Planning for pumpkins next fall

If you're like me, you have likley passed by dozens of pumpkin stands this fall. While it is always fun to stop in and look around, large pumpkins can be pricey and don't last for long after you bring them home. You might want to consider growing your own pumpkins for your family to enjoy. Not only do they make great decorations, but you can also use them in many different recipes. Here are a few tips for growing your own pumpkins in central Florida. Pumkins are members of the cucurbita family and are also known as squash. The cultivar you choose should depend on your intended purpose for your pumpkins. If you want to grow pumpkins for use as Jack-O-Lanterns, there are several types that grow well in our area. Howden, Big Max and Jackpot are all good choices for Halloween carving. These pumpkins have smooth, orange skin that is a bit ribbed in texture. If you are short on space, Funny Face is a great choice. There are also a wide variety of pumpkins used for cooking in pies. Seminole is a Florida variety originally grown in the Everglades. These pumpkins are best known for their climbing habits and are more resistant to heat and humidity than other species. Some other good choices for cooking are Spookie, Cinerella, Cheese and Winter Luxury. If you want to grow pumpkin plants strictly for ornamental purposes, Sweetiepie, Munchkin and Buskin are all good options. These plants only produce miniature fruits and flower nicely.
Seeding pumpkins in early August will give you a crop in late November. If you want mature pumpkins in time for Halloween, be sure to plant no later than the first of July. Space plants at least six feet apart to give them plenty of room to grow. These plants do well with applications of compost every two to three weeks. After planting, you must monitor your pumpkin plants for signs of pests and diseases. In Florida, powdery mildew is one of the most common problems in curcubits. This disease thrives in humid weather and can spread rapidly to other plants nearby. Powdery mildew is characterized by a thin coating of fungus that resembles talcum powder. If severe, this disease can kill infected pumpkin plants. One way to avoid powdery mildew is to apply water strictly to the roots and vines of your pumpkins. Chemical control methods should be used only when disease is severe. Mites, aphids, silverleaf whiteflies and caterpillars can all damage pumpkin plants in our growing area. Monitor you plants on a regular basis for signs of insect damage. Use chemical control products if necessary to avoid severe plant injury. Mole crickets are especially detrimental to central Florida pumpkins. These insects feed primarily on plant roots and are easily identified by the tunnels they dig. In warm weather, mole crickets will also feed on leaves and plant stems at night. Mole crickets can be difficult to control and can ruin even large commercial crops. When pumpkins are mature, harvest them quickly as they can rot on the vine if left on the ground for too long. With the right timing and a little tender-loving care, you can raise hearty pumpkins right in your own home garden. Remember to store your pumpkin in a cool, dry area for maximum freshness. You can dry pumpkin seeds from your own fruit for planting next season. Growing pumpkins at home can be a fun project for the entire family. Kids will enjoy nurturing their own pumpkins for carving or cooking the following fall.