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Ask a Master Gardener: It’s pumpkin season

by Peter Sutter | October 29, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins! Everywhere you look there are still pumpkins sitting around.

I have been asked if you can cook one of those pumpkins in the fall display. After a little research, I found that most pumpkins you buy for display are bred for size, a uniform shape, overall sturdiness, and a stable, flat bottom -- not flavor. Most will be fibrous, watery and quite bland when cooked. An uncut pumpkin will last for weeks at room temperature, but once you carve it into a jack-o'-lantern, bacteria will start to develop quickly, especially with the heat of a candle inside. So, unfortunately, eating your jack-o'-lantern isn't a good idea.

Here are some things to consider if you want to plant pumpkins next year: Pumpkins are available in several varieties, each for a certain purpose. To decide which to plant, consider what you want to do with the pumpkins: Eat them as a sweet or savory dish or use them in a fall display. Also, consider whether you are growing pumpkins to store for mid-winter dining and how much space you have in the garden and storage area.

University Extension publication G6201 has a list of the varieties that grow best in our area. The list is divided by size, which is helpful. The information in seed catalogs and recommendations from gardening friends and neighbors will also help you choose varieties. Keep in mind that the average size shown in a catalog is the size of the pumpkin at maturity. If you want smaller pumpkins, start with seeds that produce small pumpkins.

Pumpkin plants can be either indeterminate, with creeping vines, or determinant, with shorter vines but not true bushes. Pumpkins produce both male and female flowers that need to be pollinated. The female flowers are open for only one day and will produce pumpkins if pollinated. Sometimes, the first female flowers will open before there are any male flowers to pollinate them. They'll dry up and drop off, but don't worry, the plant will continue to produce flowers of both sexes. Choose an area that gets full sun.

The larger variety's vines will get pretty long (usually 20-30 feet) and need room to grow. This doesn't mean you have to have a big yard or a farm. If you have a long bed on the backside of your house or a garage, this can be the perfect place to grow a pumpkin. Your site also needs to have good drainage. If water stands during the rainy season in the soil strip alongside your garage, this won't be a good place to grow pumpkins.

I think I will be planting pumpkins once again this coming spring, and I will be sure to plant the kind I can eat -- but large enough to carve if I take a notion to. Of course my wife has to have a couple in a fall display. I am beginning to wonder why I didn't plant them this year. Oh, I remember, squash bugs! If you plant them, be ready to do battle. I will be. Happy gardening!

Peter Sutter is a lifelong gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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