Pumpkins are such a versatile fruit. Yes, they are classed as a fruit, and can make or break a dish.
These autumnal crops are perfect not only for adding some spooky lanterns to your porch way, but they have a big place in our seasonal diets, turning any lackluster winter meal into something healthy and hearty.
What you may be less familiar with is the pumpkin flower. Grown on the same vine as the fruit, this unassuming flower has a very special job.
At A Glance: What You Should Know About Pumpkin Flowers
Pumpkin flowers are often completely overlooked, but there’s no argument in the fact that pumpkins would not exist without them.
Many crops such as courgettes, squashes and pumpkins will produce flowers. Once these flowers have been pollinated, they start an incredible transformation where they end up being the very thing we harvest.
It’s important to know that pumpkin flowers are produced on the vine in two forms: male and female flowers.
The job of the male flowers is to create pollen. Pollinators will transfer the pollen from the male to the female plant, and the female plant will then grow the pumpkin.
How To Tell The Difference Between Male and Female Flowers
You can tell the difference between the male and female flowers on a pumpkin vine very easily.
The male flowers appear first, straight on the vine, and the females swell at the base of the flower, where the pumpkin fruit will form.
When Will A Pumpkin Vine Grow Flowers?
You should expect to see your pumpkin plants produce flowers around 10 weeks after you first plant them. It could be sooner or later, and this will depend on the growing conditions, the variety you choose, and the climate you live in.
It sounds like a long time, but the plants need a while to establish the nutrient-harvesting parts before they can think about producing fruit. They have to get all of that energy in place, first!
Male flowers will always appear first. It can take up to two weeks after the male flowers emerge for the female flowers to form.
It’s interesting to note that male flowers usually unfurl in the morning to attract as many pollinators as possible, and female flowers typically emerge in the afternoon.
How Long Do Pumpkin Flowers Last?
Pumpkin flowers are among the most short-lived blooms. Most will only survive for about half a day after opening.
The good news is that during the growing season, once your pumpkin vine starts producing flowers, it will produce fresh blooms each morning to attract pollinators, and keep the cycle going.
Should I Get Rid Of Pumpkin Flowers On The Vine?
From the sections above, you might already suspect that the answer should be ‘NO!’, unless you want no pumpkins at all.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t remove some new flowers once the female flowers have been pollinated.
Some growers swear by doing this, as the plant should put its energy into growing pollinated flowers into bigger fruits, rather than spreading it across making new flowers and smaller pumpkins.
As a general rule, it’s better to leave at least a spare three or four fruits on the plant.
Inevitably, some may get eaten by pests or be affected by disease, and you actually want some fruits left to be able to sample the plant’s (and yours) hard work.
To some extent, the plant will get rid of some non-viable pumpkins by itself, and it’s always worth picking those up from the soil, otherwise you risk attracting pests and diseases.
Is It Safe To Eat Pumpkin Flowers?
Pumpkin flowers are completely safe to eat. In parts of India, they are a great staple in many dishes.
Some people use them in salads, garnishes, desserts, fritters, among other ways. There are plenty of ideas online for you to explore.
Just don’t forget to wash them thoroughly before you prepare them!
What Do Pumpkin Flowers Taste Of?
Pumpkin flowers are said to have an earthy taste with a sweet note, much like the pumpkin itself does. But the only way for you to tell for sure is to try it yourself, as people’s palates can vary wildly.
But which flowers should you eat? Well, since the male flowers don’t serve a purpose to the plant after the female flowers have been pollinated, going for the male flowers makes sense.
They are also easier to eat and there’s more of them, as they don’t possess that ovary bulge that the female flowers grow.
You can eat the female flowers if you wish, but there will be less of them, and it’s worth knowing that the ovary is quite tough.
If you are planning on eating the pumpkin flowers, for best results, you should aim to take the flower off the vine as soon as it has opened.
This will mean that the oils in the plant won’t have evaporated, which means the taste will be as strong as possible.
Are Pumpkin Flowers Good For You?
Pumpkin flowers are fairly nutritious. They contain vitamin B9, vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin C, foliate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper.
It’s said to be a good source of folic acid, which helps prevent anemia.
How Do You Harvest Pumpkin Flowers?
Pumpkin flowers are easy to harvest. Simply pinch them off with your fingers or use pruning shears to cut them off.
How Do You Pollinate Pumpkin Flowers?
In order to get any pumpkins off the vine, you need to get the male flowers pollinated.
Normally, bees and other pollinators will do this for you, and you can boost the rate at which they do this by planting other flowers near your crops.
It’s a good idea anyway to have as many different types of flowers in your garden as you can. Not only will this attract plenty of pollinators, but it will also attract beneficial wildlife, which will keep pest numbers down.
