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.
When you hear the word “pollinator”, what is the first insect that comes to mind? If I had to guess, you would probably say honey bee. European honey bees play an important role in agriculture as pollinators and honey producers, but there are hundreds of native pollinators often overshadowed by the beloved honey bee you should know about, too!
One such group of pollinators native to Florida are sweat bees. Sweat bees get their unfortunate name from their nutritional requirements of salt that are sometimes sourced from sweaty humans. They rarely sting but are capable, and they can certainly be annoying to people when they lick salt off their skin. This behavior tends to get more attention than their important role as pollinators.
A subgroup of sweat bees are furrow bees. Furrow bees nest in the ground or rotting wood and may be solitary or eusocial. In-ground nests are composed of branching tunnels in sandy soil at a depth between 8 inches and 3 feet with a small entry roughly the size of a pencil. Within the tunnels, the mother creates individual cells stocked with nectar and pollen and lays an egg. The larva feeds on these provisions and pupates underground eventually emerging as an adult. The life cycle can vary from a few weeks to a year or more depending on species and environmental conditions.
Furrow bees are generalist feeders which means they will visit many different flowers, so diverse landscapes are attractive to them. In my northwest Florida garden, I see them often on sunflowers, Black-eyed Susan, coneflower, cosmos, tithonia, zinnia, and tickseed.
The Multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) was introduced from Asia and intentionally and quickly established itself over the entire United States.
The Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (MALB) adults can be distinguished from other lady beetle species by a pair of white, oval markings behind the head that form a black M-shaped pattern. Most adults have nineteen black spots on their forewings, but variability is common and spots may be missing. Adult MALBs consist of several color patterns (morphs), varying from solid orange to red with black spots.
This species is often mistaken for the seven spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctata), which was introduced from Europe. Both species are usually found feeding on the same insect host and plants.
Photographer: James Castner, University of FloridaPhotographer: Russell F. Mizell, University of Florida
Both species tend to overwinter in large numbers. However, the Seven Spotted Lady Beetle overwinters under rocks, abandoned shrubs and forest edges. In contrast, the MALB is attracted to light and often aggregate and overwinter in dwellings, entering through cracks or crevices.
Due to the onset of winter and scarcity of food, MALB is more noticeable November to January in north Florida. As a result, they are a nuisance during the flight period, aggregating in walls and other parts of dwellings.
Once they enter your dwelling and experience warmth, they fly around and annoyance progresses. They produce a yellow, viscous, foul-smelling defensive substance when disturbed. The defensive substance usually leaves spots on furniture and the foul odor lingers in the air.
Seal building or caulked entry point to prevent infestation.
If beetles get inside your dwelling, a black light trap can be used.
Vacuum cleaners can be used to remove them, though, while effective, it will result in some spotting and foul odor.
In conclusion, though a nuisance, lady beetles are considered to be valuable natural enemies and should be tolerated and conserved when possible.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications:
We are kicking off our fourth season of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! on February 9th and hope you will join us to learn Florida Friendly Landscaping Principles from UF/IFAS Extension Faculty from the Florida Panhandle.
There are several ways to participate in this free webinar series. Join us live on Zoom by pre-registering at the links in the table below, watch on Facebook, or check out the recorded sessions on YouTube (also embedded at bottom or page).
Cold damage on kumquat. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
In December, winter rolled in with extreme low temperatures that affected landscapes across Florida. Horticulture Agents have been receiving a high volume of calls asking about the long-term fate of landscape plants impacted by the cold, so the Gardening in the Panhandle team decided to offer a special episode addressing these concerns.
Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Special Episode Freeze Damaged Landscapes will be held on Thursday, January 12, 2023, at 12:15 p.m. CDT/1:15 p.m. EDT. We will follow our usual format where the audience can join on Zoom, Facebook, or watch a recording on YouTube. The only change is that this program will be condensed to 30-45 minutes, rather than a full hour.
Freeze warning is a terrifying phrase for gardeners. Cold damages your plants and may even kill them outright. Understanding how plants freeze will help you create mitigating strategies for their preservation. Informing yourself as to how freeze damages plant tissues will allow you to fortify your garden.
How do Plants lose Heat
Cold exposure happens in a couple of ways. Radiant heat loss occurs when one surface emits waves of heat into a colder surrounding environment. The surfaces of leaves and stems are not immune to this type of temperature transfer, nor is the soil in your garden beds. Frost may or may not form depending on moisture levels in the air, but cold damage will still be the result. The other main source of heat loss in gardens is through Advective freezes. These occur when cold air from the north moves south en masse resulting in colder temperatures and often increased winds. Mitigating this is a little tougher than radiant losses but not impossible
As with all things, planning is at the forefront. When designing your garden, cold hardiness should be considered. Certain plants naturally handle cold weather better than others. Utilizing native plants and those specified for your USDA hardiness zone will keep gardens alive in winter months. These tend to be acclimated for colder temperatures. Once the proper plants are selected and planted, ensure they are properly treated. Keeping your plants as healthy as possible is also critical in cold tolerance. Mulches and watering prior to a freeze event will reduce risk from radiant heat loss. The water absorbs warmth through the day and holds onto it more efficiently than dry soil would. Addition of a frost blanket will further reduce heat lost and ultimately the damage to your plants. A slightly more in-depth protection method comes from establishing microclimates in your yard. Use taller trees and windbreaks. Taller trees create a canopy that blocks heat loss to the atmosphere. Windbreaks keep the colder air away from your gardens and again prevent heat loss. None of these methods are fool proof but will help keep your gardens alive through the colder months. You may still experience damage from freezes. If this does happen, make sure your plants are watered to thaw any roots ensuring they function properly. Inspect stems by scraping a little tissue. Prune away any that shows black or brown tissue while keeping any which still looks green.
Freezes can be devastating to your gardens. A little knowledge can go a long way toward mitigating loss. For more information on cold protection, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.