to large and overgrown.
Keep Base Clear
As I explained earlier, squash bugs have been very pesky in our garden recently. One last way I managed to gain control was by removing all of the leaves from the vines at the base/stem of both pumpkin plants. I would not do this with younger plants, but mine were well established and had plenty of other leaves on their vines. Removing the leaves made it more difficult for the bugs to hide on the soil beneath them. This area is their favorite place to be.
Harvesting Your Pumpkin Plants
The best time to harvest your pumpkins is when they have reached their mature color (orange in most varieties) and the skins are firm. You will also notice the plants’ leaves die and shut down.
However, if there is a danger of frost and you still have green pumpkins, you need to consider picking them early. If pumpkins are left on the vine in freezing temperatures, they will begin to decay and will not be able to be stored long term. Green pumpkins can continue to ripen indoors in a warm place so all is not lost.
To harvest pumpkins, use a sharp knife or pruning shears and leave a few inches of stem above the pumpkin. Cutting the stem too close to the pumpkin can put the plant at risk for decay or introduce mold or fungal spores to the fruit.
Storing Pumpkins Long-Term
After harvesting your pumpkins, move them to a dry, warm place to cure such as a sunroom, barn, greenhouse, or in a sunny area inside your home. I place my pumpkins on our kitchen countertops as the kitchen stays relatively warm and gets a good amount of sun as well.
Cure your pumpkins for at least two weeks. After two weeks, turn your pumpkins upside down and cure for another two weeks. Curing allows the skin to harden. This will help the pumpkins to stay fresh longer.
After curing is complete, you can move your pumpkins to a cool, dry place, such as a pantry, cellar, or basement, for long-term storage. Using this method, your pumpkins can stay good for up to six months.
Ways to Use Your Pumpkin Harvest
Having a pantry full of cured pumpkins means you have endless possibilites at your fingertips. First of all, you can make a Pumpkin Puree instead of buying canned pumpkin.
For healthy, satisfying dinners you can make Spiced Pumpkin Chorizo Chili with Beans, Pumpkin Seed Pesto with Kale (use up those pumpkin seeds!), or Fall Harvest Sheet Pan Dinner with Chicken Sausage.
If you’re looking for a pumpkin treat, I’ve got you covered! I think you’ll love these Pumpkin Sourdough Muffins with Chocolate Chips, Simple Pumpkin Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls, and my favorite Sourdough Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe.