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My two pumpkins turned orange by September 1. They are both still fairly small, and the stems are still green and sturdy. How long can I leave them to grow?

I've seen conflicting advice on the internet. One person said as much as two months. Another person said just a few days.

One person said to look at the stem and see if it has turned color and started to dry out. Another person said to look at the skin and see if it has become firm and hard. Another person said to look at nearby tendrils (she called them curlicues) to see if they have dried out.

I live near San Francisco, California, where our days are cool and dry at least until the rainy season starts, usually in mid to late October. I want to pick the pumpkins and stop watering the plants if the pumpkins won't grow any further.

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  • I think it's weather-dependent - hot and rainy = quick to rot.
    – Jurp
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 3:56
  • I added my location and weather information. I don't think rotting will be a problem here, but I do want to pick the pumpkins and stop watering them if they won't grow any further.
    – Daanii
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 4:06

3 Answers 3

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I think all of those signs are valid.

  • They turn orange when they ripen and they will not grow much more
  • Skin hardness is another sign that they will not grow anymore
  • Similarly the stem will start drying when they have matured
  • It also depends on the variety.

They have matured (or are almost there), so the growth if any is not going to be major or worth worrying about.

If you grew it from seed, then look at the packet. Otherwise measure it twice a week and then decide (you can wrap a piece of string around the circumference).

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I haven't grown pumpkins in a while (mostly tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, wonderberries, other squash, and such); so, take this with a grain of salt:

It's rare for the fruits of plants to get bigger after they change their ripe color. Nevertheless, it sometimes happens (but I repeat, it's rare).

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“Grow” is a difficult term in this context.

You have two phases in the development of a pumpkin, transitioning gradually.

The first is the rapid growth phase, starting after the flower drops off. That’s when the main growth happens, but the fruit is generally unripe. For some members of the Cucurbita family, gardeners (and cooks) prefer harvesting relatively early, while the fruit is tender and seed development is minimal: think zucchini/courgette or some cucumbers.

The second phase is characterized by much slower growth (if any), ripening of the seeds, hardening of the exterior and changes in the flesh, namely storage of carbohydrates/sugar. It’s not about volume increase, but maturing.

During that second phase, you typically see color change early on and other changes later. The still-green stem is an indicator that the plant is not “done”, the fruit is still supplied with water and nutrients.

For your pumpkin, your intended use will determine the harvest time. If you want optimal storage capabilities, wait as long as possible, i.e. until the stem starts drying up. For culinary purposes, very ripe pumpkins can sometimes go from sweet to slightly mealy, but that will depend very much on cultivars, so it may be a good idea to harvest a touch earlier, but that choice will also be influenced whether you are planning to store the pumpkin or use it sooner.

(And if you need the space or are simply impatient - note that they are edible pretty much in all stages.)

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  • Thanks, that makes sense. I'm curious why the pumpkins went into the second stage so early, in August.
    – Daanii
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 16:45
  • My Hokkaido has three dark orange fruit as well, since mid-August. Plus a few very small ones, like a second wave. So who knows…
    – Stephie
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 16:47
  • My plant now has two more new pumpkins an inch in diameter. It also suddenly developed a nasty case of powdery mildew. I'm thinking I'll pick the two bigger pumpkins and just pull the plant up and throw it away.
    – Daanii
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 15:00
  • @Daanii You could be telling the story of mine. - I will leave mine as powdery mildew is pretty much everywhere this season. So…
    – Stephie
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 15:24
  • The two one-inch pumpkins that were green and growing just now turned yellow and fell off. The bigger pumpkin on my vine is about seven inches in diameter, and it's still growing. The smaller pumpkin is about four inches and is not growing. The powdery mildew is, unfortunately, thriving.
    – Daanii
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 18:16

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