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Garden Checklist: Pick pumpkins with confidence

Pumpkins are ripening. Look for one that seems full size for its variety.
Pumpkins are ripening. Look for one that seems full size for its variety. News & Observer

It’s pumpkin time again! That annual Halloween staple, as well as other hard-skinned winter squash, are ready for harvest – or pretty close.

With the drought, most pumpkins and winter squash will be ripe about three weeks earlier than normal. How do you know when your pumpkin is ready? Pick your pumpkins after their vines have dried. To speed up this process (especially as Halloween approaches), stop irrigating those plants. (Without water, the pumpkin or squash will hurry up and ripen.)

Look for an outer skin that’s evenly colored and hard, not soft or pliable. Although pumpkins can range from mere ounces to hundreds of pounds, the ripe one should seem full size for its variety and well formed with the stem still attached.

Still not sure? Lightly thump the pumpkin or winter squash with your fingers; ripe fruit will sound hollow with a deeper tone. Try to press your fingernail into the squash’s skin. If the shell is hard enough to resist puncture, that pumpkin or squash is ready. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut stems, keeping a little stem attached to the squash for best storage. When you lift the pumpkin up, do it from the bottom – not the stem; it can break off.

Elsewhere in the October garden:

▪  Trim spent flowers from rose bushes to coax one more round of blooms. You’ll have fresh bouquets for your Thanksgiving table.

▪  Dig up corms and tubers of gladioli, dahlias and tuberous begonias after the foliage dies. Clean and store in a cool, dry place.

▪  Plant spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils, crocus and Dutch iris. Add bone meal to the beds for larger blooms and stronger stems.

▪  Treat azaleas, gardenias and camellias with chelated iron if leaves are yellowing between the veins.

▪  Plant seeds for such cool-weather veggies as radishes, bok choy, mustard, spinach and peas. Plant garlic and onions.

▪  Watch out for snails. Hand-pick them off plants when they come out at nightfall.