Will a pumpkin ripen if picked green?

Quick Answer

Yes, a pumpkin can continue ripening after being picked early, but only to a certain extent. The ripening process slows down significantly once the pumpkin is detached from the vine. For the best chance at further ripening, leave 1-2 inches of stem attached when picking an immature pumpkin and store it in a warm, dry area out of direct sunlight. Even then, the pumpkin may not reach its peak ripeness or develop full color. It’s best to leave pumpkins on the vine until they are fully mature.

Can You Pick Pumpkins Early?

Pumpkins can technically be harvested at any stage of growth, but picking them too soon results in less flavorful and poorly colored fruit. Pumpkins are typically ready to pick when:

  • They have developed a deep, solid color on the skin
  • They have a hard rind that resists denting from pressure
  • They have a dried, sturdy stem
  • They sound hollow when thumped

This normally occurs in late September through October depending on the variety. Pick pumpkins intended for cooking or carving slightly earlier than those meant for long term storage. Waiting until the pumpkin is fully mature ensures the highest quality fruit.

What Happens if You Pick a Pumpkin Too Early?

Pumpkins picked prematurely will be smaller, weigh less, and have paler, underdeveloped coloring. Inside, the fibers and flesh will be stringier and drier rather than meaty. The seeds may be small and white instead of large and dark.

Underripe pumpkins lack the complex sweet flavors that develop later in the ripening process. Their texture is also not as smooth or creamy when cooked. Carving pumpkins harvested too soon will have thinner walls that cave in more easily.

While edible, early pumpkins are generally not as tasty, nutritious, or well-suited for decorating compared to fully vine-ripened fruit.

Can a Green Pumpkin Ripen After Picking?

Yes, green pumpkins can ripen further after harvest, but only to a limited extent. A pumpkin separated from its vine loses access to the nutrients, water, and energy necessary to fully complete the ripening process.

Pumpkins lack the ability to continue ripening from starches as certain fruits like bananas and pears can. Without its vascular connection to the plant, the pumpkin’s ripening process slows significantly.

You may see slight improvements in the rind color, internal flesh, and sugars over time. However, the changes will happen much more slowly than if the pumpkin remained on the vine.

How to Ripen a Green Pumpkin After Picking

While green pumpkins will never achieve the same maturity as vine-ripened fruit, you can take steps to optimize further ripening after early harvesting:

Leave the Stem On

It’s important to leave the stem intact when harvesting an immature pumpkin, cutting it as close to the fruit as possible. The stem acts as a vital passageway for water and nutrients to move in and out even after detachment from the vine. Try to keep 1-2 inches of healthy stem attached to give the pumpkin its best chance at limited ripening.

Cure in a Warm, Dry Place

Curing pumpkins in warm conditions between 80-85°F can encourage additional ripening after picking. Avoid excess heat or sunlight which will cook and degrade the rind. The pumpkin should be placed in a well-ventilated area so the skin continues to harden. Turn the fruit occasionally for even curing.

Check Moisture Levels

Monitor the stem and rind for shriveling, which indicates moisture loss. Lightly mist the pumpkin if needed to prevent it from drying out too rapidly. The curing process concentrates sugars and flavors as some water content evaporates. Too much moisture loss will negatively affect quality.

Wait 2-3 Weeks

It takes at least 2-3 weeks for detectable changes in a green pumpkin’s maturity after harvest. The fruit will never fully ripen off the vine, but this time allows for some additional color development, toughening of the rind, and sweetening of the flesh.

Cook Thoroughly When Using

Due to its incomplete ripening, an early harvested pumpkin may be stringier, waterier, and starchier than typical mature fruit. Cook sliced or puréed pumpkin dishes thoroughly to improve tenderness and concentrate flavors. Spices like cinnamon also help complement the taste.

Storage Time for Unripe Pumpkins

A mature, fully ripe pumpkin can be stored for 2-3 months in a cool, dry place. Pumpkins picked prematurely have a shorter shelf life, lasting just 2-4 weeks even with proper curing and storage conditions. The incomplete ripening process causes early fruit to deteriorate faster.

