How To Grow Pumpkins In Pots: Guide For Small Spaces

How To Grow Pumpkins In Pots: Guide For Small Spaces

I must admit that I was a bit sceptical when I was asked how to grow pumpkins in pots or containers. I mean, have you seen how massive just one pumpkin plant can get?

I’ve had pumpkin plants growing in the ground in my garden and know how much space they take up. Most of these have been self-seeded from seeds in my compost. This means they’re generally large varieties that I’ve used in the kitchen to make pumpkin soup.

Here’s a photo of just one of the plants:

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Large pumpkin plant growing in a raised bed

And, here is the same plant encroaching into an adjacent garden bed:

Pumpkin plant growing into an adjacent bed in among tomato plants and flowering dill

Now, can you understand why I was sceptical? 

But, in my quest to help small-space gardeners, I decided to do some research to find out if other gardeners have had success with growing pumpkins in pots.

Here’s what I found.

Choose Smaller Types Of Pumpkins

small orange pumpkin growing on a plant

Did you know that there are over 150 varieties of pumpkins that you can choose from? In my own experience, I’ve only grown three different varieties in my garden beds – Jap, Kent and Butternut.

And, if you buy your pumpkin from a greengrocer or produce store, those are the varieties that you’re likely to find. But, if you don’t have a lot of space and you want to grow in pots or containers, those large pumpkins just won’t work. They’re just too big.

Luckily for you, there are actually many varieties of small pumpkins that you can easily grow in containers when you don’t have enough space in the garden. Especially, if you also use some type of trellis or support.

Let’s have a look at some of the varieties I’ve come across.

Jack-Be-Little

This heirloom variety produces small round pumpkins with orange skin and flesh. The fruit reaches a size of 18 cm (7 inches) with a weight of around 2 kg (4.4 pounds). This is a good choice for those who specialise in container gardening.

Apparently, the flesh has a sugary sweet flavour and is ideal for baking, especially in pumpkin pies. It’s a warm season annual and is frost tender. The fruit takes around 100 days to mature.

Baby Boo

Baby boo pumpkins

As the name would suggest, this is a diminutive pumpkin with fruits that only reach around 7 cm (3 inches) in size. The vines of this plant can grow up to 3 metres (118 inches) though, so you’ll need a good sturdy climbing frame for them. However, each vine can produce up to 10 fruits.

The fruits themselves have white skin and creamy white flesh that turns pale yellow on maturity. While being highly decorative, these pumpkins are edible and are perfect for stuffing.

Baby Bear

This is another small variety with mini pumpkins weighing only around 1 kg (2.5 pounds) and measuring around 15 cm (6 inches) in diameter. The fruits have a dark green to orange skin and a long stem. This makes them perfect for growing on a trellis.

The flesh is excellent for roasting and also tastes great when used in pumpkin pies.

Baby Pam

Do you see a trend here? Baby Pam has lovely orange-skinned fruit with similar coloured flesh. Each of these miniature pumpkins can weigh around 2 kg (4 pounds) with a diameter of only 14 cm (5.5 Inches).

The flesh lends itself beautifully for use in baked goods.

Dwarf Tiger Striped

Tiger striped pumpkin

For something a little different, have a look at the dwarf tiger striped pumpkin variety. The skin is white with deep ribs of green and orange, hence the name. The fruits can reach a diameter of 12 cm (5 inches).

While these tiny pumpkins are prized for their decorative value, the flesh is perfectly edible and can be used in a variety of dishes as well as exceptional desserts like this pumpkin cheesecake.

Lakota

Lakota pumpkins

This is a highly decorative heirloom variety with dark orange-skinned fruit that has dark green stripes. The fruits can reach a weight of 5 kg (11 pounds) and you can expect to get up to 5 fruits per vine.

The edible flesh has a lovely nutty flavour and can be used in a variety of dishes.

