How Do You Grow a 2,000-pound Pumpkin?

By: Muriel Vega  | 
giant pumpkins
Travis Gienger of Anoka, Minnesota, has taken the top prize for the last three years at the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in California. Here, he's pictured with his 2022 pumpkin, which weighed in at 2,560-pounds (1161-kilograms)! Igor Porton/Miramar Events

Flannel shirts, fall foliage and colder temperatures are sure signs autumn is here. But there's another obvious thing — and it's a big one — giant pumpkin competitions. They're held all over the U.S. from Alabama to Alaska, but the "Super Bowl of Weigh-Offs" is held in the world pumpkin capital, Half Moon Bay, California.

This year marked the 50th annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off and it did not disappoint. The winner was Travis Gienger of Anoka, Minnesota, and his massive pumpkin. This gorilla-sized gourd weighed in at a whopping 2,749 pounds (1,247 kilograms), setting a new North American record for heaviest pumpkin.


"Winning the competition felt surreal," Travis Gienger said via email in 2022. "This has been a 180-day labor of love and more importantly, 28 years of growing coming down to one day!"

2023 was Gienger's third time taking home the gold. His third winning pumpkin was almost 400 pounds (181 kilograms) heavier than his 2020 winning pumpkin. He set the Guinness World Record for heaviest jack-o'-lantern in 2020 with that 2,350-pound (1,065.9-kilogram) pumpkin.

Gienger says he started the seeds for his 2022 "Maverick" in early April to pollinate the pumpkin around mid-June and then nurtured it until the competition. During those 180 days, he had to water and fertilize it multiple times a day, prune and bury its vines, and keep a close eye out for disease and rot.

"To grow North America's largest pumpkin has always been a dream of mine and to finally achieve that has been a dream come true," he says.


The Dill's Atlantic Giant

giant pumpkins
Most giant pumpkins are grown from Dill's Atlantic Giant seeds. Igor Porton/Miramar Events

So how do farmers like Gienger grow pumpkins so big? It all comes down to genetics, says Jim Myers, professor of vegetable breeding at Oregon State University.

"Genetics are important," Myers says. "It's based on Dill's Atlantic Giant [seeds]. But to be competitive, you need to get seeds from pumpkin growers who have produced the biggest pumpkins. Every pumpkin champion comes from the offspring of those seeds. The Dill's Atlantic Giant seeds will grow a pumpkin up to 300 pounds [136 kilograms] on average."


We can trace Dill's Atlantic Giant all the way back to the late Canadian grower Howard W. Dill, who was known as the Pumpkin King. At a young age, Dill left school in Nova Scotia and taught himself about plant genetics. Dill selectively cross-matched and bred giant pumpkin seeds.

He came up with the Atlantic Giant seeds and patented them in 1979. He set the world record in 1978 with a 438.5-pound (198.9-kilogram) gourd, which doesn't sound like much compared to the car-sized pumpkins grown today, but at the time, it was unheard of.


How Do You Grow a Giant Pumpkin?

giant pumpkins
Giant pumpkins need a lot of space for their vines to spread. They also require a ton of water, not to mention babying, by their growers. Wikimedia/(CC BY-SA 4.0)

Technically, you can grow one of these giants in your home garden, but you'll need tons of space to make room for the vines to spread and climb. It also will need lots of sunshine, water and pollinators.

"The environment is intensively managed to keep the plant from getting too hot or too cold or too thirsty," Myers says. "There is a certain amount of cultural management such as hand pollinating, removing competing fruit and making sure that the nodes of the vine are rooted."


So just how much space and time does one of these gargantuan gourds need to grow? At least 1,200 square feet (111 square meters) and around 120 days to mature — that's about the same as a regular pumpkin. The difference is giant pumpkins grow much faster than small ones, sometimes gaining 20 to 60 pounds (9 to 27 kilograms) in one day.

Consistency is critical, too, especially when it comes to watering. Depending on your schedule, irrigation and rainwater can make a giant pumpkin happy or make it explode from too much moisture.

And you better protect your pumpkin if you plan on making it a prized one. Meyers suggests building a temporary fence around it to keep children, pets and livestock out.

"If you are growing in an urban setting, giant pumpkins will attract attention, and you may have people in your yard where you do not want them," Myers says. "Be prepared to spend a lot of time talking to passersby about pumpkins."

Competitors must think about something most home growers don't: transporting their giant pumpkins. For example, Gienger grew his in Minnesota but had to ship it to California for official weighing. How nerve-wracking is that?

"This pumpkin was massive and could easily have weighed a couple hundred pounds more, but you never know until you get to the scale!" Gienger says.


After the Competition

So what in the world happens to these massive gourds after they go to competition? Typically the growers get to keep them and some will carve them for Halloween. Other growers sell theirs, or trade and sell the seeds, according to NPR.

But if you think anybody will be eating them, think again. Giant pumpkins are usually not edible, but that doesn't mean they go to waste.


The Oregon Zoo often treats its elephants to giant pumpkin snacks, and at the Bauman Harvest Festival in Oregon you can watch the Bauman's Giant Pumpkin Drop. It's exactly like it sounds: Giant pumpkins are hoisted 100 feet (30 meters) up in the air and dropped into an inflatable pool, all in the name of fall fun.