Growing Giant Pumpkins

Learn what it takes for growing giant pumpkins in your own backyard.

| September/October 2014

  • Squash leaves and flower welcome the late summer sun.
    Photo by Fotolia/Le Do
  • Giant pumpkin display with gourds surrounding it.
    Photo by Fotolia/BronxPhotog
  • Howard Dill is pictured with the last Dill’s Atlantic Giant he ever grew in the top right photo, from 2007.
    Photo courtesy Diana Dill-MacDonald
  • Giant pumpkin, winner of the pumpkin contest on the autumn market.
    Photo by Fotolia/swisshippo
  • Pumpkin patch ready for annual festival in Half Moon Bay, California.
    Photo by Fotolia/snyfer
  • Growing giant gourds takes skill and experience, tons of luck, great seed, and a willingness to answer the neighbor’s questions.
    Photo by
  • Kicked back during a pumpkin regatta race in Tualatin, Oregon.
    Photo by City of Tualatin/Eric Hermann
  • The race is on at a pumpkin regata in Tualatin, Oregon.
    Photo by City of Tualatin/Eric Hermann
  • Pumpkin Regatta, Damariscotta, Maine, USA.
    Photo by Pat & Chuck Blackley

Back in 1904, a man named William Warnock of Goderich, Ontario, exhibited a 403-pound squash at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair). It was the biggest vegetable of any sort ever grown, and it remained that way for the next 72 years. Since then, however, competition has driven giant pumpkin growing to new heights. The current world record, held by Tim Mathison of Napa Valley, California, was set in 2013. His pumpkin weighed in at 2,032 pounds. Every year since 2009 has seen a new world record, so who knows what we will see in the next year?

One thing is for certain though. Humans are a curious and competitive lot, and growing large garden vegetables is here to stay. But what makes the giants grow so giant? And just what is it about growing gigantic gourds?

Why giant pumpkins?

Pumpkins are the largest garden vegetable. Other giant veggies are grown and square off at various competitions, but the pumpkin is the king of the garden. Squash is a close second, with the world record being 1,487 pounds, grown by Joel Jarvis of Ontario in 2011. Both giant pumpkin and giant squash belong to the same species, Cucurbita maxima. The next closest species in size is watermelon, Citrullus lanatus — the current record was set in 2005 for a 268.8-pound melon grown by Lloyd Bright of Hope, Arkansas.

Although some growers find a use for their mammoth vegetables — including racing in giant pumpkin regattas, where hollowed-out pumpkins are used as boats — for most growers, it’s really just the thrill of growing something enormous in their garden. Read further for ways to prepare your garden and grow one of these monsters.

The variety

A variety of large pumpkin cultivars are available to gardeners. However, if you are looking to grow the largest pumpkin possible, there is only one to consider — Dill’s Atlantic Giant, a variety bred by Howard Dill of Nova Scotia. Dill, who held the record for heaviest pumpkin four years in a row back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, bred his variety from two other giant pumpkin varieties: the Mammoth Chile and the Goderich Giant, a variety descended from Warnock’s seed. Confusingly, there is also a variety called Atlantic Giant, but it typically doesn’t grow as large as the Dill’s variety.

Many garden seed companies carry Dill’s Atlantic Giant, and their seeds will do for backyard enthusiasts. However, for those seriously thinking of entering pumpkin weigh-offs, competition-quality seed — derived from past winners — is available from certain specialty seed companies. An Internet search for “giant pumpkin seeds” will lead you to several sources of seed; and giant pumpkin seed swapping groups can also be found online. In many cases, the parentage of different seeds can be traced back several generations to award-winning pumpkins.

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