How to preserve a pumpkin carving is a problem unique to fall. Autumn is the time of the year when temperatures drop, pumpkin harvest is here, and leaves start to change color. It’s also the time for homes to start decorating for Halloween and Thanksgiving and this includes carving pumpkins.
It’s not unusual to see hay bales, planters of mums and heirloom pumpkins galore on front porches and entryways. As pretty and festive as these decorations are, it won’t be long before the pumpkins to start to decay and rot whether they are carved or not.
No one wants to spend all that time decorating to end up with a sloppy mess on their hands from pumpkins that are starting to rot.
Keep reading to get some tips for preserving carved pumpkins (and those not carved, too!) in order to make pumpkins last longer.
With fall comes porches all decorated with Jack O Lantern. Find out how to preserve a carved pumpkin to slow down rotting and make it last longer on The Gardening Cook. 🎃🎃🎃 #halloween #jackolantern Click To Tweet
Why does a carved pumpkin rot?
All vegetables will rot, given enough time, and pumpkins are no exception. Pumpkins have thick tough skins that protect the delicate insides for quite some time.
However, when you carve a pumpkin, and that protective skin has broken, you speed up the process of decay substantially. Bacteria, fungi and insects can easily enter a carved pumpkin and when this happens, the insides break down and the pumpkin starts to decay.
Because of the openings in a carved pumpkin, oxygen, light and dust can easily enter and cause the pumpkin to start rotting.
Heat and sunlight produces mold on cut pumpkin surfaces, so pumpkins in colder temperatures fare better.
These processes begin the moment that a pumpkin is carved (and sometimes before). Carved pumpkins also dehydrate over time, turning the whole thing to a big pile of mush.
The problem with rotting pumpkins isn’t just aesthetic. Rotting pumpkins have an unpleasant smell which can attract unwanted animals and critters. All wildlife like the taste of pumpkins, from birds to squirrels and deer.
Even uncarved pumpkins are prone to rotting. This is because they are often displayed in the hot sun or left out over night in freezing temperatures. The process just takes longer with uncarved pumpkins.
How long do carved pumpkins last?
The answer depends, in part, on where you live, whether you have lots of sunlight or rain, and your outside temperatures. It also depends whether you display your carved pumpkin outside or indoors.
If warm weather is expected or you will be keeping the pumpkin indoors, your pumpkin will only last a 3-4 days to a week after carving.
If the temperatures are cooler and you keep the carving outdoors, you might get another week, even without the preventative measures measures below.
Uncarved pumpkins, including knucklehead pumpkins, will last 2-3 months (even up to a year under perfect conditions) if they are stored properly.
However, if they are left outside in the elements, uncarved pumpkins can rot more quickly – in about a month or so.
Tip for prolonging the life of uncarved pumpkins: Even though uncarved pumpkins will last longer than a carved one, you can still extend its life even longer. Spray WD-40 all over the surface. It will repel outside moisture and keep it fresh longer.
How to preserve a pumpkin carving
Knowing that a carved pumpkin only lasts 4-5 days or so in normal conditions is frustrating. Should you just discard the idea of carving and go for uncarved or painted pumpkin designs?
Fortunately for pumpkin carvers, there are several things that you can do when it comes to preserving carved pumpkin and thereby delay the rotting process.
Tips for how to keep pumpkins from rotting start with their purchase and end with ways to preserve Jack O Lanterns. All play a part in keeping Jack alive for the season!
Buy locally to get the freshest pumpkins
It is easy and convenient to buy pumpkins from retails stores. However, shipping pumpkins to their sale location adds significant time to the age of the pumpkin. Try to buy one from a farmer near you, or from your local Farmer’s Market.
Even better, if you have a vegetable garden, you can grow pumpkins yourself and pick one just before carving. Simply put, the fresher your pumpkin is before you carve it, or display it, the longer it will last.
Choose a pumpkin with a hard skin and bright color. This usually means it is fresher.
