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GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published October 16, 2016

You know fall has arrived when tree leaves start turning red and a variety of winter squash, including pumpkins, start showing up everywhere along with pumpkin lattes and a plethora of pumpkin culinary delights. What do you know about these “squashy” signs of autumn?

Do you know the definition of “squash” or, more exactly, the definition of a winter squash? If you check the dictionary, a squash is a member of the gourd family that has edible flesh. A winter squash is squash that is harvested when it is mature with fully developed seeds. When mature, a winter squash has a tough skin or rind that enables it to be stored for a month or more, depending on the type of squash and storage conditions.

From the botanist’s perspective, squash are members the cucurbit (Cucurbitaceae) family. This family is native to South and Central American and may have been cultivated in these regions long before corn became a cultivated crop.

Squash have many cousins in their family including decorative gourds, utility gourds, cucumbers, melons, and summer squash. There are several different species of winter squash. The Cucurbita pepo species includes spaghetti, delicata, and acorn squash. Because most C. pepo squash do not have thick skin, they are not suitable for long term storage.

Winter squash with harder skins that store well for up to several months are the Cucurbita maxima species that includes hubbard, marblehead, buttercup, banana, golden nugget, Turk’s turban, and kabocha squash. Other species that store well are Cucurbita moschata that includes butternut, ponca, and waltham squash and Cucurbita argrosperma that includes cushaw squash.

All pumpkins are winter squash, but the term “pumpkin” is an inexact, nontechnical term that refers to a roundish winter squash with orange-ish smooth ribbed skin. However, not all winter squash that are called pumpkins are round and orange. Pumpkins vary in appearance, characteristics, and use.

Many pumpkin pies you eat come from pumpkin cultivars of C. moshata that have tan colored skin and an elongated fruit shape. This type of pumpkin is used to make canned pumpkin used in making pies and baked goods.

Gardeners trying to grow gargantuan pumpkins for giant pumpkin contests usually plant cultivars of C. maxima. These have creamy white to somewhat orange or yellow skin and a spongy stem. These pumpkins can weigh in at 100 pounds or more. Selections of the cultivar Atlantic Giant produces most of the winners of pumpkin contests.

The Cinderella pumpkin, also known as Rouge Vif D’Etampes, is an heirloom variety that has grown in popularity in recent years. It has flattened fruit with deeply furrowed orange-red skin. It is often used for decorating, but its flesh is supposedly good cooked or in pie. Other heirloom pumpkins on the market are the Jarrahdale pumpkin with blue green deeply ribbed skin and the warty Galeux d’Eysines with salmon colored skin. Both are a departure from the typical orange pumpkin and are reported to have tasty sweet flesh.

When it comes to carving look to the cultivars and hybrids of C. pepo with orange skin and a deeply furrowed woody stems. Also, most of the cultivars with “naked” seeds for eating come from C. pepo, as well as do the miniature pumpkins used for fall decorating. In addition, there are some cultivars of C. Pepo used for making fresh pumpkin pies.

This would be a good weekend to go get your winter squash and pumpkins, if you did not grow them yourself. I want to get one of the carving pumpkins with white skin, how about you?


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published February 7, 2016

From time to time I have written about the All-America Selections (AAS). These are new flower and vegetable varieties that have been judged by AAS to be the best performing new varieties for home gardeners. All-America Selections is an independent non-profit organization with the mission of “promoting new garden varieties with superior performance judged in impartial trials in North America.”

When gardeners start ordering seeds or plants they may see a variety that is “new and improved” or “better tasting,” but they have no way of knowing the truth of these claims. However, if a new variety is a national All America Selection (AAS) they can be assured that it is likely to perform well in their garden and offer something new or different than similar varieties currently available. In fact, not only must an AAS selection perform well in trials around North America, it must also “have at least two significantly improved qualities” over current varieties to be considered for selection.

While in the past flowers seemed to be the main focus of AAS selections, vegetables have been front and center in recent years. I suspect that is because many seed companies have been putting their energy into developing new and improved veggie varieties, the current focus of many home gardeners.

Let’s take a look at some of the new veggies winning the AAS designation for 2016. Since tomatoes are everyone’s favorites, I will begin with the two tomatoes that won the AAS award for this year. First is ‘Chef’s Choice Green F1.’ This is a modern hybrid that looks like an heirloom with large (9-10 oz.) beef-steak type fruit.

The fruit of Chef’s Choice Green F1 are very pretty with green and yellow-striping. The flesh has a sweet, citrusy taste and good texture. Existing varieties that it resembles are Aunt Ruby’s Green, an heirloom, and Fried Green F1. Other desirable characteristics of Chef’s Choice Green F1 include its “well-behaved” 5′ foot tall indeterminate vines and resistance to numerous diseases. Seed for this tomato can be purchased from Totally Tomatoes at

On the other end of the spectrum of fruit size is Candyland Red, a currant-type tomato with small .5″ red fruit. These little fruit are very sweet and richly flavored. Candyland Red resembles Sweet Pea and Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes but differs from other currant-type tomatoes because its growth is not as rampant, plus the fruit forms on the outside of the plant, making harvesting the tiny gems easier. While more compact in habit than similar varieties, these plants still grow 6-8′ tall and should be spaced 3′ apart with staking provided for support. Seed of Candyland Red is also available from Totally Tomatoes.

