Carving pumpkins is a Halloween tradition, but it can be disheartening to see your hard work and artistic brilliance start to wither away just days after you’ve put the finishing touches on your Jack-o-Lantern masterpiece. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do that will help ensure that it lasts through Halloween and well into November.
While it’s impossible to make your Jack-o-Lantern last forever, understanding a few facts about the lifespan of pumpkins and what makes them begin to break down can help you stave off the decomposition process for as long as possible.
To keep your carved pumpkins looking their best long after thoughts of ghosts and goblins are replaced with thoughts of turkey and cranberry sauce, check out Blindster’s tips below:
- Choose a healthy pumpkin.
One of the most important aspects of making sure your Jack-o-Lantern survives well beyond Halloween is to make sure it’s healthy when you purchase it. First, inspect every inch of the pumpkin. If you see or feel any soft spots, choose another pumpkin, as that may be indicative that the decomposition process has already started. You should also check its color. Any discolorations can also indicate that the pumpkin may be on its last legs. Finally, try to purchase your pumpkin from local growers, if possible. The more recently the pumpkin was harvested (and the less distance it traveled to get to you), the longer it will last on your front porch.
- Clean the pumpkin before you begin carving.
After you’ve picked out a robust-looking pumpkin, it’s time to prepare it for the coming days and weeks. Start off by wiping the pumpkin clean with a damp cloth. Scrub away any caked on mud or dirt, and make the surface as shiny and grime-free as possible. Next, thoroughly clean your carving knife and wash your hands before you begin the carving process. The fewer contaminants that are spread to your pumpkin, the better its chances of surviving will be.
- Remove all of the pulp and wipe down the inside of the pumpkin.
After you’ve removed the top of the pumpkin, remove all of its “guts” and pulp before you begin carving. Use a clean damp cloth or paper towel and wipe down the inside of the pumpkin after you’ve removed the bulk of the pulp, then use another dry paper towel to soak up any excess moisture. Damp pumpkins or pumpkins with small amounts of water in the bottom are more likely to rot than pumpkins that are completely dry and clean.
- Coat the inside and outside of the pumpkin with a bleach and water solution.
No matter how well you cleaned your pumpkin initially, it is still home to countless microorganisms that will contribute to its eventual demise. Mix one tablespoon of bleach per quart of water and pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Coat the entire pumpkin, inside and out, with the solution. This will help remove a large amount of the bacteria that can accelerate the decomposition process. Allow the mixture to remain on the pumpkin for around 30 minutes before wiping it clean.
- Keep your carved pumpkin cold, hydrated, and out of the sun.
After you’ve carved your pumpkin, it’s important to note that the decomposition process is already taking place, even if you can’t see it yet. There are a few ways to stave it off as long as possible, and they all involve keeping the pumpkin shielded from the elements. After its first night on display, bring your pumpkin inside and soak it in a bucket or large bowl filled with cold, fresh water for at least one hour, although you can also leave it in overnight. Dehydration is a big factor for causing pumpkins to dry out and begin rotting, and a prolonged cold water bath can help freshen up the skin.
Another option is to keep your pumpkin in the shade during the day. Pumpkins that are exposed to direct sunlight will quickly dry out and begin showing signs of the decomposition process much faster than pumpkins that are protected from the sun’s UV rays. Try to keep your pumpkin away from sunlight as much as possible during the day, or simply keep it indoors until dusk.
Finally, you can also wrap your pumpkin in plastic wrap or place it in an extra-large freezer bag and place it in the refrigerator overnight—especially if you live in a warm climate. Make sure the pumpkin is completely dry before refrigerating it, as even small amounts of moisture can accelerate the decomposition process.
- Keep insects an other animals away from the pumpkin.
Carved pumpkins are under constant attack from microorganisms, but insects pose another big risk that can quickly turn even the hardiest pumpkin into a withering mess in just a few days. Stave away pests by putting out fruit fly traps using mason jars filled with beer, fruit juice, or apple cider vinegar and topped off with a hole-punched lid. You can also light candles that are designed to repel insects and even place one directly inside the Jack-o-Lantern.
- Make sure the pumpkin has proper ventilation for the heat produced by the candle.
Placing a candle inside a carved pumpkin is the final touch required to make a true Jack-o-Lantern, but it’s also one overlooked step that can damage the pumpkin over time. If your pumpkin doesn’t have proper ventilation, the heat can get trapped inside, which can actually bake the pumpkin and cause it to become soft. Eventually, it may even collapse on itself. Make sure the top of your pumpkin has enough room to allow the heat to escape.