The pitiful whimpering caught my attention. That's when I realized, not for the first time, that I might have a plant problem, specifically, a pumpkin problem. But first, an explanation . . . .
Each year, I have the best intentions to edit my garden and not overplant. And each year, I overplant. My backyard is small and I want to grow everything! I tend to mix plantings, putting dahlias, pumpkins, and sunflowers, for example, in the same area.
Proper spacing, however, is important for healthy, productive plants. Overcrowding can lead to competition for sun, water and nutrients, resulting in weaker, less productive plants. It can also result in increased risk of disease due to the plants' proximity to each other and also due to lack of sun and poor air circulation. Crowded plants also are more susceptible to pests.
I've seen the effects of overplanting firsthand. The first year I grew Cinderella (‘Rouge vif d'Etampes) pumpkins, I harvested twelve healthy pumpkins. I was thrilled! The next year, I couldn't resist trying a few more varieties in the same small place. The yield decreased considerably. The same thing happened in my dahlia bed.
Last spring, I was determined to resist the siren song of the seed and bulb catalogs and plant a modest amount of pumpkins and other vegetables. I didn't purchase any new dahlias. Such restraint! I was disciplined! At least as much as I could be.
But I had a few pumpkin seeds left over (a result of being incredibly disciplined, obviously), and that's where things went wrong. Again. I had a temporarily unused irrigation drip line near our deck. I hated to waste the seeds, so I threw a few in a hole near the dripper, not expecting much success because it is in a shadier part of the yard. I've made this mistake before and even blogged about it when a Cinderella pumpkin vine took over my yard a few years back. (See “Cinderella's Coaches are Ready” (Oct. 7, 2019).) I knew better!
Fast forward a few months and the Cinderella pumpkin vine has taken over my yard. It has romped across woolly milkweed, kangaroo paw, andsalvia, circled around a crape myrtle, and is heading back to the deck. One tendril has loped up on the desk and is now knocking at the screen door.
And somehow there is another pumpkin vine that I have no recollection of purchasing or planting. It is a different variety than my usual choices. A volunteer perhaps? It is growing in the gravel bed edging some flagstone without regular irrigation. I felt sorry for when it was a seedling and started watering it by hand occasionally. I thought it would die when we went on vacation early in the summer and didn't get regular water. It hasn't. It has thrived.
The whimpering? Well, the two massive pumpkin vines have met and are nearly touching. My 105-lbBernese Mountain dog was trying to follow me to the back door and he was afraid to walk through the 6” gap between them. He is a big baby who is afraid of many things and now we will add pumpkin vines to the list.
My husband gently suggesting that we prune the vines back. I haven't wanted to cut them back too much because I'm curious as to what will happen next, but I compromised by creating an 18”-wide path between the vines. My adult children walk into the yard, stop, get the same funny, slightly horrified, expression on their faces, and then return quickly to the house. At this point, the entire family is watching the backyard with interest, and perhaps a little fear, as the pumpkin vines grow about a foot a day.
So here we are. This summer I was going to be disciplined, not overplant, and have a carefully spaced and edited garden. Instead, nearly a quarter of my yard has been taken over by rampaging pumpkin vines. Again. But it has been a lot of fun!
The pumpkin vines nearly meet! photos by Erin Mahaney
The vine has encircled the crape myrtle.