Other AAS 2016 vegetable selections include:
Pepitas F1 is a beautiful yellow-orange medium-sized pumpkin with green stripes, making it useful for fall decorating. In addition, its flesh can be baked and the naked or hulless seeds (pepitas) can be roasted and eaten. (Available in 2017.)

Prizm is a short kale (10-24″ tall) with bright green ruffled, curly leaves. The almost stemless leaves are tender with good flavor. The plants quickly re-leaf after harvesting. This kale is compact enough to be grown in containers and raised-beds. Remember kale is a cool-season plant and should be started early in the season. (Available in 2017.)

Look for these and the other 2016 and previous years’ AAS selections when buying your garden seed. They are varieties that should do well in your garden because they are “Tested Nationally and Proven Locally®,” All-America Selection’s tagline.

Photos from All America Selections are available at:


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published- OCTOBER 3, 2014


Ever wonder what’s the deal with giant pumpkins? This year the first place pumpkin at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup weighed in at 1609.5 lb and was grown by Stan Pugh of Puyallup. Purists might argue that these are not really pumpkins but a type of winter squash. I tend to agree, but the term “pumpkin” is subjective.

The pumpkins that folks typically make into jack-o-lanterns have smooth orange skin. The fruit is somewhat ribbed and the stems are furrowed and woody. Botanically they are members of the genus Cucurbita and the species pepo. Cultivated varieties (cultivars) of what I think of as pumpkins are a subgroup of Cucurbita pepo. Other subgroups of Cucurbita pepo include summer squash, acorn, spaghetti, delicata, and ornamental gourds.

The gargantuan giant “pumpkins” grown for fairs and festivals around the country are a subgroup of a different genus, Cucurbita maxima. They tend to have orange or orangish skin with ribbed fruit. Their stems are spongy without ribs. Other true winter squash in Cucurbita maxima include blue Hubbard, banana, buttercup, turban, delicious, and Kabocha squash cultivars.

Yet another species of winter squash, Cucurbita moshata, has some cultivars dubbed “pumpkins.” Generally, C. moshata pumpkins have deeply ridged stems that flare out at their base. The skin may be orange, buff, or green, and the flesh is dark orange and dry. These are type used for making canned pumpkin and pumkin pie. Butternut squash are in a different subgroup of C. Moshata.

Carved Pumpkins: Every fall my children and grandchildren delight in carving pumpkins, the type I call real pumpkins. They go to a lot of work digging out the gooey guts and deciding on carving designs. After all that work, it seems a shame that the pumpkins start to shrivel and mold within a few days and are usually goners a week after carving. I researched credible recommendations regarding how to prolong the life of carved jack-o-lanterns.

Parden the pun, but once pumpkins are cut they are “ripe” for rot. The cut surfaces allow easy entry to molds and rot fungi into the flesh. One simple step in preserving pumpkins is placing placing the carved pumpkins where they will stay cool and out of direct sunlight during the day. Dedicated carvers recommend store prized specimens in the refrigerator to slow down the decay process. Carvers also recommend against placing your pumpkins directly on concrete as this will draw moisture out and lead to quicker shriveling due to moisture loss.

An Illinois Extension educator suggests dunking or spraying the cut surfaces with a 20% bleach solution and blotting it all dry. However she did not offer any proof that it works, so I am skeptical of that approach.

There is also a product available on-line called Pumpkin Fresh containing a borax solution and they indicate it “preserves and protects” and “fights mold and rot.” It is sprayed on the inside and cut surfaces daily to discourage fungi. I find the results of a school science project where a student tested both bleach and Pumpkin Fresh against the control. The “winners” in overall longevity were the control and the Pumpkin Fresh but one had more mold and the other more rot and both were pretty shriveled after two weeks.

I might get some and give it a try this year. Of course that means carving two pumpkins, one to be used as a control. I’ll let you know if it works.

Published: 10/3/2014 12:13 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

We certainly all know it’s traditional to have berry pie after our Thanksgiving dinner. Wait a minute… berry pie? I bet you thought it was pumpkin pie. Well, you’re right and I’m right. That’s because botanically, pumpkins are classified as berries. They have a fruit that develops from a single pistil (the female part of the flower) and they have seeds that aren’t enclosed in a hard outer covering or “stone. ”

Pumpkins and the rest of the squash family are “native American” plants having originated in South, Central, or North America. They ‘ve been grown as crops for thousands of years. Long before Europeans discovered the existence of the New World, native populations were cultivating squash as one of their main food crops. In fact, the name “squash” comes from an Algonquin word “asku’tasquash” meaning “food eaten raw.”

