You’re in the right hands if you want to grow pumpkins in Florida. While growing pumpkins can be tricky in Florida’s hot and humid climate, you can successfully grow Sunshine State pumpkins with the proper planning and care. Pumpkin is a popular vegetable in the cucurbit family. It shares this family with members of summer and winter squash. The pumpkin varieties differ from those called squashes by having coarser, more intensely flavored flesh and rinds that are softer at maturity than the winter squashes but harder than the summer squashes. Pumpkins refers to certain varieties of C. pepo L., C. moschata Duch. ex Poir., C. mixta Pang., and C. maxima Duch. Local tradition and common usage may dictate that a particular variety is called a squash in one area of the country and a pumpkin in another.
Pumpkin Varieties Choosing the right pumpkin variety is a major decision when growing pumpkins in Florida. Not all pumpkin varieties are suited to Florida’s warm and humid climate. Seminole Pumpkin is a native pumpkin variety well-suited to the state’s warm and humid environment. Traditionally grown by the Calusa, Creek, and Miccosukee peoples, Seminole pumpkins remain one of the tastiest and most reliable for Florida gardens. Seminole pumpkins are known for their hardiness and resistance to disease and pests. The Big Max variety is known for producing giant pumpkins that can weigh up to 100 pounds or more. Big Max pumpkins do well in Florida’s warm climate but may require extra care to prevent pests and diseases. The Jack-o-Lantern variety is the classic Halloween pumpkin for carving and decorating. Look for types suited to warm climates, such as “Funny Face” and “Big Moon.” The Pie Pumpkin variety is best used for cooking. If you plan to use your pumpkins for cooking, look for pie pumpkin varieties such as “Small Sugar” and “Early July.” These pumpkins are smaller and sweeter than carving pumpkins and are ideal for making pies, bread, and other baked goods.
Most pumpkin varieties need around four months to reach maturity. Pumpkins should be seeded by early July to be ready for Halloween. Spring pumpkins planted in March or April can be stored for use in October and November (though long storage is difficult in Florida). Early August seeding provides a fall crop for late November. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil for your pumpkin patch. Pumpkins can be grown in small gardens or containers if you need more space. Plant your pumpkin seeds about 1 inch deep and should be placed 6 feet in either direction, except for the bush types. Plant 3-4 seeds per hill, then thin when the plants are 2-4 inches tall.
Once your pumpkin seeds have sprouted, it’s time to start caring for your plants. Pumpkins need consistent moisture to grow, so be sure to water them regularly. Aim to give your plants about 1-2 inches of water per week. Water thoroughly after planting to help the seeds settle in. Climbing varieties like Seminole can be trellised for more space while using slings to support larger fruits. Use a balanced fertilizer to help your pumpkins grow strong and healthy. Apply the fertilizer according to the package instructions. Pumpkins do well with large amounts of compost. Place compost under each hill before seeding. Side dress with a handful every three weeks or as needed. Keep an eye out for pests such as squash bugs and cucumber beetles, which can damage your plants. If you notice any signs of pests or disease, treat your plants with a pesticide or fungicide as needed.
Like other cucurbits, pumpkins need bees for pollination to produce fruit. Bees are the primary pollinators for pumpkins, so make sure to plant flowers and other plants that attract bees to your garden. Each plant holds male and female flowers, and knowing the difference between them is essential. Male flowers have a long, thin stem and no fruit behind the flower. Female flowers have a swollen, bulbous base that will eventually become pumpkins. It’s essential to have a good balance of male and female flowers to ensure a proper fruit set. If large-size fruits are desired, keep only two fruits on the vine. Once two fruits are the size of baseballs, remove all others as they form.
Harvest and Storage
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the skin is hard, and the stem is dry and brown. Cut the stem about 2 inches above the pumpkin. After harvesting, allow your pumpkins to cure in a cool, dry place for 10-14 days. Curing helps the skin to harden and protect the pumpkin from pests and diseases. Once your pumpkins are cured, store them in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Avoid storing them on concrete or damp surfaces, which can cause them to rot. Pumpkins keep for a few weeks, but long-term storage of 1–4 months is challenging in Florida. Store them in a dry (70% RH) and cool (50–60°F) place where possible.
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