RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Nothing quite says fall like a pumpkin — except maybe some fall leaves. But having a rotting squash on your doorstep can definitely ruin the fall fun. Here is how long you can expect your pumpkins to last, and some most common ways to preserve your carved creations this fall.
Picking out your pumpkin
Keep in mind, even with the best preservation efforts, pumpkins do not last forever. On average, a carved pumpkin lasts between three days to two weeks, according to Southern Living. If you want a pumpkin all season round, you’ll probably need to keep buying and carving as the season goes.
Still, there are ways to make your pumpkin last — and that starts the moment you pick one out.
Whether you are selecting your pumpkin from a patch or the grocery store, inspect it for these nicks and soft spots before you select one to make sure you’re not taking a pumpkin home that’s already rotting. Also keep in mind that if you buy from a local patch or farm, your pumpkin will already have endured less rough handling from the shipping process than most big store pumpkins, according to MarthaStewart.com.
Once you get your pumpkin home, carve it sooner rather than later. According to MarthaStewart.com, you should get your pumpkin within a week of when you will want it to be on display.
Before and after carving
The first step to carving a pumpkin is opening it up and getting the guts out. It is also important to keeping a pumpkin fresh, since the seeds and insides can go moldy quickly.
After the pumpkin is empty, clean it off with some paper towels, and then spray the outside and inside thoroughly with a water and bleach solution. The Great Outdoors suggests that for the solution, use one teaspoon of bleach per quart of water. If you don’t want to use bleach, you can also use a natural peppermint soap or essential oil.
Then, leave it out to dry, either naturally or under a fan on a low setting. Then, get to carving.
After the carving is done, prepare a bath for your pumpkin. The Great Outdoors suggests that you will want to use a water and bleach solution again, this time with one-third cup of bleach per gallon of water. Make sure the pumpkin is submerged completely and leave it for a few hours. Take it out and let it dry again.
Many Jack-o-Lanterns collapse because they dry out, so you’ll want to lock moisture in, according to The Great Outdoors. You can buy a specific pumpkin preservation spray for the task, but petroleum jelly, vegetable or olive oil or even WD-40 works just as well. Just coat whichever material you choose on the carved parts of the pumpkin.
Keep in mind that after you apply a produce like petroleum jelly or WD-40 to your pumpkin, you will want to avoid using real candles inside, since these materials are flammable. Use electric lights or glow sticks instead, according to Better Homes and Gardens.
Protect it from the elements
When you finally put your pumpkin out for display, there are still things you can do to make it last. You’ll have to take a few extra steps to hold off not just the natural rotting process, but the elements and wild animals.
Certain weather conditions can lead to a pumpkin rotting faster. If temperatures dip below freezing while your pumpkin is out, it will probably rot more quickly. Luckily this year, snow is not likely in the fall months in Virginia. But hot sun and rain can also make pumpkins rot quicker. Better Homes and Gardens suggests putting your pumpkins in the shade and out of the elements.
Lots of critters like to munch on pumpkins, from ants to squirrels. The easiest way to avoid this to display your pumpkins off the ground, in a spot like a windowsill. If you want to keep them on the ground, Parade suggests giving the outside a spritz of hairspray — it will taste bad to squirrels or chipmunks, and will also make the outside of the pumpkin glossy.
If you notice flies starting to lurk around, check the inside of your pumpkin for any leftover guts that may be going moldy. You can also set a fly trap by your pumpkins to catch them early.
Keeping your pumpkin fresh on display
As the season goes on, you can keep spraying your pumpkins with a water and bleach mixture to preserve moisture and keep out bacteria. You can also submerge it in ice water or in a mix of 10 parts water and one part vinegar for an hour or two, according to Parade.
If you don’t mind occasionally taking your pumpkin out of view, put it in a plastic bag or plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge when it’s not on display. Woman’s Day also suggests you can also use a cool, dark place in your house, like a basement, if your fridge is already packed.
If all else fails
Another way to keep a pumpkin fresh for longer is simply to not carve it. Instead, decorate them with paint or extra decorations. Then, The Greet Outdoors suggests covering an uncarved pumpkin in WD-40 or another moisture preserver to keep it fresh.