Green Side Up

Garden talk with Gazette community blogger Janice Peterson.

Pumpkins both big and small make great Halloween decorations

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Janice Peterson
Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Halloween's approaching, but it's not The Great Pumpkin that's on my mind. I'm thinking smaller, as in very small pumpkins.

This summer I had the opportunity to grow 24 varieties of small-sized pumpkins at Rotary Botanical Gardens. I decided anything less than 10 pounds would qualify since that was about the limit I could safely grow them up an 8 foot trellis. Some were as light as 4 ounces. A fantastic team of volunteers maintained these areas and kept the pumpkins in tip-top shape.

The distinction between a pumpkin, squash and gourd is fuzzy and differs depending on what country you live in. In general the pumpkins I'm discussing are all in the genus Cucurbita and have hard rinds. They may or may not be round. They may be orange, white, buff or blue-gray. Most are smooth but some have cool bumps or ridges. Some are edible and some are not. However, one thing they all have in common is that they make great autumn decorations.

I was really interested in the differences between the varieties. I liked the orange 'Jack Be Little', and the white 'Baby Boo', both of which were the smallest (two inches tall) with highest production. I also got a kick out of the incredible bumpiness of 'Goosebumps' which gave it a gross, creepy look. 'Field Trip' was a beautiful five pound pumpkin with a long strong handle – just right for children to carry.  The half-pound 'Crunchkin' had wonderful mottling as did the larger 'Lil Orange Mon'. The Italian heirloom 'American Tondo' had heavy ribs that were striped green and orange. 'Lil Pump-Ke-Mon' and 'Hooligan' also had cool striping. I tried adding different colors to the mix, and I especially liked the buff color of 'Autumn Crown' and the consistent grey-blue of 'Silver Moon Hybrid'. One disappointment was 'Bat Wing Mix', which were supposed to be bicolored orange and black-green (looking like bat wings) but were mostly solid orange. A few others such as 'Baby Bear' and 'Jamboree' were attractive but produced very few pumpkins.

Pumpkins are easy to grow and the small-sized ones generally need less space (although they still need room to grow!) and reach maturity sooner than larger pumpkins. We planted these in late May and harvested them in mid-September. Check out seed catalogs this winter for some fun varieties, and toss a few seeds in the ground next spring. You'll have a nice autumn display come October.

Janice Peterson has worked as a grounds horticulturist at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville since 2002. She is a master gardener with the Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association. Though her education is in plant science, she considers her love of gardening and strong back to be her true qualifications. Janice is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. Her opinion is not necessarily that of The Gazette staff or management.

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