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Gardening with Laurie: It's time to plant pumpkins

By By Laurie Garretson
June 7, 2012 at 1:07 a.m.

Laurie Garretson

With temperatures hovering right around the century mark, it's sometimes hard to think about fall gardening. Although, it's sometimes thinking about the cooler days of fall gardening that help to keep me going as I garden in the 100-plus-degree temperatures of summer.

Fall gardening for many of us means winter squash. Winter squashes have denser, hard flesh, unlike the different types of summer squash. Winter squash will store well for months at a time and usually are baked or used in soups or pies.

One of the most popular of all the winter squashes has to be the pumpkin. No other squash is used more for fall decorating than this one. What would Halloween be without the carved pumpkin? And what about all the pumpkin pies we need for Thanksgiving?

Now is the time gardeners are planting this versatile squash to have it ready in October. Many types of pumpkins can take more than 100 days for the fruit to mature. Usually grown from seeds, this crop needs a sunny location with good, deep soil that drains well.

Raised beds work well if your soil tends to be the heavy, clay type. Work lots of good compost and a natural granular fertilizer into the soil before planting. Reapply fertilizer about once a month to help the development of the pumpkins and water as needed.

There are a couple of pests that you will need to be on the look out for. One is a squash borer. Squash borers are usually more of a problem during the first of summer and tend to disappear toward summer's end. This pest burrows its way into the main stem and can quickly cause severe damage.

Injury to the plant from this pest prevents the plant from being able to take up water and nutrients. Damage causes sudden wilting and if not treated will cause the plant to die. Some gardeners wrap foil paper around the lower part of the main stem and others will keep the lower stem dusted with a Bacillus thuringiensis worm killer in the powder form.

Squash bugs are another pest to watch for on pumpkin plants. The adult squash bug is less than 1 inch long, with a flattened body. Females lay their eggs on the underside of the plant's foliage between the veins of the leaf. Eggs are usually laid in clusters and are yellowish to brown in color.

Disposing of the eggs will be the easiest and most effective means of combating this pest. Once mature, this pest can be sprayed with a combination spray of orange oil, a natural insecticide like Spinosad and molasses. Last week's article gave the recipe for this mixture.

Keep in mind that pumpkins are dependent on bees and other insects for pollination. Without this pollination, the pumpkin blooms will not set fruit. Be very careful when you spray and what you spray. You don't want to harm the beneficial insects, like bees.

A fun thing to do with youngsters is to let them carve their names in the flesh of their pumpkin. As the pumpkin gets to about two thirds of its mature size, let each child carve their name into the fruit using a large nail. As the pumpkin matures, the name will "heal over" and a raised ridge of callous tissue will spell out the name.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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