Pumpkins don’t just look good perched on your front porch to usher in fall. They’re also good for you, since they’re loaded with vitamins A, C, E, beta carotene and fiber—at only 49 calories per cup. Plus, they work in so many different seasonal dishes. So really, you have no excuse not to go all in on decorating, cooking and baking with gourds this year. And if you’re going to go all in, you might as well grow your own; it’s not nearly as difficult as you might think. Here’s what you should know before buying up seeds, as well as the top types of pumpkins to grow, whether your end goal is whipping up a killer pie, carving an unforgettable Jack O’ Lantern, tricking out your stoop or, well, all of the above.
The main requirement is plenty of space. Some types of pumpkins grow up to 20 feet long, so read the package to make sure you can accommodate them. Newer, more “compact” varieties take up about half that space.
Plant seeds directly in the garden in early to late July, depending on where you live, for a Halloween harvest. Most pumpkins mature in about 90 to 100 days. Read the package and count backwards to ensure they’ll be ready before the first frost (find your average first frost date here through your local university coop extension). Plant three or four seeds per hole in full sun, which is about 6 or more hours per day. Keep them watered, especially when they’re setting fruit, and weeded so the baby plants aren’t competing for nutrients and water. Most importantly, don’t forget to plant pollinator-friendly flowers nearby! Pumpkins, like other types of squash and melons, require pollinators to produce fruit. Otherwise, your pumpkins won’t form or will be misshapen.
Our Favorite Types of Pumpkins to Grow
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This is the big daddy of pumpkins. It grows up to 200 pounds with a spread of at least 12 feet, so you’re going to need an extra-large garden to contain it. These pumpkins are grown primarily for show, as they’re seedy and not very tasty. But they’re a fun project if you aim to enter the county fair or harvest festival!
Other giant pumpkins: Big Max, First Prize
This gorgeous pumpkin has a slightly flattened shape and lovely pale grey-blue rind with a bright orange interior. Its vines reach about 5-ish feet, so it takes up less room in the garden than many other types. They typically come in around 7 to 9 pounds and are gorgeous to display. Also, the flesh is creamy (not stringy!) and sweet for cooking and baking.
Other blue pumpkins: Jarrahdale, Blue Harvest F1
This pumpkin has a pretty orange and green striped rind that makes an eye-catching autumn display on your front porch. It’s about 9 to 12 pounds at maturity. Best of all, its seeds have no hulls (shells), so they’re ideal for roasting.
Other pumpkins with hull-less seeds: Triple Treat, Kakai
This is the “classic” pumpkin shape that’s perfect for carving or painting. It has very smooth orange skin, distinctive grooves, and extra-sturdy stems on 7 to 9-pound fruits that make for perfect “handles” when carving Jack o’lanterns. It’s also resistant to powdery mildew, which is a common pumpkin disease.
Other medium-sized pumpkins: Orange Smoothie, Trickster
This little pumpkin is too cute. It typically weighs in at less than a pound, and you only need about 8 feet of space to grow it. Their smooth, orange rind makes them perfect for decorating and painting.
Other mini pumpkins: Jack Be Little, Baby Bear
Orange may be traditional in autumn decor, but this white pumpkin is a showstopper! They can grow up 50 pounds, and their smooth white color makes them ideal for display. Their yellow flesh is also tasty for roasting or using in soups.
Other white pumpkins: Polar Bear, New Moon
If you had a fairy godmother, she’d turn this deep reddish-orange pumpkin into your coach, no question. This heirloom variety makes a beautiful display, especially with several stacked on top of each other. With its semi-sweet flavor and lovely hue, it’s also a good choice for pies.
Other Cinderella-style pumpkins: Fairytale, Porcelain Princess
Big and flat with deep lobes, this French heirloom pumpkin is prized for its sweet flavor. It’s green when immature but turns a pretty nut-brown color when ripe. It’s also good in pies.
Other heirloom pumpkins: Cushaw, Fairytale
These are on the smaller side, around 10 inches in diameter. As the name suggests, these pumpkins boast sweet, fine-grained flesh that’s ideal for roasting or making pies. To make puree, wash the rind, clean out the seeds and strings, then roast at 350 degrees for about an hour, checking frequently. It’s done when you can poke a fork into the rind easily. Scrape out the cooked pumpkin with a spoon, and puree for use in pies and quick breads.
Other pie pumpkins: Cinderella, Spookie
You know this one’s got to be perfect for carving! Jack O’ Lantern pumpkins typically weigh around 20 pounds, and they have a solid rind with an oval or roundish shape. Although not often considered a pie pumpkin, it is edible and can be roasted for use in pies, muffins and soups.
Other carving pumpkins: Connecticut Field, Triple Treat
These warty pumpkins look awesome in displays, lending character that other pumpkins lack. They’re also sometimes called “peanut pumpkins” because of their funny appearance. This variety is also delicious in pies and soups because the flesh is sweet and not stringy.
Other warty pumpkins: Warty Goblin, Knucklehead
This Italian heirloom has a dark green, warty rind that’s eye-catching in autumn displays. But its sweet flavor makes it delectable in traditional Italian dishes such as gnocchi and ravioli. If you’re lucky enough to find one of these beauties, add it to your shopping cart—or consider growing it yourself next year!
Other green pumpkins: Green Striped Cushaw, Speckled Hound
RELATED: 30 Amazing Pumpkin Recipes to Make All Fall Long
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