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Pumpkins for the prairies

Hanbidge on Horticulture: New pumpkin varieties are coming out every year with shorter and shorter growing seasons
As Halloween is again upon us, it somehow seems fitting to devote some time to the pumpkin.

There was a time when home-grown pumpkins were a rare thing on the prairies as they are native to Central America and Mexico. The growing season there is lengthier than ours so pumpkins that usually need more time to reach maturity do well. Luckily for us, new varieties are coming out every year with shorter and shorter seasons needed to complete their growth. Planting and care are basically the same for all pumpkin varieties so which one you choose will depend on what plans you have for your pumpkins.

Pumpkin seeds should be started indoors in late March and planted outside when the ground has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. They need to be planted in full sun but can be pruned to be less “sprawly” in limited space. Pumpkins need to be kept moist but even the forgetful gardener will be able to do this because luckily the plant helps out. The large leaves growing low to the ground shade roots and keep moisture in.

If your pumpkin plant is healthy but not producing any fruit, the problem is most likely that it is not being pollinated. Pumpkins have separate male and female flowers and are best pollinated with the help of bees. However, each individual blossom does not live long so if the weather is cool and the bees are not flying you may have to help out as the pollinator. With a small paintbrush, take some pollen from a male flower and put it on the central part of the female flower. You can tell the males from the females because the females have what looks like a tiny fuzzy green pumpkin just behind the flower.

There are many cultivars that you might like to grow so read on and try out as many as you have room for.

Autumn Gold is a classic mid-size pumpkin, with great orange colour. This is one of the first pumpkins to ripen in the season and will turn orange even before it’s fully ripe. The fruit grows about 25.4 centimetres in diameter and 30.5 centimetres tall, perfect for carving. They weigh between 3.6 and 6.8 kilograms and can be used for anything: cooking, baking and carving.

Spooktacular is a smaller variety, about .9 to 2.3 kilograms and 15 centimetres across. It’s a smooth-skinned yellow-orange pumpkin that’s great for pies.


Big Autumn is the best large pumpkin for a Northern climate. It takes the same amount of time to reach maturity as the smaller short-season varieties, but will grow to about 30.5 centimetres and weigh anywhere from 6.8 to 11.3 kilograms.

Lumina is one of the newly developed white-skinned varieties. These pumpkins have bright orange flesh but are all white on the outside. It makes a tasty and more interesting dish because of the colour contrast but is also great for carving or just painting on. The Lumina grows to 20.3 centimetres by 12 30.5 centimetres tall and can weigh up to 6.8 kilograms.

Jack Be Little is a delightful ornamental pumpkin. One plant should produce a lot of the tiny, slightly flattened looking fruit. They make great décor for Halloween as well as Thanksgiving.

Often the weather will force the harvest of the pumpkin before it is fully ripe. Simply place your pumpkin in a warm sunlit room and rotate it if need be to ensure all sides get an equal amount of light and you’ll see your pumpkin slowly turn orange.

Happy Halloween!

Hanbidge is the lead horticulturist with Orchid Horticulture. Find us at; by email at; on facebook @orchidhort and on instagram at #orchidhort.

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