If you’re wanting to attract a specific type of pollinator into your garden, you can use specific plants to help do this.
For example, lilac trees and butterfly bushes will attract butterflies, while single-form flowers with flat heads will attract plenty of bees, such as dahlias, echinacea, and marigolds.
Lavender is a big favorite of bees. You can also help out the insects in your garden by filling a shallow dish part way with water, placing gravel in there, so that they can drink safely without drowning.
It’s very rare that no pollinators will come to your pumpkin flowers, but there are times when the pollinators will struggle. Particularly cold or soggy summers can do this, in which case you’ll need to pollinate them yourself.
Take a male flower from the vine, and put it into the female flower. You’ll want to transfer the pollen from the male flower’s stamen onto the stigma of the female flower (see also The Anatomy Of A Flower). After that, all you have to do is wait.
Troubleshooting Pumpkin Flower Problems
My Pumpkin Vine Isn’t Producing Flowers
You’re Not Waiting Long Enough
The best reason for the pumpkin vine not flowering is that it’s simply not ready to. Don’t forget, the plant needs to produce all of its structure, and nutrient-extracting components before it can flower.
Typically, the vine needs to get to around a meter long before any flowers will emerge.
You’re Not Looking At The Right Times
Having said that, it’s also very easy to miss the early male blooms. After all, the vine is usually a mess of tangled stems, and the flowers barely last four hours.
Male flowers will drop off the plant much quicker if there are no female flowers on the plant, too.
For instance, if you’ve ever grown courgettes, you’ll know that giant gourds can hide under the foliage quite easily.
When they might flower depends on a whole host of factors. Their growing conditions, how wet, dry, cold, or hot the seasons have been up until the plant forming flowers will dictate how it behaves and how it grows.
The Soil Is Wrong
If the plant isn’t flowering at all, even after about 55 days, this could be an imbalance in the nutrients in the soil.
If your soil has high levels of nitrogen, and not much else, this could be your problem.
This has the same effect on plants that too much fertilizer has: your plant will produce lovely foliage, and it will be really healthy, but it won’t bloom.
If you have too much nitrogen in the soil, it’s worth planting things that extract nitrogen from the soil as part of their nature. This is partly why we rotate crops.
You can plant corn next to pumpkins to help sort this.
It’s also worth feeding your pumpkins with some phosphorus, which helps boost flower production.
A good fertilizer to go for would be one that’s made up of 5 – 10 – 10, NPK, the lowest level being nitrogen. That way, you’ll still be able to sustain healthy leaf growth, but you’ll also provide the plant with the nutrients it’s crying out for.
As an alternative, you can use bone meal, which is an organic option.
Not Enough Sunlight
Like many crops, without enough sunlight, your pumpkin vines will suffer, and won’t grow any flowers worth talking about, let alone eating.
They need at least six hours of sunlight a day in order to get enough nutrients to produce flowers, and then fruit.
If you’ve planted them in dappled shade, you may struggle to get flowers at all.
If your pumpkin vine is really struggling, only producing leggy growth, it’s worth taking a risk and transplanting the whole plant to somewhere a bit sunnier.
It’s Too Hot!
Crops are just as sensitive to heat as they are to sunlight. If you get swelteringly dry summers, it is possible that your pumpkin vine is stressed out.
When plants get stressed, they tend to drop anything they don’t consider vital in order to conserve energy. In this case, that will be immature flowers.
If the temperatures in your garden reach consistently above 90°F (or 32°C) and they don’t drop enough at night, your plant’s growth will be greatly affected.
One way to help guard against fierce, sunny weather is to water your plant on a regular basis, and give it a decent drink, ‘puddling’ the water at the base.
Make sure that you do this early on in the day, so that the plant’s roots won’t scorch.
It’s also important that you only water at the base of the plant.
It’s A Fungal Problem
Pumpkin vines and squashes are particularly vulnerable to powdery mildew. This fungus disease coats the foliage, and inhibits the plant from extracting all the nutrients it can.
If you start to see the leaves of your beautiful pumpkin vine covered in a horrible, powdery white mess, you’ve got some work to do. You need to act quickly.
Get rid of any infected leaves, and invest in an organic fungicide to help get rid of the problem.
You do be careful what you use, as some will prevent this disease rather than cure it, but it will be labeled as to which it is designed for.
Pumpkin flowers add a lot of personality and intrigue into the pumpkin vine, and they do have specific jobs.
Looking at them regularly will help tell you how the plant is doing, and they can give you an indicator of how many pumpkins you might get at the end of the season, too.
It also helps that you can eat them!