Now that you have your pumpkin and winter squash seeds, you can get them started on the germination process and in a few short weeks they will be ready for planting.  One of the primary methods for planting that many home gardeners and commercial growers use is the starting of seeds in small pots to be grown into transplants that are later planted in to the ground.


Starting your pumpkin seeds (or winter squash seeds, used here interchangeably) as transplants is a very good way to keep a close watch over the seeds so that you can control seed moisture, temperature, protect the seeds from animals like birds and squirrels that enjoy eating these types of seeds as well as more closely keep track of different cultivar types.  Pumpkin seeds can also be sown directly in to the ground and is an efficient way to plant large fields but greater risk abounds as ideal temperatures and moisture are much harder to regulate which can reduce seed germination rates and leave seeds vulnerable to animals.  When planting seeds directly, more seed should be used per hill to offset these risks and ensure the plants get started without time loss.


To start pumpkin seeds as transplants, use small plastic pots with a sterile medium (soil) that drains well, holds moisture, and is not easily compacted.  Seed starting mixes like this can be found in gardening centers of large and small retail centers and goes along way in getting seeds off to a strong start.  If garden soil is all that is available it may be used, but may not be sterile (free from disease pathogens) and when using it, it will most likely be more difficult to maintain a consistent moisture level for the seed especially if low in organic matter.  If using garden soil plan to monitor moisture in the soil and replenish as necessary with misting or spraying and apply biological and root specific fungicides to seedlings to ensure proper health.  Seedlings for pumpkins and winter squashes are best started 2 to 3 weeks before the anticipated planting date.  These winter squash seedlings can be held and cared for beyond this time period, but should be watered frequently (enough such that the soil medium remains moist but not saturated), be given very small amounts of liquid fertilizer and have plenty of sun exposure.  Place 3 to 4 seeds (thin to the 2 strongest 3 to 4 weeks after planting) in each pot about ½ to ¾ of an inch below the soil surface making sure the soil is moist but not saturated.  Make sure to allow the soil over the seeds to remain loose and not tightly packed.  Pumpkin and winter squash seeds germinate in about 7 to 10 days at a preferred temperature of around 80° Fahrenheit.  When starting seeds outdoor during cool periods, small greenhouses can be used over seedlings to maintain consistent heat.  Plastic bags can also be used to achieve this if greenhouses are not available.  Be sure to monitor seedlings as spring temperatures can vary greatly from day to day and temperatures over 100° F will kill seedlings. On warm spring days inside greenhouses and under plastic, temperatures can easily rise to and above 100° F.


Once the winter squash seedlings have emerged and if started indoors or in greenhouses, plan to harden them off for at least 7 to 10 days before planting to acclimate them to the outdoor temperature conditions they will face.  You can do this by gradually increasing outdoor exposure time starting with the warm period of the day and slowly expanding to include cooler evening temperatures.  Hardening off is most necessary for seedlings to be planted during the spring time when temperatures can still dip down to near freezing.  You should never let pumpkin or winter squash plants or seedlings for that matter see freezing temperatures as it will kill them.  Its best for plants in general to not see temperatures below 50° F is possible.  Once your winter squash seedlings are ready to plant, dig a hole about 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep.  This larger sized hole will allow the plant roots an area of loosened soil to become further established while the plant is young.  To give the plant an extra boost throw a handful of a balanced nitrogen potassium phosphate granular fertilizer at the bottom of the hole and as the plant grows it will readily feed on these nutrients.  Make sure the plant roots are thoroughly wet before removing it from the pot and place back the soil around the plant setting it in so that it will be at ground level (not mounded up or in a depression) and make sure all roots are fully covered with soil.  Give the plant roots another good soaking and cover the base of the plant with dry soil which will help in moisture retention.





Starting Plants From Seeds; Horticulture Information Leaflet 8703

Erv Evans, Extension Associate, Horticultural Science; Frank A Blazich, Professor, Horticultural Science; North Carolina State University

North Carolina State Cooperative Extension Service

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