Examine pumpkins well before purchasing
Look for telltale signs of a pumpkin that is older and may rot quickly:
- Smells or odors. This means that the pumpkin is rotten inside the skin.
- A dry brittle stem. Choose one that is green and fresh and about 3-4 inches long (it’ll be easy to hold when carving.)
- Soft spots or bruises may also mean that the pumpkin has already started rotting.
Carve close to display time so the design is fresh
There is no way a carved pumpkin can be put out on October 1 and expected to look good on Halloween and Thanksgiving. When you carve is a big part of your attempts at how to keep pumpkins from rotting.
To time your carving so that the pumpkin looks good at a Halloween party, carve it no more than 48 hours before Halloween. Even better is to do it the day before.
A big part of the problem with carved pumpkins is that the flesh has so much moisture in it and this leads to mold. Be vigilant to scoop out every bit of pulp and seeds (save them for roasting), as well as the top layer of flesh.
Hydrate while carving
Another reason that a carved pumpkin decays so quickly is that it loses moisture and starts to shrivel as soon as it is cut into.
Give your design a head start on this problem by hydrating it as you carve. This is especially important if your design takes a long time or ends up with very thin walls.
You can hydrate your pumpkin by keeping water in a spray bottle handy. Spray the pumpkin often during the carving process to keep the moisture level high.
How to preserve a pumpkin carving using bleach
Bleach is an antibacterial product and is useful to slow down aging in cut pumpkins. It is particularly good for keeping indoor pumpkins from rotting, since it won’t affect wildlife this way.
Rub down the inside of your design with bleach to deter the growth of mold. Leave it for 30 minutes and then rub the inside with a dry cloth.
Instead of a manual application of bleach, you can use a bleach water bath. To do this, rinse your carved pumpkin with water. Get a bucket large enough to hold your pumpkin and mix 1 tablespoon of bleach for each quart of water you use.
Use gloves to protect your hands. Add enough to completely cover your pumpkin. Hold the pumpkin under the surface of the water and let it soak for 2 minutes.
Remove it from the bucket and allow it to air dry.
Rubbing the inside of the pumpkin with bleach every few days also helps to extend the life and slow the production of mold.
You can also make a pumpkin bleach and water spray by combining 2 tablespoon of bleach with 2 quarts of water in a spray bottle. Spray this mixture over the insides of the Jack O Lantern to keep it from rotting so quickly.
How to preserve a pumpkin carving with petroleum jelly
When your design is done, and you have used an antibacterial product to coat your pumpkin flesh, rub all of the cut surfaces with petroleum jelly to slow down the aging process.
Petroleum jelly is water-repellent, so using it seals in the natural moisture of the pumpkin while keeping the outside moisture away. This will help to keep the cut areas of your design from drying out or shriveling.
Another tip to keep the carved pumpkin from drying out, it to cover it with a damp towel when it’s not on display.
To keep wildlife away from the petroleum jelly, you can mix it with tabasco sauce which they find distasteful.
Use the fridge to store your carved pumpkin
Not all of us have room in a fridge to keep a carved pumpkin, but if you do, you’ll really add to the life of your design.
Remove the carved pumpkin when it is not on display and place it in the fridge, then take it out when you want to show it off. The cold temperatures will slow down the decay and allow you to enjoy your carving for many extra days.
If you don’t have room in the fridge, keeping the pumpkin in a cool, dark room or your basement will also work.
Use a pumpkin preserve spray
To keep carved pumpkins from rotting use a DIY pumpkin spray. Mix water and bleach in the ratio of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 quart of water.
Mix well and add the product to a spray bottle (Be sure to label the bottle for safety since the liquid in it is clear.)
Spray your carved pumpkins every night to continue the antifungal and antibacterial results of the bleach and water soak and help prolong your pumpkins life.
Soaking in cold water
If you have tried several of these techniques and your pumpkin is still starting to shrivel, place the carved pumpkin in very cold water. This will rehydrate the carving and give you a few extra days before the messy part of rotting starts.
