First, you would want to choose the purpose for your pumpkins or winter squashes (the two terms are used here interchangeably), such as for cooking, fair or fall festival competitions for size, or for autumn decoration. Once you have established this you can begin to look at the many cultivars of pumpkins from which you can choose for your garden. In the following paragraphs are some of this writer's personal favorites for each of the categories.
The best types of pumpkins for cooking:
While there are several great pumpkins for making pies, breads, and culinary delights, I have 2 personal favorites. The Musque de Provence, aka Fairytale pumpkin, is tan colored and can reached up to about 15 lbs. The Old Timey Field pumpkin aka Indian River pie pumpkin is also tan in color and can reach upwards of 35 lbs. These pumpkins have an incredibly sweet flesh and are in my opinion the very best for cooking with. These varieties belong to the botanical species C. Moschata (the same species as the Butternut squash) and are both very old heirlooms, so they have a great resistance to insect and disease damage. I would still encourage also performing a good pest and disease management program for these varieties, although less intensity is needed than for C. Maxima or C. Pepo varieties. Both of these varieties will harvest in approximately 130 days.
The best varieties of pumpkins for size and weight:
If you are planning to growing giant pumpkins, your best bets are to select from the Big Max, Prizewinner Hybrid, Full Moon, and the Atlantic Giant varieties. The Big Max and Prizewinner Hybrid varieties are a brilliant rich orange color and can grow upwards of over 100 lbs. The Full Moon is a very nice white / off white color type that can also reach up to 100 lbs. The Atlantic Giant variety is by far the most popular and can exhibit colors of white, green, blue, pale orange, and bright orange. This variety is widely the most common grown for competition and carries the world record weight of over 2,000 lbs. In this writer's opinion, the Atlantic Giant seems to be a more hardy and resilient variety than the others, but each of these cultivars are hybrids and exhibit a greater susceptibility to insect and disease damage. All of these varieties belong to the botanical species of C. Maxima, and in general I’ve seen that this species is favored by Cucumber Beetles, Squash Bugs, and Squash Vine Borers. This makes a regular pest and disease management program all the more important. These are very large fruit, so you can expect your harvest time to be 115 to upwards of 150 days or more.
The best varieties of pumpkins for decoration:
Just about any pumpkin variety you decide to grow would make nice fall decorations, however, there are a few that really stand out. The Jarrahdale is an heirloom (a very old hybrid) winter squash, it is a bluish color with variations of green and gray and can typically grow up to as much as 20 lbs. The Lumina pumpkin is white in color, can grow up to around 12 lbs, and also has sweet flesh for baking. These varieties have a pretty good resilience to insect damage, but just as the other varieties should have a good pest and disease management program. These cultivars will harvest in about 110 days. One other variety to consider is the Jack Be Little, which is technically a miniature gourd that can exhibit a beautiful orange color and get to as much as about 1 pound (but will typically be less). You cannot eat the Jack Be Little, but it has the appearance of a miniature pumpkin (a favorite of young children) and it will harvest in about 85 days.
If you are looking for the classic orange pumpkin reminiscent of autumn, there are several really good varieties you can choose from for the classic look. Included among these are the Jack o Lantern, Connecticut field, and Howden Field Pumpkins. These varieties are slightly more prone to diseases such as powdery mildew and tend to be more heavily attacked by Squash Bugs. For these varieties, its a necessity to have a thorough pest and disease management program to combat the disease and insect damage. Gold Rush and Magic Lantern varieties have also become very popular, but they are newer hybrid varieties than the three previously listed and they therefore have a greater susceptibility to insect and disease damage. In general staying on top of controlling insect pests and diseases, as well as planting early in the season, will result in a reduced prevalence of insect and disease damage to the pumpkin plants. All of these pumpkins will harvest in roughly 95 -115 days.
Once you have chosen the pumpkin or winter squash varieties you want to grow you can find the seeds at local hardware stores, garden centers or you can buy directly from seed companies through mail order catalogues or the internet. See the Resources section below to find seed companies to locate seeds for the above mentioned varieties. Once you have your seeds, you have completed the first crucial step and are well on your way to begin your exciting adventure in pumpkin growing.
Pumpkins – Johnny’s Selected Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds – Cooking and Decorative Pumpkins at Burpee Seeds