Lifestyle

COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Great pumpkins aren’t hard to grow in our region

By Marianne Binetti

Yes Charlie Brown, you can grow the great pumpkin here in western Washington. You just need to know a few of the super-pumpkin-growing secrets.

Start with seed for

your needs.

We can grow giant pumpkins, white pumpkins, mini pumpkins and even teddy bear pumpkins. The bigger the pumpkin the more room you will need for the vines to spread out. If you want perfectly round pumpkins for carving, or bumpy, warty pumpkins for Cinderella’s carriage, those varieties are available as well. Don’t bother with mail-order seed catalogs this late in the game. Just get to the garden center or nursery and scan the seed racks for your personal pleasure pumpkin.

It’s all in the timing

Don’t plant your pumpkin seeds outdoors too soon. Early- to mid-June is about right if you’re going to plant seeds directly into the ground. The seeds will sprout and grow sooner if they aren’t suffering cool nights or cold, wet soil.

Seeding secret: soak the seeds overnight so the tough seed coat will soften up. This will get the seeds sprouting a few days sooner.

Choose a spot with sun

and elbow room

Your pumpkin vines need at least six hours of sun a day and room to spread out. Don’t worry if you don’t have a big empty garden patch for your pumpkin. The long vines can be directed to creep along the back of a flower bed, along a fence line or even up a wire or cyclone fence. They have both tendrils for clinging and shallow hair roots for absorbing moisture and nutrients from all over the garden.

Climbing secret: pumpkin tendrils can be trained to cling to metal nails that stick out every six inches up the side of wooden garden shed. Once you get the vine to climb the wall, let it flower and bear fruit on top of your garden shed. This works best if the roof is slightly slanted. The heat absorbed from your roof will help the pumpkins to mature faster and give the neighbors something to ponder.

Follow directions on the seed packet.

Most varieties like to be planted on hills so they get good drainage, covered with one inch soil and then thinned to just two plants per hill.

Thinning secret: be strong, get tough and just cut the tops off of your extra seedlings. Pulling them out could disturb the root system of the neighboring seedling. It seems cruel but only the strongest seedlings should be allowed to live. Crowded pumpkins are sickly pumpkins.

Fertilize, Water, Wait.

Rake a general purpose fertilizer into the soil before you plant or water the roots at least twice a month with a liquid plant food. Try not to wet the pumpkin foliage. They hate our summer rain enough already. Don’t water your pumpkin plants until the top inch of soil is dry, usually not until August.

Secret to growing giant pumpkins: When the pumpkins on your vines are the size of a cantaloupe remove all but one or two of the largest pumpkins. This way all the energy from the foliage goes to feed fewer pumpkins. Continue to fertilize and keep weeds pulled.

The Birds and the Bees

The first flowers that form on your pumpkin vines will be male, so don’t feel bad when they die. Next you’ll get a mix of mostly male and a few female blossoms. The girl flowers have wider hips right behind the blossoms. If bees are scarce you’ll need to use a tiny paint brush and move pollen from one flower to another. Don’t be shy about helping nature along with this process as you are simply taking the place of a fertility doctor – painting your way to pollinization and a picture-perfect pumpkin.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

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