When to Plant Pumpkins So They're Ready for Halloween

Pumpkins require 75 to 100 frost-free days, so it's a good idea to plant early.

multiple orange pumpkins grow ripe in garden patch with big leaves

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Since pumpkins generally require around 75 to 100 frost-free days, it's a good idea to get a jumpstart on planting them.

Yes, it is June and I am writing about pumpkins. (Shudder.) But this isn't a put-up-the-Christmas-decorations-in-October kind of thing. It's that winter squash takes forever to grow and requires the long game, so now is actually the perfect time to start talking pumpkins.

People have been growing pumpkins in North America for almost 5,000 years, and is it any wonder? They are bright, nutritious and completely delicious. Plus, there are jack-o'-lanterns, of course—so if you want pumpkins in time for Halloween, you need to get a jump on things.

When to Plant Pumpkins in Time for Halloween

To have pumpkins ready for Halloween, they should be planted from late May in northern sites to early July in the southernmost states. If pumpkins are planted too early, they may become soft and mushy before Halloween. Too late, and they won't be ready in time. In general, they require 75 to 100 frost-free days.

Some big gorgeous heirlooms like the Musquee de Provence pumpkin (seeds at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) take 120 days or more; even little cutie-pies like the Jack Be Little squash (seeds at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) can take 90 days or so. Also, make sure all threat of frost has passed and the soil is warm before planting.

How Much Space Do They Need?

Pumpkins are large and need plenty of space to grow. Make sure your rows are at least six feet apart, and if they're part of a kitchen garden, plant on the outside rows so they don't interfere with other vegetables. Six square feet of growing space per plant is the general recommendation. They like plenty of sun and can tolerate periods of dryness, though if prolonged, you should irrigate, particularly if it's in early summer when the plant is still young.

How to Harvest the Pumpkins

You'll know it's time to harvest when the rind is a deep, solid color (usually orange) and very hard. The Old Farmer's Almanac shares tips to help extend the post-harvest life of your pumpkins:

  • To slow decay, leave an inch or two of stem on pumpkins and winter squash when harvesting them.
  • To harvest the pumpkin, cut the fruit off the vine carefully with a sharp knife or pruners; do not tear. Be sure not to cut too close to the pumpkin; a liberal amount of stem (3 to 4 inches) will increase the pumpkin’s keeping time.
  • Handle pumpkins very gently or they may bruise.
  • Pumpkins should be cured in the sun for about a week to toughen the skin and then stored in a cool, dry bedroom, cellar, or root cellar—anywhere around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Can Pumpkins Be Planted in the Fall?

No, unfortunately. It's too late to plant them in the fall for harvest in the same season, nor do the seeds overwinter well. They are sensitive to cold and could die, either as a seed or—if they do survive—as a sensitive seedling hit by a late spring frost. There is no such thing as a winter pumpkin variety.