How to Grow Pumpkins in Pots and Containers
Over the years, I read many “how to grow vegetables” handbooks and guides. Usually, if there is a section on the small vegetable garden, the recommendation is to grow small plants in pots: herbs, bush cherry tomatoes, chilies and salad leaves. One book actually said “don’t bother trying to grow pumpkins”. Of course that after reading that, I wanted to grow pumpkins more than anything else. Challenge accepted!
What does a pumpkin need?
Pumpkins are hungry plants, so they need a rich soil, and since they are big, a pot or container that holds at least 40 liters of soil. They also need lots of sun and water.
I usually sow the seeds indoors to give the plants a good start, it’s possible to sow directly in the ground, but I have many snails and slugs who love eating young plants, so I prefer to wait until the plant becomes stronger.
Pots & containers
I planted pumpkin plants in an old wood barrow, after I drilled holes in its base for drainage. Another plant went in a big round plastic pot and another one in a container on my balcony. All the plants grew well, and flowered in summer.
I have many bees in my garden, so the flowers were pollinated, and the tiny fruits became bigger and bigger. Some pumpkins were ready for harvest at the end of summer, at August, some just in autumn around September- October. The pumpkins in the barrow, pot and balcony container all produced fruit, but because of the limited space, it’s better to go for small pumpkin varieties.
I ended the season with lots of pumpkins, who says you can’t grow pumpkins in a tiny garden or balcony?
How to grow pumpkins in pots, step by step:
1. Choose the pumpkin you want to grow. There are endless varieties, my tried and tested top choices for small spaces are: Red Kuri- very popular, gives small orange-red fruit; Kabocha- small beautiful green variety which grows like a bush (similar to a courgette plant) instead of a long vine; Thelma Sanders- White, small, acorn type, gives multiple fruits, and; Marina di Chioggia- medium-big fruit, interesting blue shades, very strong plant. Plants with smaller fruit will do better in a pot, make sure your pot is at least 40 liters in volume. The bigger pumpkins do very well in a raised bed.
2. Start the seeds in the beginning of May indoors, or after half-May outside, sowing directly.
3. If you started indoors, transplant into the garden once the plant has its “true leaves” and the risk of frost is gone. Make sure the soil is well-fed, add lots of compost before planting.
4. Water well, since they need lots of water and pots and containers dry out quickly on warm days.
5. Monitor the flowers to make sure you get both male and female flowers (the females have a small pumpkin in their base, while the males have a regular stem). The bees should take care of pollinating for you, but if no fruit is developing well, you might need to hand-pollinate the flowers: pick one male flower and rub its pollen against a female flower.
6. Harvest on time: when the pumpkin stops to swallow, its skin is so hard that you can knock on it, and the leaf that grew next to the pumpkin’s base is dry- the pumpkin is ready!
7. Store the pumpkin somewhere dry, if it’s sunny and dry outside you can leave it there before bringing the pumpkin inside the house. Most pumpkins will taste great after 3-4 weeks of dry storage since their flesh becomes denser and firmer.
8. Enjoy your urban pumpkins!
I originally wrote this piece for Groei en Bloei Magazine, you can read the web-version here, in Dutch.