After building several different gardens of my own and working with hundreds of gardeners over the years, I’ve found that building and growing vegetables in raised beds is the best choice for most people.
Raised beds offer lots of important benefits: they require less work to prepare in spring and less long term maintenance, they’re better for soil health, and can help you create a more attractive garden.
I’ve written a very comprehensive article showing how I built my home garden and the three options for easy raised garden beds.
After reading that article I’m going to assume I’ve convinced you on the merits of raised beds, or maybe you already have them in your garden. So, let’s move on to the specifics of growing pumpkins in raised beds.
Who doesn’t want to carve their own homegrown Jack O’ Lanterns on Halloween or bake a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving?
But, you may think that you just don’t have enough garden space for planting pumpkins. Don’t worry! It’s possible to grow pumpkins in a small urban or suburban garden (or even on your patio or balcony) with the right methods that save space and prevent the long, trailing pumpkin vines from taking over your garden.
Let’s dive into growing pumpkins in raised beds!
Tips for Growing Pumpkins in Raised Beds
One of the challenges of growing pumpkins is that their vines can grow to ridiculously long lengths – 30 feet or more! This massive growth can easily take over a small garden. That’s one of the reasons I’ve shied away from growing pumpkins in the past, but my young neighbor loves them, so I plant them for her to take home each Halloween.
I have found that growing pumpkins in raised beds is one method that will allow you to keep your pumpkin patch a little more neat and compact. Below are some things to keep in mind.
Choosing Your Varieties
The variety of pumpkin you plant will depend upon what you want to do with it: carve it at Halloween, bake it into a pie at Thanksgiving, or use it for fall centerpiece in your dining room. You may want to grow the traditional orange pumpkin, or you may want to spice it up with white, caramel, yellow or a warted variety.
If you take a look at Johnny’s Selected Seeds pumpkin page, you’ll quickly see how many choices there are.
Determining what you want to use the harvest for will help you narrow down your options.
My neighbor only wants carving pumpkins and I don’t like pumpkin pie, so we always choose a mid to large size Jack o’ Lantern variety.
Because of pumpkin’s vast vining habit, I never grow them in the center of my garden. I choose one of the raised beds on the edge for planting pumpkins. This allows me to let the long vines trail over the edge of the bed and grow along the perimeter path that doesn’t get much use.
I have a two foot fence around my garden, so I train the pumpkin vines to climb and follow the fence to keep them out of the way of other vegetables.
Sometimes they even hop the fence and start growing into my perennial garden, which gives them even more room!
When to Plant
Pumpkins and other squash are not frost tolerant, so make sure you wait until after your average last frost in spring. In my 5a/b garden in Wisconsin I plant them around the same time as tomatoes and peppers, the third or fourth week in May depending on the 10 day forecast.
How Many to Plant
How many pumpkins do you want to harvest? The number of fruit each plant produces often depends on the variety and size of the plant. Large carving pumpkins usually produce a handful of pumpkins per vine, three to five. Medium-sized varieties can produce up to 10 fruits per plant. Very small pumpkins can produce up to 12 or more pumpkins.
My neighbor and I aim for one or two pumpkin vines so she has at least four fruits to take home for her whole family to carve. If there’s an extra one or two for me, that’s great, too!
Direct Seed or Transplant
Pumpkins are one of the vegetables you can plant by either seed or plant. My personal rule of thumb is that if I’m only planting one or two of something I’ll often purchase seedlings (plants) at the farmers market instead of buying a packet of seeds.
I’ll also buy plants if I want to try a couple of different varieties and I don’t want several packets of seeds laying around that I may never use again.
If you love growing pumpkins, grow a lot of them, or have a variety you love, buying a packet of seeds isn’t a bad plan. Pumpkin seeds germinate very easily and consistently, so it’s easy to just plant them by seed.
Like all squash, pumpkins don’t like sitting in soggy soil! Raised beds improve drainage and allow you to water the pumpkins adequately without the soil becoming too soggy. I have an entire article that delves into watering pumpkins the right way.)
Growing butternut squash, which is similar to pumpkins, on a cattle panel trellis
Even with a large garden I sometimes feel like I don’t have enough room to grow everything on my list, especially things that take up a lot of room, like pumpkins and winter squash. Over the years I’ve built four cattle panel trellises of various styles in my garden and often use them for growing vining plants like pumpkins.
They are a huge space saver and a conversation starter! They’re one of the features of my garden that gets the most comments from neighbors.
Remember that some pumpkin vines grow 20-30 feet long, so training them to grow up and away from your other crops on a trellis saves a lot of space and makes for a neater appearance.
