UNITED STATES—Things might have gone better for Cinderella if she had taken a Buick to the ball instead of that detrimentally punctual pumpkin coach. It was on such a tight schedule! It might have seemed like a good idea on the way too the ball. It certainly was a unique ride. The problem was that it made no accommodation for Cinderella’s tardiness at midnight. It adhered firmly to its own strict schedule.
Pumpkins and other vegetables are just as punctual in our own gardens. Pumpkin leaves eventually succumb to mildew late in summer. This year, they might be a bit more worn out than they typically are by this time, because of the surprisingly warm weather a while back. They are just finishing up anyway. They only need to sustain fat pumpkin fruit as it ripens for the next month or so.
Some of the oldest leaves might get cut away if they get so dry and crispy that they are obviously no longer viable. The best and most functional leaves will be farthest from the roots. Unfortunately, that is also where the ripening pumpkins are. They need the leaves to sustain them, but they also need sunlight to color well. Leaves that shade fruit should be bent away, or cut away if necessary.
For even ripening, pumpkins should be grown on their sides, and turned or rolled a quarter turn every few days or so. There is no precise formula, but they should not be turned in the same direction too much. Otherwise, they get twisted off their stems. They can be grown standing on their flower ends if they sometimes get turned on their sides to expose their flower end undersides.
Regular turning also promotes symmetry, and should prevent the fruit from sitting in the same position long enough to rot. Just to be safe, in well watered gardens, or where the soil is constantly moist, it might be a good idea to put small boards under pumpkins. Unfortunately, there is no remedy for damage caused by the heat. Damaged pumpkins will just make uglier jack-o’-lanterns.
Big bright orange pumpkins with thin shells work best for jack-o’-lanterns. Smaller brownish orange pumpkins with thick shells are grown for baking and pies. Their external appearance is not as important, although well ripened pumpkins have better flavor. White, pink, green, yellow, red and even blue gray pumpkins are just weird. They look great for Halloween, but do not taste like much.
Highlight: dwarf pampas grass
Modern garden varieties of pampas grass found in nurseries are generally non-invasive. Their flowers are described as ‘sterile’, and therefore unable to produce seed. What that really means is that they are exclusively female, and unable to produce seed without male pollinators. However, they have the potential to be pollinated by naturalized pampas grass, and sow a few hybrid seed.
Of course, if naturalized pampas grass (Cortaderia jubata) are already in the area, a few tame dwarf pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ will not make much of a difference anyway. They have the same elegantly cascading foliage and boldly fluffy flowers in the middle of summer, but on a smaller scale. The long and narrow leaves might stay less than five feet tall. The white flowers might stay below eight feet tall. Unfortunately, the leaves can easily cause nasty paper cuts!
Horticulturist Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.wordpress.com.