Most gardeners across the country are counting down the days until the first frost. The first frost can bring relief from a busy (read: exhausting) gardening season, but it also closes the book on all those delicious fresh vegetables. To make the most of what little time you have left, you can encourage your crops to produce more fruit—and that’s true for pumpkins, as well.
If you’ve ever grown pumpkins before, you are well acquainted with their prolific growth habit. A single pumpkin vine can produce as many as 12 to 15 pumpkins. Even if you haven’t reached those numbers yet this season, it may be time to start helping the vine put energy into growing the fruit it already has in the works, and, just as we learned with tomatoes, this can be achieved by stressing out the plant.
When a plant is stressed, it’s a signal to the crop that says, “My life is in danger. I need to reproduce to keep my genetics going for another generation.” It does this by focusing its attention on the fruit–or the seed-bearing part of the plant. In the case of a pumpkin plant, the pumpkin itself is the fruit.
About 35 to 45 days before your area’s average first-frost date, start thinking about stressing out the plant by cutting it back. You will want to remove the “growth tip” (end) of each vine, cutting it to where the last fruit was formed. It’s especially important to do this when vines travel to areas you don’t want them, but this time of year, all the vines can use a little pruning.
Also, remove any small, soft fruits from the vine, as these are the result of poor pollination and have no chance at producing a pumpkin worthy of harvesting. However, if you see some small fruits that still have growing potential, keep them on the vine and watch to see if they develop.