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Gardening Carol O'Meara


Pumpkins add to fall decoration

 Pumpkins are among the most globally loved fruits. And it’s well deserved. They provide us with guilty pleasure by giving us the opportunity to play with our food. We carve them, paint them, dress them up, spangle them, light them and generally toss them around. No other toy I know of is as much fun, not even the plastic potato with clothing and interchangeable noses. References to pumpkins appear in literature, folklore, children’s tales, medicinal cures and culinary recipes. In true American fashion, we’ve built an entire shopping season around them.

Many cultures celebrate the harvest season by incorporating pumpkins into fall decorating — there are pumpkins for every designer’s mood, now that the plant breeders have gotten hold of them. In addition to the traditional Jack O’Lanterns, we now have white skinned Luminas, rosy Rougue D’etamps, tiny Jack Be Littles, and enormous Dill’s Atlantic Giants to grace our gardens and fall vignettes. Pumpkins are speckled, warty, flat, round, grey, pink, beige or striped.

Avoid pumpkin meltdown

Aside from the pressure of perfect accessorizing, the scariest part about our pumpkins is not the faces carved into them or that they hang out with interior designers and headless horsemen. No, what really scares us is the rot that sets in after a crisp frosty night. One evening your pumpkins look good, the next they appear to have melted.

It is the freezing and thawing of surface cells that makes them mushy companions to bales of hay and dried flowers. Freezing temperatures rupture the cells of the pumpkin, and, once warmed by the sun, these cells begin the slide into decomposition. Keeping pumpkins safe through frosts and freezes will keep them fresh through October and into November. Bring pumpkins in on nights when freezing temperatures are predicted, or cover the larger ones with blankets that reach completely to the ground all around.

Central Elementary School pumpkin celebration

With the wealth of history and uses behind them, pumpkins evoke a wonderful reaction in most people. Central Elementary School in Longmont celebrates all things pumpkin each October. Led by Shelley Saxton, art teacher and pumpkin aficionado, the students, staff and parents put together a pumpkin museum that is both cute and educational.

Looking like an orange explosion, the pumpkin museum is a great place to view many types of locally grown pumpkins, as well as enjoy the children’s artistic interpretations of what pumpkins mean to them. First graders traced an outline of their closed fists to get a round shape to which they’ve added a stem and pumpkin markings. The result is an amazing display of pumpkins that are as unique from one another as a fingerprint.

Students have made pumpkin fences, kites, chairs, 3-D pop-ups — the entire school has made something to celebrate the squash. Anchoring all of this is the donation of a giant from the gardens of parent Chris Sabol. Children learn the difference between loaning items and donating them to a museum, and many are happy to give their special pumpkins a good home with the school. Visitors are welcome to view the pumpkin museum, after signing in with the office first.

For more information on a variety of horticulture topics, visit or call (888) 666-3063. Planttalk Colorado is a free service of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver Botanic Gardens and the Green Industries of Colorado.

Carol O’Meara is with the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information, about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Cooperative Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303-678-6238, or visit

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