New England Pie

This small variety is popular with pumpkin pie enthusiasts. It has orange skin and dry, stringless orange flesh. Fruits can weigh up to 3kg (6 pounds) making them ideal for a range of different uses in the kitchen.

Orange Hokkaido or Red Kuri

Orange Hokkaido pumpkins

This is a Japanese variety of pumpkin. It has dark orange, almost red skin and beautiful orange flesh with a delicate nutty flavour. Each fruit can reach a weight of around 3 kg (6.5 pounds).

As you can see, there are plenty of small pumpkin varieties to choose from and if you have a look at your favourite seed seller, I’m sure you’ll find a few more.

I know that one of my favourite seed sellers here in Australia, The Seed Collection, has seeds for a few of these varieties so I’m going to give them a try in a few month’s time.

Now that you know what type of pumpkins grow best in pots, let’s have a look at how you should grow them.

Choose A Large Pot

A selection of large terracotta pots

Although we’re going to select small pumpkin varieties, we still need to ensure that we give the roots of the plants plenty of room to grow.

In fact, your pot should measure at least 40 cm (16 inches) in diameter. You could also use a large grow bag or even a sturdy styrofoam box or wooden raised planter. Just make sure that whatever container you’re using has plenty of drainage holes.

Fill Your Large Container With Premium Potting Mix Or Compost

The growing medium you choose should have a high organic matter content because pumpkins are heavy feeders. Personally, I would use a premium potting mix and supplement this with some of my homemade compost. I would probably mix this in equal quantities of each.

This will ensure that the plants get enough nutrients to give them a good start. You can always top up the compost as the plants grow so that there are enough nutrients for good fruit production.

Add A Support Structure

Bamboo trellises in a garden with pumpkin plants

Before you even plant your pumpkin seeds, it’s a good idea to add a climbing structure to support the vines as they grow. In the garden, I just let the vines sprawl across the ground but this is not possible when growing in pots.

Therefore, you need somewhere for the vines to grow and a way to keep them from spreading all along your verandah or across your balcony or patio. You can use either a nice, sturdy trellis or make your own structure using bamboo stakes and twine.

As an alternative, if you are growing on a balcony or verandah that has a railing, you can gently guide the vines to grow along this. In general, pumpkin vines won’t do this naturally so you’re going to have to give them a helping hand by tying the vines on at intervals.

Sow Pumpkin Seeds Into Your Container

A selection of orange pumpkins and a bowl that's filled with pumpkin seeds that has spilled over

Ideally, you want to have only 1 pumpkin plant per container. I always like to sow at least 2 to 3 seeds in case some of them don’t germinate. If you do this and all three seeds germinate, you can gently lift the extra seedlings and plant them in their own container.

Pumpkin seedlings are fairly easy to handle and don’t mind being transplanted. Just use something like a spoon to gently tease the roots out of the soil.

How To Care For Your Container-Grown Pumpkins

In general, pumpkins are fairly easy to grow and don’t really need all that much extra care in the garden. However, if you’re growing them in pots, you will need to ensure that they get plenty of water and nutrients.

Watering is really important if you want your pumpkins to flourish and start producing fruits. The soil in containers does dry out far more quickly than soil in the garden, so you’ll need to keep an eye on this.

The best way to determine whether your plants need water is to check the moisture content in the soil. The easiest way to do this is to poke your finger or something like a bamboo skewer or chopstick into the top few centimetres of soil. If this comes out dry, then it’s time to give your pots a good drink.

Make sure that you water deeply until the excess water comes out through the drainage holes at the base of the pot. 

You also want to ensure that your plants are getting enough nutrients. If you’ve used a nutrient-rich compost at the start, this should sustain the young plants for at least a month or so. 

You should then top up the nutrients.

You can either do this by top dressing with more compost and watering this in or using a pelleted slow-release fertiliser scattered on the surface of the soil. This will travel down into the soil to where the roots are every time you water.

