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April 26, 2013

Can we grow a Halloween pumpkin in our yard?

Q: My son wants to grow a really big pumpkin this summer — I think he got the idea after seeing all the giants last year at the Topsfield Fair. I think I’ve convinced him that those are really one-in-a-million, but he still has his goal of a Halloween-sized pumpkin. Can he do this in a normal backyard that is very sunny? We’ve already started some seeds that are supposed to be giant pumpkins indoors in individual pots.

A: Yes, I’m sure that with some work, he can grow his own Halloween pumpkins. Does he know that there are also pumpkins that aren’t orange and grow in many sizes, and even some unusual-shaped ones?

Pumpkins are a warm-weather crop, so don’t be in a hurry to move your tiny plants outside. You can warm up the garden soil by covering it for a few sunny days with a piece of black plastic. Dig in some well-composed materials from the compost, remove the plastic sheet and transplant your seedlings, being careful not to disturb roots. Fertilize weekly with an all-purpose fertilizer.

Good luck to your son, and tell him that the winners at Topsfield are experienced growers who have tried to win the prize for many years.

Q: Now that it’s getting warmer, I’m anxious to remove my garden mulch. When can I begin removing the layers of mulch around the garden? I’m beginning to see green sprouts appear.

A: Go to it! You can certainly remove a covering around the perennials — you’ve probably already pulled the mulch off the first crocuses and snowdrops — but even if you don’t, they will survive.

The whole purpose of mulch is to temper the temperatures. Sunny days and subfreezing night cause the soil and roots to heave. Heaving causes damage. Plants that have heaved up from the ground can be gently replaced, but don’t step on them. Instead, gently dig and replace them at their proper growing depth. Be especially careful of peonies and irises, which are shallow rooters and shouldn’t be covered with too much soil. Remove mulch from tender shoots very carefully, by hand.

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