The plant should blossom and begin to produce fruit within 8-10 weeks after planting, and within 90-120 days you should have ripe fruit. For a deeper dive, read all about the pumpkin growing stages.
Harvesting and Storing
The article about watering pumpkins also covers when and how to harvest, and how to store them.
How Much Sun Do Pumpkins Need?
Make sure that you build your raised bed in a sunny spot and fill it with rich, organic, well-drained soil. New or even experienced gardeners might want to take this chance to learn how to build the best soil for a vegetable garden.
Pumpkins are a sun-loving plant that thrives in direct sunlight all day long, ideally 8-10 hours. At a very minimum, make sure your pumpkins get six hours each day.
Pumpkin Plant Spacing
How much space pumpkins need depends on the variety you’ve chosen and your growing method.
Make sure you read the seed packet to see what’s recommended for your variety.
Some seed packets instruct you to create a mound for planting. I never do this. I plant them like any other seed.
They also suggest planting two to three seeds in each mound. I sometimes plant two just for insurance, but you’re going to need to kill one if they both germinate to give the remaining one enough room to grow.
Most pumpkin varieties should be planted 2-5 feet apart, depending on the size of the variety. If I’m growing my pumpkins on a cattle panel trellis, I usually plant one plant on each side of the trellis, staggering them so they don’t grow into one another too much as they climb over the trellis.
I often plant pumpkins in a 4’x6′ raised bed at at the front corner of my garden. The most plants I’ve ever planted in that bed is four, but usually I just plant one or two in the corners of the bed so I can train the vines along the outside edge of my garden.
Because pumpkin plants grow to such a large size, err on the side of more space, not less.
Growing Pumpkins In Small Spaces
Pumpkins aren’t the best choice if you have a small growing space. Ideally you’d choose to grow vegetables with a smaller footprint, like salad mix, radishes and herbs. But, if you have kids or Halloween is your favorite holiday, I can understand why you might want to try.
If you have a small raised bed garden, you can use the tips I shared above – planting pumpkins at the edge of the garden and/or planting on a cattle panel trellis to save space.
If you’re growing in containers, we’ll discuss some things to think about below.
Overall, it’s important to research your varieties carefully before you plant and consider planting the more compact pumpkins. Although to be honest, I haven’t seen container varieties of pumpkins out there yet. Doesn’t mean they’re not coming down the pike though!
Growing Pumpkins in Containers
Growing pumpkins in raised beds is the ideal way to have a successful pumpkin harvest in fall, but what if you don’t have the time or space to create raised beds?
You can still experiment with growing pumpkins in containers, even if you live in a condo or apartment. Pumpkins may grow well in containers on your patio or balcony, but you want to select both the seeds and the containers carefully.
Larger Jack O” Lantern pumpkins need about a 15-25 gallon container. Smaller varieties, including Baby Boos and Jack-Be-Littles, require at least a 10-gallon container, and the containers should be 20 to 24 inches deep and wide. For that reason alone, you may want to choose one of the smaller varieties of pumpkins to grow in a container.
Experimenting with fabric containers can save you a lot of storage space if you don’t have a garage or basement because they fold up into a smaller size than a large pot when not in use.
Position the containers in full sun and fill them with an organic potting mix that’s recommended for growing vegetables in containers. Fox Farm products are very high quality and easy to find at local nurseries.
Pumpkins are heavy feeders, so you’ll also want to add an organic garden fertilizer. Mix it into the container when you’re adding the soil according to the direction on the bag.
Sow the seeds 1 to 2 inches deep, and use 3 to 4 seeds per container. The seeds should germinate within 7 to 10 days.
Thin to one to two plants per container when they are two or three inches tall. As it grows, encourage the plant to grow vertically by training it on a trellis, or better yet, up a fence or other tall structure.
Don’t forget to water! The containers dry out easily and pumpkins are naturally thirsty, so water them thoroughly each day. Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy.
Because you’re watering every day, the nutrients in the soil will leech out with the constant water running through the pot, so reapply the organic garden fertilizer every 2-3 weeks. If you notice that the leaves are turning yellow and not remaining a deep green, you likely need to add more soil fertilizer.
More Pumpkin Growing Resources
There’s no doubt about it, growing pumpkins in raised beds can be a lot of fun, especially if you have kids or grandkids that like to play in your garden with you. Like every vegetable, pumpkins have their personal preferences, but once you’re familiar with them and put them into practice in your garden, you’ll be harvesting pumpkins each fall!
I have several companion articles about growing pumpkins that I suggest you also read if you really want to become a pumpkin growing master!
Pumpkin Growing Stages: From Seed to Harvest
Watering Pumpkins: Best Practices for Growing Great Pumpkins
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