Once your plants have reached a decent size and are starting to look like they want to flower, it’s important to feed them with a fertiliser that’s high in potassium and phosphorus as this will encourage flowering and fruiting.

For pot-grown plants, this is easily achieved by using a water-soluble fertiliser every couple of weeks. Mix the fertiliser with water and apply directly to the growing medium.

A Word About Pollination

two images showing the difference between male pumpkin flowers and female pumpkin flowers

As pumpkins have both male and female flowers on the same plant, they generally rely on bees and other insects to pollinate them. If the female flowers don’t get pollinated, then the tiny fruits will just shrivel up and die.

So, if you’re growing in containers in a spot where you don’t get a lot of bees, you’re going to have to pollinate the female flowers by hand. This can easily done with a small paintbrush or even a toothpick.

All you have to do is take some of the pollen from the male flowers and transfer this onto the stigma or the very tip of the inner section of the female flowers. While this can be a little tricky at first, once you’ve done it a couple of times, you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Here’s a handy video from GrowVeg that shows you exactly what to do:

When Are Pumpkins Ready To Harvest?

orange striped pumpkin almost ready to harvest

Your pumpkins will be ready to harvest within 90 to 120 days from planting but this will depend on the particular variety you’re growing. Here are a few things to remember at harvest time.

You want to wait until the skin has hardened and has reached a nice rich colour. Tapping on the skin with your knuckle is one way to tell if the fruit is ready to harvest. If you hear a somewhat hollow sound, then the fruit is mature enough to harvest.

Another telltale sign to watch out for is when the stem that attaches the pumpkin to the vine starts to become quite dry and a little hard.

When harvesting your pumpkins, it’s important to use a pair of secateurs or a sharp knife to cut the stem from the vine. Always ensure that you leave at least around 10 cm of stem attached to the fruit. If you cut the stem too close to the fruit, your pumpkin will not store well.

Once you’ve harvested your pumpkins, put them into a warm and dry place so that they can cure. This will help to develop the flavour of the flesh and ensure a longer shelf life. At a minimum, two weeks should be enough but I’ve left larger pumpkins to cure for a month or more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do pumpkins need to grow in full sun?

Yes, for the best results, your pumpkins should get around 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. This means that you might have to move the pots around during the day so that your plants are getting enough sun.

Do pumpkins need warm temperatures?

Yes, pumpkins grow best during the warmer months of the year and many varieties are frost-sensitive. So, you should hold off planting until the last frost date has passed. 

Are pumpkins susceptible to disease?

Unfortunately, many pumpkin varieties are susceptible to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew. To prevent this, make sure that there’s plenty of airflow around the plants and always water at the soil to avoid getting the leaves wet. 

Do pumpkins need to be pruned?

While it’s not absolutely essential, I do like to prune off any yellowing leaves on a regular basis. If your plants have a bit of powdery mildew on the leaves, just cut these off and throw them in the bin. Once your plants have set the required number of fruit, pinch off the tips of the vines. This allows the plant to put its energy into growing the fruit rather than the vine.

Are pumpkins susceptible to many pests?

When grown in the garden, pumpkins can be susceptible to a number of pests such as cucumber beetles and squash bugs. But, if you’re growing in pots, you should find that you’re unlikely to have too much of a pest problem.

When should you plant pumpkins?

This depends on where you live and your climatic conditions. Generally, mid spring is ideal which could be mid to late May in the northern hemisphere and around mid to late October in the southern hemisphere. Pumpkins do need a long growing season so the earlier you can get them in after the last frost, the more successful they’ll be. This will give the plants enough of a head start to produce plenty of good fruits.

Final Thoughts

Growing pumpkins can be very satisfying. In fact, it’s quite exciting watching those tiny bulges at the base of the female flowers grow into pumpkins as they get larger and larger.

But, if you don’t have a large garden to grow these massive plants, you can still enjoy the experience by growing smaller varieties in large pots or containers. 

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