September 15, 1999 | By: Aimee D. Heald
LEXINGTON, KY

Pumpkins are a large part of many fall activities including jack o lantern carving, pumpkin pies and pumpkins used in harvest decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations. This year, many Kentuckians may realize how much pumpkins are taken for granted.

The drought of 1999 is leaving it's mark on everything agricultural, even the pumpkins.

"The hot dry summer had an impact on the Kentucky pumpkin crop," John Strang, horticulture specialist for the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, said. "The number of harvested pumpkins is considerably smaller than last year. They are smaller in size and don't' have the quality we are used to seeing. Consequently, we expect local pumpkin prices to be higher this year. However, crops in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio are excellent this year."

Pumpkin plants have both male and female flowers on the same plant, Strang said. When the plants are drought-stressed at the two to three-leaf growth stage (June and early July), they tend to develop more male than female flowers. This reduces fruit set on the plants since few female flowers were produced in June and early July. Since high temperatures and dry weather continued all summer, there also was a reduction in fruit size, due to the lack of water.

"With pumpkins, a split fruit set occurs if plants are subjected to drought shortly after they start setting fruit," Strang said. "This causes the development of a few crown fruit at the first few female flower nodes, resulting in a crop of small, early-maturing pumpkins."

Additionally, when pumpkins are faced with high temperatures during development, they mature earlier and may not keep until October. Also, high temperatures affect the seed set by reducing pollen viability, decreasing the germination rate.

In vine crops, the number of seeds affects fruit size, so pumpkins with fewer seeds usually are smaller. With low seed numbers, the fruit can become pointed and narrow at the stem end.

It takes about 65 to 70 days for small pumpkin varieties and 80 to 90 days for large fruited varieties to reach harvest maturity. This means plants must set fruit from mid-June to mid-July to meet the commercial harvest period in mid-September.

There is a small glimmer of hope for growers who planted their pumpkins earlier this year.

"Growers who planted earlier set fruit before the drought and high temperatures hit, generally have a better crop." Strang said. "In addition, growers who were able to irrigate also have a better pumpkin crop."

Contact: 

Writer: Aimee D. Heald 606-257-9764

Writer: John Strang 606-257-5685