Pumpkin Growing Stages: The Pumpkin Lifecycle from Seed to Harvest

Pumpkins are a beloved fall decoration. They are a staple of Halloween, serving as jack-o’-lanterns. They also make the best pies, soups, and other delectable treats.

If you use a lot of pumpkins, you may want to begin growing your own. This plant does require quite a bit of care as it can easily suffer damage, but it isn’t too difficult to grow for the most part.

When deciding to grow pumpkins, you should start by finding out about the pumpkin growing stages, from seed to harvest. Learn the main three stages of growing a pumpkin, so you know what to expect.

Get advice and tips to have a successful harvest and get the most from your growing experience.

Background Information on Pumpkins

While pumpkins are often the star of sweet treats, it is a vegetable, and it is native to America, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. These orange globes grow on a vine that first blossoms with yellow flowers. Although, some pumpkins aren’t orange at all. 

There are many different types of pumpkins, ranging from the traditional orange to white and even green. They can also be incredibly large or teeny tiny.

Some varieties are for cooking, some for carving, and some are just for decoration. The Jack O’ Lantern pumpkin is perfect for carving, hence the name. For instance, the Atlantic Giant is ideal if you want huge pumpkins. 

The Limina is an excellent example of a white pumpkin ideal for artistic projects, such as carving or painting. However, the Musquee de Provence is a green pumpkin that makes exceptional food items.

One common question people have is, “How long does it take to grow a pumpkin?” They have a very long growing season, requiring 75 to 100 days without frost. Depending on where you live, this means planting from late May to early June.

You should note that pumpkins are tender plants. They require careful handling from seed to harvest to keep them alive and ensure that you get fruit free of damage.

Stage 1: Starting Your Seeds

The beginning of the pumpkin growing stages is to determine where you will start your seeds. The best way to grow pumpkins is from seeds. Pumpkin seeds are triangular, flat, and pale in color.

While it is best to plant them directly in the ground, you can’t do it until the risk of frost is completely gone. If seedlings have frost exposure, they will rot or suffer from irreparable injuries.

To plant seeds properly, you need soil that is at least 70 degrees. Pumpkins cannot handle the cold in any form. The optimal soil temperature for good growth is 95 degrees.

For this reason, many people grow pumpkins on a mound. Mounding up the soil enables it to get warmer faster. It also allows for better water drainage and can prevent some pest issues.

To plant in a mound, you will need to create hills of rich soil to which you’ve added compost or manure. Plant four to five seeds per hill one inch deep in the soil. You’ll want four to eight feet between each mound.

You can also plant them in rows if you are sure your soil is warm enough. Plant the seeds six to 12 inches apart in rows that are six to 10 feet apart.

You can start your seeds inside if you have a short growing season. You’ll want to start them two to four weeks before the last frost. Once the threat of frost passes, you will need to harden them off before transplanting them in the ground.

Hardening involves taking them outside each day for a few hours. Slowly, increase how long they remain outside until they are out all day and night. At that time, you can transplant them outdoors.

Make sure that wherever you plant your pumpkins, they have nutrient-rich soil. You’ll also want to be sure that the soil drains well. Once you plant your seeds, you should see the sprouts within five to 10 days, depending on the soil temperature.

Related: Best Pumpkin Companion Plants

Stage 2: Seedlings and Growth

5 different stages of a pumpkin seed turning into a pumpkin sprout.

The next part of the pumpkin growing stages is the first growth, which is the sprout. These small stalks have two rounded leaves on a thin stem. After about a week, you will see the development of the first real leaves, which are dark green with jagged edges and grow out of the sprout’s center.

Once your plants reach two to three inches tall, you’ll need to thin the hill, leaving only two or three plants. If you planted in rows, thin them to leave plants about a foot and a half to three feet apart. Be very careful not to disturb the roots when removing plants. Snip them to thin instead of pulling them.

At this point, your plants will begin to develop vines, which can grow incredibly fast. In fact, you could see as much as six inches of vine growth in just one day.

You will also see blossoms, which feature male and female flowers. Hopefully, you will also begin getting frequent visits from bees, which are essential for pollination.

Another common question is, “How long does it take for pumpkins to grow after flowering?” It does take some time, so be patient. You’ll know pollination is successful when you see small round green balls at the bottom of the flowers.

To keep your plants growing well, you need to water often. Give your plants about an inch of water each week, and water towards the roots. Never get the plants or fruit wet as this can lead to rot. Keep moisture in by mulching or putting straw around your plants.

Continue to be careful with the plant. Damaging the vines can reduce the fruit’s quality, so move around them cautiously and only when necessary.

Pumpkins also need fertilizing. Start with a high nitrogen formula when they are about one foot tall before the vines begin growing. Then, switch to a high phosphorus formula just before they bloom.

As the plants grow and you see fruit develop, you can pinch off the fuzzy ends to stop the vine growth and allow the plant to focus on growing the pumpkins. You can also prune back the vines.

You will need to turn your pumpkins as they grow to avoid flat spots or rot. Do this carefully to avoid harming the vine. You may also want to put a barrier, such as thin wood, under the pumpkin to help prevent rot issues.

Related: Why Aren’t My Pumpkins Growing?

Stage 3: Harvest Time

Pumpkins growing in a field ready for harvest time.

The final part of the pumpkin growing stages is the harvest. You should never harvest your pumpkins too early. You will know it is time when the vines begin to die. You can also check for a solid color and a hard rind that sounds hollow when you tap it.

Do not pick early because you want a smaller pumpkin. Buy a small variety if this is your desire. Harvesting too soon will result in pumpkins that rot quickly. Also, leave some vine at the top, which will also prolong its life off the vine.

Once you pick your pumpkins, let them sit in the sun for about a week to cure. Then, store them in a cool, dry place.

You can save the seeds for up to six years. However, Good Housekeeping doesn’t suggest using your seeds to plant a new crop due to cross-pollination issues. You never really know what you will get unless you buy your seeds.

From Seed to Pumpkin

Now that you know all of the pumpkin growing stages, you should be able to grow this plant on your own. It isn’t always an easy task, but with the proper attention and care, you can have a fantastic pumpkin crop in the fall.

Related: Best Time to Plant Pumpkins in North Carolina