July is pumpkin planting time

Published 12:46 pm Thursday, July 13, 2023

MSU Extension Service

It’s July, and that means it’s pumpkin planting time.

Pumpkins are part of our American heritage.

Both Native Americans and the first European settlers grew them and depended on them for food. These early settlers used pumpkin in an assortment of dishes that included stews and soups. They made pumpkin pie by adding milk, honey and spices to the hollowed-out shell, then baking it.

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Growing pumpkins takes a lot more effort than one might think since they are prone to several potentially devastating diseases and harmful insects.

To be ready for fall harvest, pumpkins must be grown during the most severe part of the summer when the weather is extremely hot and humid. These are two conditions pumpkins don’t like very much.

If you would like to grow your own pumpkins for seasonal decorations and Thanksgiving pies, you need to plant pumpkin seeds this month.

Many growers are happy to get any pumpkin to a harvestable size and color, while others attempt to grow the big ones. Growing giant pumpkins has become a popular gardener’s challenge in many parts of the country.

In 2009, I grew three Atlantic Giant pumpkins that weighed over 80 pounds each. It took a lot of time and care to get them to that size. I had to constantly watch for pests and diseases and then treat them as needed.

All the hard work paid off in the end. Both of my daughters were excited to have giant pumpkins that year. I donated one to a local elementary school, and the principal did a school contest to guess the weight of the pumpkin. Students, teachers and staff loved it.

According to the World Pumpkin Confederation, growing giant pumpkins achieved international recognition in 1900 when William Warnock of Goderich, Ontario, Canada sent a 400-pound entry to the Paris World’s Fair.  Since then, gardeners have continued to tweak their production methods and search for genetic improvements for increased size and weight.

In October of last year, I saw some impressive giant pumpkins on display at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. Hefty Henry weighed 1,023 pounds, Jumbo Jack weighed 1,030 pounds, Oscar the Outstanding weighed 1,029 pounds, and Petunia Pumpkin weighed an astonishing 1,341 pounds.

We may never grow the national record-winning pumpkin in the Magnolia State, but we do grow some fairly sizeable, high-quality pumpkins. In recent years, some Mississippi-grown giants have weighed in at over 100 pounds. It takes a lot of time and care for a pumpkin to reach that size here in Mississippi.

If you want to grow pumpkins but do not have a lot of time to spend caring for them, try growing some of the small varieties. They handle our hot and humid climate better and do not require as much of your time or care.

I plan on trying to grow more giant pumpkins this year. You should, too.