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When to Harvest Pumpkins – Tips for Harvesting Pumpkins

 Many of us look forward to picking pumpkins for fall projects, recipes and decor. If you have planted and nurtured a crop of these vegetables, you likely have wondered when to harvest pumpkins.

Depending on the variety, pumpkins normally take between 90 and 120 days from planting seed to maturity.  Early varieties like Darling and Early King will be ready in 90 days. Knucklehead pumpkins such as Sanchez and mildew resistant varieties such as Apogee will mature in 95 days.

If pumpkin carving is your intent, many of the traditional carving types, need the longer growing season of 120 days.

If late summer is hot and humid, pumpkins may ripen early. Also, warm fall days can delay ripening, since the pumpkin crop will continue growing.

With this much difference in their growing times and conditions, it is no wonder there is confusion on dates for harvesting pumpkins. Luckily for you, we’ve put together a pumpkin harvest guide to help!

Pumpkins in a field ready to harvest.

How do you know when to harvest pumpkins?

Unless you are using pumpkins just for carving, the ideal time to pick pumpkins is when they are fully ripened. Pumpkins which have grown until they reach the peak of maturity have better flavor, the best color and last the longest, too.

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when their desired color is present and their rind is hard. Most pumpkins are ready to harvest by mid-fall. Your seed package will give you the approximate number of days from planting to harvesting.

Bright orange pumpkin on the vine, ready to harveset.

Hopefully, you will have saved the package that the seeds came in with your garden journal. This will give you a guide to the length of growing time and the color of the mature pumpkin.

Be sure to harvest before the first expected frost in your area. Keep an eye on night temperatures. If you expect temperatures in the 40s for several days in a row, you should harvest your pumpkins.

Although many plants, pumpkins included, can survive a light frost, a hard frost (4 hours below 28° F. -2 C.) will damage the pumpkins and lead to decay.

Leaves of a pumpkin plant after a hard frost.

Harvesting before a hard frost, as long as your pumpkin has already started to turn its final, mature color, won’t hurt the pumpkin. It will be able to ripen while being off the vine.

However, if the days are warm and no frost is forecast, it’s fine to delay harvesting even if the pumpkin is ripe. They will continue to grow in these conditions. Ripening naturally is ideal.

Also, if the leaves have nearly all died, or insect infestation and disease is present, harvesting is a must. The pumpkins won’t grow if there are no leaves to feed it.

Testing pumpkins for ripeness

Harvesting pumpkins at the correct time is crucial. If you pick them too soon, they won’t last in storage, but if you harvest them too late,  they will be soft and mushy.

Seasonal signs such as chilly mornings and short days are hints that pumpkin harvest time is close.

The color, vines, sound and thickness of skin are signs of a ripe pumpkin.

Once you have decided to harvest the pumpkins, there are a few ways to test pumpkins to see if they are ripe. Look out for these signs.

Correct color – Your seed packet will show mature pumpkins of the variety you have chosen. Be sure that your pumpkins have completely changed to the expected mature color.

Strong rind –  Use your fingernail on the rind (outer skin.) If the pumpkin is ready for harvesting, the rind should be strong enough to resist puncturing from your nail.

If you harvest a pumpkin that has a rind that is too soft, it will shrivel within a few days.

Sound – Test for ripeness by thumping the pumpkin and listening for the sound it makes. A ripe pumpkin will make a hollow sound.

A woody stem – A third way to determine if the pumpkin is ripe is to examine the stem area. Pumpkins that are ripe have leaves and vines that are yellowing.

At the same time that this happens, the stems will begin to turn brown and become woody.

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The right color, a strong rind, a hollow sound and a woody stem are all signs of a ripe pumpkin. Head to The Gardening Cook for more tips for when to harvest pumpkins this fall. 🎃🎃🎃 Click To Tweet

Tips for harvesting pumpkins

Now that you have a handle on when to harvest your pumpkins, you will want to do the job correctly. Harvest pumpkins on a dry, sunny day. Typically, this is in late September or early October in the northern hemisphere. 

Wear garden gloves to protect your hands from the vines which can be prickly. 

Gardener harvesting a pumpkin with gloves and shears.

Use a sharp knife or sturdy garden shears to cut the pumpkin from the vine, but leave about 2 inches of the stem. Leaving a stem on the pumpkin makes it look more attractive if you display it and also helps to prevent rotting.

As soon as you harvest your crop of pumpkins, pull up the vines and add them to the compost pile unless the leaves have any disease.

If they do show signs of disease, bag the vines and dispose with other yard waste.

Handle the pumpkin carefully to avoid bruising it or cutting into the rind, since this can accelerate decay. Even though the rinds are firm and hard, they can still be dented or dinged.

Carry the pumpkin by the base, not the stem, to make sure the stem does not break off. Broken stems can expose the pumpkin to pests and diseases.

Woman in plaid shirt carrying a pumpkin by the base and not the stem.

Freshly harvested pumpkins can be used immediately in recipes or stored for future dishes. Those intended for use in carving or decor projects should cure first.

 Curing allows the skin to harden and any scratches from harvesting to heal.

To cure pumpkins, clean them of excess dirt and place them in an area where the temperature is about 80-85° F with relatively high humidity (80%) for 7-10 days.

After this time, keep the pumpkins in a cool location (50-60° F) away from direct sunlight. They will last up to 3 months stored this way. (A root cellar is ideal.)

Curing pumpkins can also be done in the field if your weather will remain warm and dry.

Stacked pumpkins with a no sign superimposed on them.

Store the pumpkins in a single layer, where the rinds do not touch each other. Do not stack or pile them, since this will decrease air circultion which can lead to decay of the fruit.

More tips for your fall pumpkin harvest

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to also check out these posts about fall pumpkins. There is so much that you can do with your pumpkin harvest.

Carving pumpkins and pie pumpkins in a photo with words what's the difference.

From carving them for Halloween, to using them for crafts, projects and recipes, fall pumpkins are very versatile.

Recipes using pumpkins

Now that you have a harvest of pumpkins, try one of these recipes to use them.

Man holding a knife and a cut pumpkin.

As long as you know the signs to watch for, you are certain to harvest your pumpkin at the perfect time, to enjoy as a fall decoration, or used in your favorite pumpkin spice cookies, or other recipes.

Pin this post for when to harvest pumpkins

Would you like a reminder of this post for choosing the right time for harvesting pumpkins? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

You can also watch our pumpkin harvesting video on YouTube.

Pumpkins in a field with words when to harvest pumpkins on them.

Yield: A Great Pumpkin Harvest

How to Harvest Ripe Pumpkins

Two pumpkins ready to harvest.

Pumpkins take 90-120 days to mature. Once they have ripened, use these tips to harvest them at just the right time.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 10 days
Total Time 10 days 30 minutes
Difficulty moderate

Materials

  • Ripe pumpkins on the vine

Tools

  • Sharp knife or garden shears
  • Garden Gloves

Instructions

  1. Choose a sunny day before your first expected frost.
  2. Wear garden gloves to protect hands from prickly vines.
  3. Cut the pumpkin from the vine with a sharp knife or garden shears, leaving at least 2 inches of stem.
  4. Add the vines to the compost pile at this time, unless they are diseased.
  5. Handle the pumpkin carefully. Carry by the base, not the stem.
  6. Cure the pumpkin if you plan to use it for carving or projects.
  7. To cure pumpkins, clean them of excess dirt and place them in an area where the temperature is about 80-85° F with relatively high humidity (80%) for 7-10 days.
  8. Store the pumpkins in a cool location (50-60° F) away from direct sunlight. They will last up to 3 months stored this way.

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