Pumpkins are deliciously versatile and if you know when to pick a pumpkin off the vine you will enjoy the tastiest and ripest gourds.
A vegetable – well, strictly speaking it's a fruit – that is synonymous with fall, pumpkins are among the many winter squashes that can be enjoyed at this time of year, whether added to soups and stews, roasted to bring out the sweet flavors, or carved for halloween displays.
Once you know how to grow pumpkins you can look forward to the arrival of these tasty additions to your repertoire of fall recipes. They will prove to be invaluable additions to your vegetable garden ideas.
When to pick a pumpkin off the vine
Pumpkins have a long growing season so you will hopefully have got your crop off to a good start by knowing when to plant pumpkins for a harvest in fall.
Growing pumpkins requires some patience as you will need to wait a while before you can tell when to pick a pumpkin off the vine, but the wait will be worth it when you can add the flesh to so many pumpkin and squash recipes.
‘Larger, heartier pumpkins tend to need more time to grow, mature, and then cure in the field before harvesting. This could take up to 120 days for some varieties,’ says garden expert and chef Sylvia Fountaine, the CEO and founder of Feasting at Home (opens in new tab). Some smaller sugar pumpkins, however, may only require 80-90 days – so there is slightly less urgency to get these varieties in the ground earlier in the year.
How do you know when a pumpkin is ready to be picked?
There are various ways to tell when to pick a pumpkin off the vine.
You can check that the pumpkins are ready to be picked by the following:
- The pumpkin should be bright orange in color
- The stems and vine will be dried out and starting to wither
- The shell should be hard. If it’s soft, do not harvest the pumpkin
'You can test if a pumpkin is ready to be picked by jabbing your fingernail against the outer skin, or rind. It should be strong enough to resist puncture. Another way to tell if a pumpkin is ripe is if it produces a hollow sound when you tap it,' says TV personality and garden and landscape designer Paul Allen Smith (opens in new tab).
To harvest the pumpkin, use a pair of shears or a sharp knife to cut the stem, leaving a couple of inches left on the pumpkin. Don’t break the stem off as this will cause it to rot.
Can you leave pumpkins on the vine too long?
You can only leave the pumpkins on the vine too long in certain circumstances. The timing for when to pick a pumpkin off the vine is generally from mid-fall – depending on when they were planted.
You want to leave them on the vine for as long as possible to ripen and the flesh sweeten. Help them to receive as much sun as possible by removing any large leaves that cast the fruits in shade.
'Often the plant may die back before you feel they are ready to harvest. This is fine – leave the fruits where they are until they have colored up more and been touched by the fall sun,' explain the experts at Hartley Botanic (opens in new tab).
'You do, however, definitely want to bring them in before the first frost or when night temperatures are expected to regularly drop down into the 40s,' says Paul.
Frost can potentially damage the fruit, which will affect the flavor and also result in them not storing well.
How do you store a pumpkin after you pick it?
Once you have picked a pumpkin, wash off any soil or dirt and leave the pumpkin in a warm and dry spot to harden the skin.
‘Keep in mind you will need to add an extra week to ten days for the pumpkin to cure,’ explains Sylvia Fountaine. This process allows your pumpkin to last for months, whereas uncured pumpkins can decay in a matter of weeks.
Because they are fruits, pumpkins will continue to ripen after they have been cut. This process of curing will encourage any green pumpkins you needed to bring in to protect from frost, to ripen to orange.
Rachel is senior content editor, and writes and commissions gardening content for homesandgardens.com, Homes & Gardens magazine, and its sister titles Period Living Magazine and Country Homes & Interiors. She has written for lifestyle magazines for many years, with a particular focus on gardening, historic houses and arts and crafts, but started out her journalism career in BBC radio, where she enjoyed reporting on and writing programme scripts for all manner of stories. Rachel then moved into regional lifestyle magazines, where the topics she wrote about, and people she interviewed, were as varied and eclectic as they were on radio. Always harboring a passion for homes and gardens, she jumped at the opportunity to work on The English Home and The English Garden magazines for a number of years, before joining the Period Living team, then the wider Homes & Gardens team, specializing in gardens.
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