There are a little over 25 species of plants in the squash and melon family, known as the Cucurbita family. A number of cultivars within four of these 25 species are commonly referred to as winter squash. The designation of “winter squash” generally means the fruit has a hard skin, dry flesh, and fairly long storage life. Many winter squash have orange flesh that is traditionally prepared and eaten during the fall and winter months. “Summer squash” have tender skin, moist flesh, and don’t store well. They’re best eaten when very young and fresh. “Pumpkins” are generally winter squash that are round and orange.

Unless you’re a botanist, the following botanical discussion may seem a bit boring and pedantic, but it’s important to gardeners, squash growers, and pumpkin fanciers… so please bear with me. Here’s a brief look at each of the four main types of winter squash.

Cucurbita maxima: Within this species you find the traditional rather large winter squash… Hubbard,, banana, buttercup and the colorful turban squash, as well as “mammoth pumpkins.” The species is characterized by rounded, mostly unlobed leaves; fleshy round stems; and a corky peduncle (that’s where the stem is attached to the fruit).

Cucurbita pepo: This species includes summer squash so familiar to home gardeners, including zucchini, yellow straight neck, yellow crookneck, spaghetti, cocozzelle, and patty pan (scallop) squash. It also includes the jack-o’-lantern pumpkins; sugar pumpkins; most of the bumpy, warty gourds used for autumn decorations; acorn squash; and the more recent winter squash introductions ‘Sweet Dumpling,’ ‘Delicata,’ and ‘Tatume’. This species has hard, 5-angled prickly stems; a strongly flared peduncle; and bristly, lobed leaves.

Cucurbita moschata: You can tell this group by their hard, angular stems with soft hairs and their white-marked, shallowly lobed, hairy leaves. The cultivars included in this group are butternut, some cushaws, Cuban, calabaza,, and ‘Tahitian’ squash.

Cucurbita mixta: The angled stems of this group are hard with soft hairs. The peduncle is five angled, not flared, but with a corky swelling at the base. The shallowly lobed leaves are smooth or just a little hairy and usually have white blotchy markings. This group includes most cushaws, sweet potato squashes, and potato pumpkins.

So now that we’ve talked about different types of winter squash….what’s the difference between a pumpkin and a winter squash? The designation of “pumpkin” is not a botanical term. Pumpkin purists insist that true pumpkins are the Cucurbita pepo pumpkins, such as ‘Connecticut Field,’ ‘Jack-o’-Lantern,’ ‘Autumn Gold,’ ‘Big Tom,’ or ‘Early Sweet Sugar.’ They have bright orange skin and the characteristic hard woody, furrowed stems of C. pepo.

Others less concerned with semantics consider any winter squash that’s sort of orange and somewhat round to be a pumpkin. Such is the case with most local, state and national big pumpkin championships. The gargantuan pumpkin winners are always cultivars of Cucurbita maxima. The prominent mammoth cultivars include ‘Atlantic Giant,’ ‘Big Max,’ ‘Big Moon,’ ‘Hungarian Mammoth’ and ‘Show King.’ The C. maxima “pumpkins” are generally more yellow than orange and most end up a bit more lopsided than round because of their great size.

This year’s winner of the “Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off” was a C. maxima ‘Atlantic Giant’ pumpkin weighing in at 1,229 pounds. It measured 13 feet, seven inches around! The winner’s grower is Joel Holland, a retired Washington state firefighter from Puyallup, Washington. Holland received a prize of $6,145…. $5 for every pound of pumpkin.

When Thanksgiving rolls around in a couple of weeks, many of us will finish a great dinner with the conventional piece of pumpkin pie, but we probably won’t be eating C. pepo or C. maxima pumpkins. Instead, we’ll be eating Cucurbita moschata processing pumpkins, such as ‘Dickinson Field,’ ‘Buckskin,’ or ‘Kentucky Field.’ These pumpkins tend to look more like tan-colored watermelons. They have dark orange, fine-textured, dry flesh. If you’ve ever tried to make pumpkin pie from scratch, the results may have been disappointing. The flesh of the traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkins is of poor quality for baking and eating.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the littlest pumpkins marketed in recent years for fall decorating. These little pumpkins are members of Cucurbita pepo. They were developed in Asia and are bright orange, somewhat squat in shape with deep sutures. Most American consumers consider them a gourd. They’re quite a bit like gourds in that they are decorative, small, and last a long time. However, unlike gourds they’re said to be good baked, stir-fried, or pureed. Cultivars include ‘Jack-B-Little,’ ‘Jack-B-Quick,’ and ‘Munchkin.’

This entire squashy pumpkin discussion may cause you to ask “so what?” Pumpkin growers and gardeners who save their seed need to know the difference between the different species. That’s because different cultivars of squash within the same species can cross pollinate. The seed resulting from such a cross often results in some strange looking squash that lack the desirable appearance or characteristics of either parent. Big pumpkin growers typically save the seed of their largest specimens in the attempt to groom bigger and better offspring for the next year. If their giant pumpkins cross with some other cultivar of the same species, it can spell disaster.

If nothing else, you can have an interesting discussion of pumpkins and squash when Thanksgiving dinner is over. Enjoy your berry (pumpkin) pie!

Published: 11/13/2004 2:13 PM



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