Refrigeration can add 1-2 weeks to the storage time of an unripe pumpkin, but cold temperatures will also halt the limited additional ripening that could still occur. Store cured green pumpkins in 45-55°F conditions only after waiting 2-3 weeks first for ripening.

Signs Your Green Pumpkin Is Overripe

Unlike some other crops, it’s pretty difficult to actually over ripen a pumpkin. Fruit left on the vine too long shows signs of decay rather than overmaturity. You may notice:

  • Soft, collapsing spots on the skin
  • Mold growth
  • Dark sunken areas
  • Holes gnawed by pests
  • Off odors

At this point the interior will be stringy and flavorless. Once deterioration sets in, the pumpkin is overripe and unsafe to eat or carve.

Can You Ripen a Pumpkin After Frost?

A light frost typically will not damage mature pumpkins still on the vines. However, once nighttime temperatures start regularly dropping below freezing, vines and fruit quickly deteriorate.

Pumpkins harvested after a damaging frost will not ripen further off the plant. Freezing and thawing causes cell walls to break down, accelerating rot as nutrients leak out.

Select pumpkins for ripening before the first hard freeze. To safely extend the harvest, cover plants overnight or carefully uproot vines with attached pumpkins and store in a protected place until needed.

Why Pumpkins Stop Ripening After Picking

Pumpkins cease ripening fully once detached from the vine for two key reasons:

Disconnected Vascular System

A pumpkin’s stem and vine act as its lifeline, transporting water, nutrients, and sugars into the developing fruit and distributing hormones that regulate growth. After harvest, those pathways are cut off, depriving the pumpkin of what it needs to continue maturing.

Lower Respiration Rates

The respiration rate of a fruit refers to its production of carbon dioxide and heat as it takes in oxygen. Pumpkins, like other crops, have higher respiration rates during the ripening process. When removed from the plant, a pumpkin’s respiration drops significantly, slowing its metabolic activity.

With its vascular system severed and biological processes slowed, an unripe pumpkin cannot achieve the size, color, texture, and sweetness of a vine-ripened fruit.

Picking Pumpkins Early – Pros vs Cons

Potential Pros:

  • Salvage fruit before frost or pest damage
  • Use unripe pumpkins for decorative purposes
  • Allow more time for curing process
  • Free up garden space for cover crops

Potential Cons:

  • Incomplete ripening affects quality and flavor
  • Shortened storage life
  • Potentially stringy texture and watery flavor
  • Less developed color and size

Overall, allowing pumpkins to fully ripen on the vine will provide the highest quality fruit for cooking, carving, and decoration. Pick early only if necessary to avoid a damaging frost.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you ripen a pumpkin in the sun?

No, direct sun exposure will damage and decay a green pumpkin’s skin rather than ripening it further. Cure pumpkins in a shaded, well-ventilated space instead.

Do pumpkins change color after picking?

Slight changes to the rind color may occur after harvest, but the color will remain dull and patchy compared to a ripe pumpkin. Full, uniform coloring requires maturation on the vine.

How long do green pumpkins last?

At best, immature green pumpkins may last 2-4 weeks after harvest when cured properly. In contrast, ripe pumpkins can be stored for 2-3 months in cool, dry conditions.

Can you ripen a pumpkin with apples?

Storing pumpkins with ripening apples has no beneficial effect. The ethylene gas released by apples only accelerates ripening in certain fruits like bananas and tomatoes, not pumpkins or winter squash.

Do pumpkins ripen in storage?

No, pumpkins do not continue ripening once in storage. Proper curing just helps preserve quality and slow deterioration of mature, vine-ripened fruits. Green pumpkins may improve slightly but never fully develop.


While it’s possible to salvage some unripe pumpkins by picking early, allowing fruit to fully ripen on the vine results in the highest quality for cooking, carving, and decoration. Pumpkins will only ripen so much after harvest before flavor, texture, and storage life are compromised. For peak quality and performance, let your pumpkins mature completely before picking.

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