Don’t use candles
Carved pumpkin designs show off more beautifully when the pumpkin is lit from within. Unfortunately, this also produces heat, requires a chimney hole to be cut into the design, and speeds up the rotting process. Open flames can also cause fires.
Instead of real candles, use battery operated LED lights inside the pumpkin. Some other good options are LED light ticks, flameless candles and even LED blinking lights.
Protection from bacteria and bugs
For an extra level of protection from bacteria and insects, you can spray your carved pumpkin with clear acrylic spray. This spray is available at craft stores, home improvement stores and online.
How to preserve a pumpkin carving but still save wildlife?
Some of the suggested tips for how to make carved pumpkins last longer involve products that can be harmful to wildlife, particularly birds and squirrels who love to eat pumpkins.
Since I am always interested in environmental issues, I like to have alternatives for using harmful products at my fingertips for the best way to preserve pumpkins that are still safe for wildlife.
Alternative to a bleach soak to preserve a Jack O Lantern
Bleach is toxic to all animals and should not be used when you have curious pets who like the taste of pumpkin. The fumes are not good to breathe for humans and it’s harmful to your skin.
In its place, you can use white vinegar and water as your soaking liquid. White vinegar is an antibacterial and antifungal agent and mold inhibitor. It won’t slow down the rotting as much as bleach, but it is safer for wildlife.
White vinegar can be used in so many ways around the house, from keeping flowers fresh longer, to killing weeds in your garden. It’s great that we can also use it to keep our pumpkins from rotting so quickly.
Use 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water for a soak, and straight vinegar to wipe down the insides of the flesh. Don’t use highly concentrated vinegar. Keep it to less than 10%.
Peppermint is also considered an anti-fungal product and will slow the rotting process, and extend the life of your pumpkin.
Peppermint essential oil leaves a pleasant smell and slows down the mold too. Mix 40 drops of the oil to 4 gallons of water and use this to soak your pumpkina.
What can I use instead of petroleum jelly to preserve Jack O Lanterns?
Petroleum jelly can be harmful to squirrels who like its taste. Olive oil, and other cooking oils, do a similar job in a more natural, and less harmful, way.
What do I do with pumpkins after Halloween?
While the tips above are useful ways to make your pumpkin last longer, all carved pumpkins will rot eventually. This begs the question “how should I dispose of my pumpkins after Halloween?”
The obvious answer is to throw them in the rubbish bin and leave it for the trash collector to pick up. It’s quick and easy.
A more environmentally thoughtful way is to skip the trash bin and add the rotting pumpkins to a compost pile instead. Not only will you be helping to keep the landfills down, you’ll be contributing to making fertilizer for your garden beds next year!
Tip: Be sure that every seed has been scraped out of the inside of your pumpkin before you add it to a compost pile. Otherwise, you will might end up growing a patch of new pumpkins in your compost.
Pin this post for how to preserve a pumpkin carving
Would you like a reminder of this post for how to keep pumpkins from rotting after carving? Just pin this image to one of your Halloween boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
You can also watch our video for preserving pumpkin carvings on YouTube.
- Bleach (see note section)
- Petroleum jelly (see note section)
- Carved pumpkin
- Water - enough to cover your pumpkin completely
- Clear Acrylic Spray (optional)
- LED lights
- Bucket large enough to hold your carved pumpkin
- Pair of rubber gloves
- Carve your pumpkin no more than 48 hours before you plan to display it.
- Use rubber gloves and add 1 tablespoon of bleach to each quart of water and fill a bucket with enough of the mixture to cover the pumpkin.
- Hold down for 30 minutes. Allow to dry.
- Coat all the cut edges of the design with petroleum jelly.
- Optional: Spray the design with clear acrylic spray.
- Keep the pumpkin in the fridge or in a cold dark room when not on display.
- Use LED lights instead of candles to light the Jack O Lantern.
Natural alternative to bleach soak:1. 40 drops of peppermint essential oil to 4 gallons of water. 2. 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water.
Natural alternative to petroleum jelly: use olive oil.
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