Dakota gardener: The great North Dakota pumpkin

Tom Kalb, horticulturist
North Dakota State University Extension
The Neon variety of pumpkin ripens early and is easy to grow.

Do you believe in the Great Pumpkin?

Linus from the Peanuts cartoon believed. Instead of trick-or-treating with Charlie Brown, Linus spent every Halloween night in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear.

The ghost never came, but Linus never stopped looking.

Since 2009, a team of more than 100 families in North Dakota have been looking for a great pumpkin in their backyard gardens. They have tested pumpkins that are orange, white and gray. They have tested pumpkins that are big and small, round and flat, smooth and warty.  

Their favorite pumpkin variety is Neon, the Great Pumpkin for North Dakota.

These families are amazed to see bright-orange, glowing pumpkins in their gardens in August, while other pumpkins are still green.

Neon pumpkins are guaranteed to ripen before Halloween, even in the far northern regions of our state.

Another nice feature of Neon is its compact habit. The vines of Neon only spread about eight feet across. They won’t overrun the garden and can be grown in small spaces.

Neon pumpkins are a nice size for a jack-o’-lantern. They grow about 10 inches across and weigh about 8 pounds. Although these pumpkins are not huge, your kids will be delighted. The handles are dark green and strong.

If you are looking for a bigger pumpkin and have room in your garden for the vines to spread, a variety called Howden is the classic pumpkin.

Breeders in North Dakota have developed an early strain called Early Dakota Howden. This organic variety has performed well in trials across our state.

Other strong performers in North Dakota include Early King and Early Giant. These varieties are easy to grow, ripen early and produce deep-orange jack-o’-lanterns.

If you want to get your kids really excited, grow a monster pumpkin.

Atlantic Giant grows the biggest pumpkins, often exceeding 200 pounds. But these pumpkins require a tremendous amount of care. You will need to start seeds indoors, sacrifice most of your garden space, trim vine roots, pick off little fruits, provide shade to the enormous pumpkin and water almost daily.

In the end, you will get a big, ugly, lopsided, pale-orange pumpkin. Plus, you will need a tractor to move it out of the garden. That’s too much work and not enough reward for many of us.

An easier option is to choose giant pumpkins that require no special care. The Big Moose variety produces eye-catching, red-orange fruits that may reach 100 pounds. It’s highly recommended.

Large Marge and Howden Biggie reliably reach over 30 pounds. If you want to try something different, grow Polar Bear, a pure-white giant pumpkin.

You can search these varieties online and find several seed companies that sell them.

Every year, North Dakota State University works with gardeners to look for the Great Pumpkin of North Dakota. If you would like to join our team next year, please contact me at tom.kalb@ndsu.edu.

Happy Halloween!

For more information about gardening, contact your local NDSU Extension agent. Find the Extension office for your county at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension/directory/counties.