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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - April 15, 2013

From: Dulutj, GA
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Pests
Title: Growing Giant Pumpkins in Georgia
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I have tried to grow giant pumpkins in the Atlanta, GA area. Each year I lose several strong plants to vine borers. I have tried tin foil wrapped around the stems, and I even painted the stems with Sevin dust in a paste. I still had borers. I slit the stems and remove them, but this severely stunts the pumpkin growth. How do the folks up north counter this terrible pest? They get huge pumpkins and they must have a secret. I am considering using a systemic poison. Will that make the seeds poison also? Any advice is appreciated.

ANSWER:

The pesky squash vine borer is quite a pervasive and destructive pest of giant pumpkins and other members of the squash/cucumber family. This is a bit out of the Mr. Smarty Plants field of native plants expertise, but there are some resources online that might help. Also there are many options to combat the vine borer as alternatives to using systemic pesticides.

Don H. Cooper from the University of Georgia has a very informative article on the Georgia FACES website. He describes the life cycle, using row covers and yellow sticky traps, and how he injects Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organic insecticide into the stems.

Another website that you will find informative is www.bigpumpkins.com. Paul Hollings has an article on that website about the dreaded vine borer and has some good advice on organic methods for avoiding it.He also recommends covering the entire plant during the vine borer’s active mating season with a lightweight row cover. In his area (Medford, MA) he covers the plants with the row cover from early June to late July. He sews several strips together so he has enough to unroll as the pumpkin grows. If borer damage does show up he injects beneficial nematodes into the stem when he sees a hole and frass showing.

An additional article on the www.bigpumpkins.com website, this time by Hugh Wilberg has a good description of the male and female adults, when they emerge and their habits. Beyond the vine borer, there are lots of tips for growing giant pumpkins on the website too.

Bill Foss also has some good growing instructions online for 500 pound (or larger) size pumpkins.

 

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