Before you carve up a pumpkin masterpiece only to watch it wither away, it helps to understand the life and death of a jack-o'-lantern. Pumpkins are organic, so there's no way to stop the rotting process indefinitely.
Here are some expert tips to extend the life of your pumpkin and keep it looking fresh-from-the-patch for as long as possible.
I spoke to Mat Franken, CEO of natural cleaning product company Aunt Fannie's. Here's Mat's advice for making those Halloween carved pumpkins last through Beggar's Night and beyond!
3 Tips for Picking a Good Pumpkin
The best way to ensure the longevity of your jack-o'-lantern is to begin with a healthy pumpkin. While there's no such thing as the "perfect" pumpkin, there are several things you can look for to make sure your jack-o'-lantern is off to a great start.
- Inspect the skin. When you select a pumpkin, keep an eye out for gouges or blemishes. While dings and dents may give a pumpkin character, they also invite pests and encourage rotting.
- Poke and prod. If a pumpkin is even a little soft to the touch, the rotting process is already underway. What begins as a small, soft spot can grow into a large, caved-in mess overnight. Look for a pumpkin with even color and firm flesh. Poke around to find one that doesn't give when pressed gently.
- Pick local. Purchasing from a local pumpkin patch means your pumpkin has been spared the bruising and battering that comes along with being shipped across the country in the back of a truck. Check out Local Harvest for a listing of pumpkin growers and U-pick farms in your area.
Understand What Makes a Pumpkin Rot
Once you've found your perfect pumpkin, it's time to dig in. But first, it is important to understand the factors that lead to pumpkin rot. Pumpkin skin provides a protective layer from the elements. Once the skin is broken, organisms like fungi, bacteria, mold, and insects are able to enter and begin breaking it down. Oxidation and dehydration also contribute to the rotting process, which means from the moment you make the first cut, the clock starts ticking.
Many methods for sterilizing and preserving pumpkins involve the unnecessary use of harsh chemicals and environmentally unfriendly solutions. Common tricks include using bleach or apple cider vinegar, but Mat says no to both of these. Bleach is dangerous and apple cider vinegar will only attract bugs.
5 Natural Ways to Extend the Life of Your Pumpkin
- Scrape and discard the pumpkin guts. When prepping your pumpkin for carving, be sure to scrape and discard as much of the pulp (aka pumpkin guts) as possible. The cleaner and drier the pumpkin interior, the slower the rotting process.
- Clean with peppermint dish soap. Dilute one tablespoon of peppermint dish soap such as Peppermint Castile Soap in a quart of water. Pour into a clean spray bottle. Lightly spray the inside of your pumpkin. Peppermint is an antifungal and will slow the decomposition process, significantly extending the life of your pumpkin.
- Consider refrigerating overnight. If it's still warm in your neck of the woods, consider placing your carved pumpkins in the fridge at night instead of leaving them on the porch. Spray your pumpkins with the Castile soap-water mixture and wrap each one in a trash bag prior to placing in the fridge. This process will rehydrate your pumpkins each night.
- Or soak them overnight. Another way to rehydrate your pumpkins is to fill a large bucket, bin, or tub with cold water and soak the pumpkins overnight. Typically, pumpkins set out for less than a week won't need rehydration, especially if you live in a cool climate. If you notice yours beginning to wilt, however, take them for a dip!
- Use a fruit fly trap. Much like any other produce you bring into your home, pumpkins attract fruit flies. Drawn to rotting fruit and vegetables, fruit flies will expedite the process, leaving a damaged pumpkin and an infestation behind. Natural fruit fly solutions, like Aunt Fannie's FlyPunch! or this DIY mixture, are poison-free ways to prevent fruit flies from settling in to do damage. Your pumpkin lives to see another day, and your home remains free from invaders.
Autumn should be a celebration of nature's bounty. And it's more fun when your pumpkins make it through the holiday!
More Pumpkin Carving Essentials
What are your best tips for carving and preserving pumpkins?