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PHOTO: Jessica Walliser
Believe it or not, May is the best time to start thinking about Halloween. Although there’s no need to decide on your costume just yet, in most parts of North America, it is time to start planning for your jack-o’-lanterns.
Pumpkins are warm-season vine crops that are best planted soon after the danger of frost has passed. All but the tiniest pumpkins require 100 or more days to reach maturity, so sowing seeds into the garden as early as possible produces the best crop. Gardeners in the extreme north may get better results by starting pumpkin seeds indoors, three to four weeks before transplanting the seedlings out into the garden.
For maximum yields, plant pumpkins in fertile, well-drained soil, and position them where they’ll receive a minimum of six to eight hours of full sun per day. Give each plant plenty of room to ramble because each vine of standard, full-sized varieties can grow up to 10 feet long.
Although just about any pumpkin variety can be carved into a jack-o’-lantern, there are several varieties that are truly exceptional choices for this craft. Look for cultivars with flat bottoms so the fruits won’t tip over, a uniform shape and size, and high yields.
Here are some of the best pumpkins for carving, separated by the weight of the mature fruits.
This cool little pumpkin is a mixture of green and orange on each ripe fruit. The speckles and splotches make for interesting decorations.
This little pumpkin is high-yielding and uniform. The stems are tall and straight, making the perfect handle for your jack-o’-lantern.
A favorite variety for carving, this classic selection produces both oval-shaped and round fruits.
This fast-maturing pumpkin is great for northern gardeners. They ripen extra early, sometimes a month or more in advance of other varieties. The vines are shortened but the production is great.
This wart-covered pumpkin is creepy even before its carved. The blistery, bumpy rind of Knucklehead will stop the neighbors in their tracks. Excellent overall shape, too.
A standard selection that yields big, 20-inch-diameter pumpkins with smooth skin and even coloration.
The bright-orange rind of this pumpkin is shallowly ribbed, making it easy to carve.
A standard Halloween favorite, Howden has a classic round shape with well-defined ribs and excellent coloration. The vines are very prolific.
A bright-yellow pumpkin with deeply ribbed fruit, this selection has a beautiful, round shape that’s very uniform. The handles are sturdy, and the foliage is resistant to powdery mildew.
You’ll know your pumpkins are ready to harvest when the mature color is fully formed. A quick press into the rind with your fingernail will result only in a small divot. Harvest before fall’s first frost by cutting the fruit from the vine with a sharp knife. Leave a few inches of stem attached to the fruit; not only does it make a good Jack o’ lantern handle, it also delays decomposition. Cure harvested pumpkins in a warm, dry, shady area for a few days to a week before carving.