Plant Common Name
Pumpkin, Winter Squash
Originating from South America, winter squash have been cultivated since ancient times by Native American peoples, and are prized today for both their culinary and decorative qualities. Most mature late in the season, and come in a variety of interesting shapes and festive colors.
The rambling stems of these warm season, annual vines bear large, golden yellow, trumpet shaped blossoms. Both male and female flowers appear on the same plant, and are pollinated by bees. The male flowers appear first, followed by the female flowers which can be recognized by the distinctive, bulbous ovaries at their bases.
Following pollination, the female flowers begin developing into fruits; these are often masked by the plant’s huge, bristly, lobed leaves. Fruit color, size and shape varies greatly depending on the cultivar, but all winter squash have hard rinds, firm flesh and edible seeds. The fruits may be tan, yellow, orange, red and blue or gray-green, and round, flattened, oval or turban-shaped. Many can grow to a considerable size. Round, orange types are commonly called pumpkins, though many sticklers consider true pumpkins to be cultivars of the species Cucurbita pepo.
Sow the seeds of winter squash directly in mounds of rich, light, well-drained soil after all danger of frost has passed. Full sun is required for successful flowering and fruiting. The days to harvest vary but usually revolve around 100 days. To reduce the risk of fungal problems, avoid unnecessary wetting of vine stems and leaves. Monitor closely for leaf bugs and beetles, and for stem borers at the bases of the vines. As fruits mature in autumn, deer, birds and rodents may browse them, so protect as needed.
Harvest winter squash before heavy frosts when fruit color is solid and rinds firm. Cut from the vines, leaving a length of stem attached to the fruit; this makes for easier handling and discourages fruit rot. Take care not to cut or bruise fruits, and store them in a cool, dry location.