How Do Pumpkins Grow: From Two Leaf Stage to the First True Leaf

We are currently deep into our planting season, and as a result of our staggered planting, all of our pumpkins are currently at different stages!

You may notice that when pumpkins start to come through the ground, they have different looking leaves than when they are fully developed. We are here to explain why that happens, what it means, and how to properly nourish your pumpkins (and winter squash) through each stage. 

First, you will want to pick your varieties of pumpkins to grow! There are endless varieties! Some varieties are small, some are big, some are fun colors, some have bumps, and some are delicious as well as beautiful. Needless to say, the options are endless, so do some research and pick the best pumpkin varieties for you and your family!

You will first want to germinate your pumpkin seeds to ensure they sprout! 

During the germination stage, a pumpkin seed absorbs water and begins to sprout. The first structures to emerge are the cotyledons, which are embryonic leaves. These cotyledons provide initial nutrients to the seedling until the true leaves develop.

Here is an example of the cotyledons, or embryonic leaves:

After the cotyledon stage, the true leaves start to appear. The true leaves are the actual foliage of the pumpkin plant, which photosynthesize and contribute to the plant's growth and development. The first set of true leaves usually emerges after the cotyledon stage, and in the case of the two-leaf stage, it signifies that the plant has developed its first two true leaves.

At the two-leaf stage, the pumpkin plant is still relatively young and delicate. It is essential to provide proper care, including adequate sunlight, water, and nutrients, to ensure healthy growth. Gradually acclimating the seedling to outdoor conditions, if it was initially grown indoors, can help prevent transplant shock when moving it to the garden or larger containers.

True leaves on pumpkins, as well as other plants, are the leaves that develop after the cotyledon stage. True leaves are the actual foliage that will continue to grow and contribute to the plant's photosynthesis, growth, and overall health.

See below: You can identify the first true leaf coming up in the middle of the two cotyledons

To ensure a healthy pumpkin plant at the true leaf stage, here are some care tips:

  1. Sunlight: Provide ample sunlight to your pumpkin plant. They require at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Place them in a location with full sun exposure or use artificial grow lights if growing indoors.

  2. Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Water the plants deeply when the top inch of soil feels dry. Avoid overwatering, as it can lead to root rot or other fungal diseases. Water at the base of the plant to prevent wetting the leaves, which can promote disease.

  3. Soil and Fertilizer: Ensure the pumpkin plant is planted in well-draining soil enriched with organic matter. Pumpkins prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH range of 6.0-7.0. Fertilize the plant with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or use compost to provide necessary nutrients for healthy growth.

  4. Temperature and Humidity: Pumpkins thrive in warm temperatures. Ideal daytime temperatures range between 70-85°F (21-29°C). Protect the seedlings from frost and cold temperatures, as they can stunt growth or even kill young plants. Maintain adequate humidity levels, as pumpkins prefer moderate to high humidity.

  5. Proper Spacing: If growing multiple pumpkin plants, ensure they have enough space between them. This allows for good air circulation, reducing the risk of diseases. Vining varieties may require several feet of space for the vines to spread.

  6. Pest and Disease Management: Keep an eye out for common pests like aphids, cucumber beetles, or squash bugs, and take appropriate measures to control them. Monitor for signs of diseases such as powdery mildew or downy mildew, and apply appropriate fungicides if needed. Regularly remove any damaged or diseased leaves.

  7. Support and Training: As the pumpkin plant grows, consider providing support for the vines. You can use trellises, stakes, or straw to lift the fruits off the ground, preventing rot and pests.

  8. Weed Control: Keep the area around the pumpkin plants free from weeds, as they compete for nutrients and water. Regularly remove any weeds that may emerge.

    Below is a photo of a first true leave that is identifiable next to the embryonic leaves. Take note of the shape, and how it is a different texture than the baby leaves!

By following these care guidelines, you can help ensure a healthy pumpkin plant as it progresses beyond the true leaf stage, leading to successful growth and a bountiful harvest of pumpkins.

With time, the plant will also produce vines, flowers, and eventually pumpkins.

Remember that specific care requirements may vary based on environmental factors, pumpkin variety, and your location, so it's always a good idea to consult additional resources or gardening experts for tailored advice.

Check back with us next month to see how we take care of the plants when the flowers begin to emerge!