There’s nothing like having a giant pumpkin in your vegetable garden. Pumpkins are usually hardy but may sometimes become sticky or filled with gel spots. While a few sticky areas aren’t anything to worry about, they may also indicate that something’s wrong with your plant.
Your pumpkins may be sticky due to fungal infections, a soft rind, a lack of proper nutrients, or insect infestations. Solutions include planting treated pumpkin seeds, improving soil nutrition, using pesticides or natural pest control methods, and placing the pumpkins on an elevated surface.
In this article, I’ll discuss why your pumpkins can become sticky and what you can do to prevent this from happening in the future. If your pumpkins are already sticky, I’ll also give you some tips on treating them without the use of potentially harmful chemicals.
Why Your Pumpkins Are Sticky
You’ll probably worry about having sticky pumpkins if you’re new to pumpkin growing. This sticky gel is usually harmless and doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your plant per se. However, there are cases when it may also indicate that you need to take a closer look at your beloved pumpkin.
Before I give you tips on how to prevent your pumpkins from becoming sticky, let’s take a detailed look at what causes them to become sticky in the first place:
Underdeveloped or Damaged Rind
The main cause of sticky spots on pumpkins is an underdeveloped rind. Pumpkin rind usually develops over a few weeks during the autumn and hardens in the sun. You should always harvest the pumpkins after the skin hardens, as the rind won’t develop after harvesting.
However, if you harvest the pumpkins prematurely, the skin won’t develop properly. This may cause the pumpkin to develop sticky spots or a thin film of sticky gel over the pumpkin. The best way to avoid this is by harvesting the pumpkin at the right time (i.e., after the skin hardens).
Another cause of pumpkins developing sticky spots is due to a damaged rind. Pumpkins, butternuts, and certain types of squash have a thin, sticky film under the rind that protects the fruit from decay in case of scratches or damage to the skin. The sticky substance will fill the damaged area and prevent bacteria from causing the fruit to rot.
So, if your pumpkin has scars filled with sticky gel, it’s a natural mechanism the pumpkin uses to protect itself and nothing to worry about. You can always trim them off if the scars aren’t too big, if you’re going to use the pumpkin for cooking afterward or if you’re not growing a prize pumpkin.
Sometimes, fungal infections will cause the pumpkin to develop a sticky gel coating. Fungal infections are characterized by white spores that accompany the fungus. The sticky gel will also be soft and could indicate that your pumpkin is rotten inside.
If your pumpkin is infected by fungi, you can still salvage some of it, depending on how soon you address the problem. However, fungal infections usually mean the end of your pumpkins, especially if you’re growing a prize pumpkin.
So if a fungal infection is the cause of your pumpkins becoming sticky, you’re better off throwing them away, growing a new batch (as painful as that sounds), and making sure fungal infections are kept to a minimum in the future.
In rare cases, nutrient deficiency (or too many nutrients) may cause your pumpkins to develop sticky spots. This usually happens when your pumpkin doesn’t develop hard skin. If you give the pumpkin plants too much fertilizer at the wrong time, they may release sticky gel or even split on the vine.
While nutrient deficiencies aren’t a major problem, they may cause the rind to become softer and more vulnerable to diseases or pests.
If your pumpkins are covered with an unusual sticky substance, it could be caused by pests such as aphids or certain worms. These insects often release a sticky gel that damages the leaves and stems. In addition, their larvae may resemble sticky white spots.
Pumpkins will usually survive most pest attacks but can get damaged if the fruit is underdeveloped. In most cases, the pests will attack the leaves and stems and not the pumpkin fruit itself.
How to Prevent Sticky Pumpkins
You can’t always prevent sticky pumpkins, but you can reduce the risk of your pumpkins developing sticky spots or scabs. If you’re growing multiple pumpkin plants and all of the pumpkins are sticky, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Here are five ways to prevent sticky pumpkins:
1. Plant Treated Pumpkin Seeds
Certain pumpkin varieties have less sticky gel than others and won’t form sticky spots. If you plant a variety that can handle more extreme temperatures, you won’t have to deal with sticky pumpkins.
In particular, treated pumpkin seeds are coated with a fungicide that preserves the seed integrity until germination, ensuring your pumpkin plant has strong growth.
Some seeds are treated with pesticides and other chemicals. However, these chemicals won’t make it into the plant since they’re coated on the seed’s outside casing
2. Apply Proper Water and Fertilizer
Applying too much water and fertilizer can cause problems for your pumpkin plants. You should only water the pumpkin plants enough to moisten the soil. If you live in a cooler region, you may need to water the pumpkin once a week at most. In warmer regions, two to three times a week is sufficient.
Also, you should apply fertilizer to the soil before planting the seeds or after germination. Never apply fertilizer in the late summer, as this could cause a range of growth problems.
3. Use Pesticides
While you may be hesitant to use pesticides when growing organic pumpkins, it may sometimes be your only choice to save your crop. If your pumpkins are becoming sticky because of worm larvae or aphid eggs, you can use a mild pesticide to get rid of the insects.
You can also release natural predators of the pests in the plants to get rid of them naturally. However, this won’t give you the same results every time, as you can’t really control the behavior of predators once they’re out in the wild.
4. Cure the Pumpkins Before Storing
Your pumpkins will usually be sticky if they have a soft rind. This often comes from a lack of curing on the vine.
Cure the pumpkins in a room with a temperature between 80 – 85 °F (27 °-29 °C) for a week or two before storage. This process will harden the rind and dry up any sticky areas.
A harder rind is less likely to be penetrated by scratches and won’t have many sticky spots
5. Place the Pumpkins on an Elevated Surface
Mold and fungus will usually attack pumpkins in a moist area. The moisture softens the rind, making the pumpkin more susceptible to diseases.
To avoid this problem, place the pumpkin on an elevated surface. If you can grow your pumpkins on a vine stick, you won’t have to deal with many pests and diseases from excess moisture.
If you can’t grow the pumpkins on a vine stick, place them on a piece of wood, tile, or foam instead.
How to Treat Sticky Pumpkins
If your pumpkins are already damaged by insects, fungus, or other diseases, you can’t do much to salvage them apart from cutting off the rotten areas.
However, if the stickiness is caused by moisture or scabs, you can usually treat the problem with curing. To cure sticky pumpkins, place the pumpkin in a hot room at temperatures between 80 -85 °F (27 – 29 °C) for a few days. The sticky parts will harden, and your pumpkin will be ready for storage.
You can also cure pumpkin by leaving it in the sun for a few days. However, don’t place the pumpkins outside if there’s a chance of rain or the weather is moist.
Sticky pumpkins are quite common and can be irritating, especially if you’re trying to grow the perfect prize pumpkin. Sticky pumpkins are usually caused by damage to the rind, which causes the pumpkin to release a sticky gel to fill the scar. This gel will dry over time and form a protective layer over the exposed area.
However, sticky pumpkins may also be caused by pests, fungus, or diseases. You can prevent these problems by placing the pumpkin on an elevated surface and keeping it away from moisture.