Don't be Disappointed about the size of your Pumpkins this Halloween

PumpkinsPumpkin crops may be smaller this year; Photo: Michael LaTerz

Leading gardening charity explains why pumpkins are smaller than usual this year.

The Royal Horticultural Society is telling gardeners not to feel disappointed about the size of their pumpkins this Halloween, which are likely to be on the small side due to this year’s unusual weather.

The dry start to the summer meant plants struggled to get roots into the ground and also led to attacks of powdery mildew disease. This destroyed foliage early in the year and meant crops couldn’t take advantage of the late summer warmth and sun. Pumpkins need a long growing season and any delay in growth reduces the fruit size and prevents pumpkins from reaching maturity.

Guy Barter, chief horticultural advisor at the RHS said: “Gardeners mustn’t be disheartened if they feel their pumpkins are a little on the small side, as the weather has had an impact on growth this year.

The cool, wet dull spell in mid-late summer was also less than ideal for pumpkins. Courgettes on the other hand only need a short season and thrived in the damp, dull summer. Orchards are also having a bumper year, providing plenty of fruit for another Halloween tradition, apple bobbing!

In the south-west and south-east, gardeners have struggled with dull, showery, conditions, while in the Midlands it has been dry, but not sunny.

Despite the weather, Guy Barter says his pumpkin crop has been reasonable and here are his top ten tips for good pumpkins:

  1. Sow seeds from mid-April. Sow two seeds to a 9cm pot, discarding the weaker plant as soon as possible.
  2. Germinate in warm sunny greenhouse or similar.
  3. Grow in bright sunny conditions and protect against chilly nights. 
  4. Feed with any general purpose fertiliser when roots appear through the bottom of the pot.
  5. Plant out in early summer ideally covering with fleece or cloches until the plants get too big.
  6. When planting out soak the seeds in with a starter fertiliser - half strength general purpose liquid fertiliser is satisfactory.
  7. Rich soil is not necessary and may delay or reduce cropping. One bucketful of compost and 100g of general purpose fertiliser is usually sufficient.
  8. Allow plenty of space (at least 1.2m) between plants - crowded plants crop late or poorly or both.
  9. Lavish watering is not required, but moist soil will help prevent mildew. Ponding the soil to make a depression around the plant can make watering easier.
  10. Mildew can be checked, but not cured, by spraying with the non toxic SB Plant Invigorator, or the vegetable and fish oil based organic 2 in1 Spray.

Article posted on 11 Oct 2011.

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