“How long do pumpkins last?” is a surprisingly common but reasonable question this time of year. More specifically, you might be asking, “How long do carved pumpkins last?”
Because, let’s be honest, carving a Halloween pumpkin is a serious commitment! First you have the emotional roller coaster that is picking your perfect pumpkin. After all, there are more than 50 different types of pumpkins grown in the United States to choose from. Do you go fat and round? Tall and thin? Mini and flat? And what about color?
No matter your pumpkin preference, you always end up getting attached to the adorable little (or big) decorative gourd that comes home with you. Choosing how to carve your jack-o’-lantern is another round of difficult decisions: What style are you going for? Do you cut it freehand or do you use a pumpkin stencil? The pumpkin-carving struggle is real — and very time consuming.
Once you’ve gone through the whole ordeal and have a beautiful carved pumpkin you’re ready to show off, the last thing you want is for your hard work to be destroyed. From hungry bugs and squirrels to bothersome rot and (worst of all) teenagers, there are a lot of threats you need to protect your pumpkin from.
The good news? We’ve got your definitive guide to all things pumpkin preservation right here. You’ll not only get answers to common questions like “Why do carved pumpkins rot?” “How long do carved pumpkins last inside?” and “How to preserve a carved pumpkin?” but you’ll also find the fascinating history behind jack-o’-lanterns and Halloween gourd carving in general.
Why do carved pumpkins rot and break down?
Before learning how to keep pumpkins from rotting, you need more information about the whole process. The short answer to this question is that pumpkins are like all other living things: They’ve got to expire sometime. Naturally, pumpkin rot happens when the squash is exposed to air (aka oxidation) or loses moisture (aka dehydration), so rotting essentially begins the second the pumpkin is cut from the plant.
But that rotting process can be pretty slow going if the pumpkin is left alone. In fact, a healthy, uncut pumpkin can last for three to six months if it’s stored somewhere dry at about 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the University of Illinois. And that’s thanks to the pumpkin’s thick skin, which protects the gourd’s very soft inside from everything outside: extreme weather, fungi, bacteria, mold, and insects. The rotting process really begins the second the inside of a pumpkin is exposed to these things.
So, carving a pumpkin means you are exposing it to those elements, which in turn means your carved pumpkin is going to eventually rot and break down. This is every carved pumpkin’s fate, sadly, which is why some people prefer to stick with no-carve pumpkin ideas for their Halloween decor. But if you’re a carved-pumpkin purist, you can at least slow down your jack-o’-lantern’s decline by following some simple rules.
How to Keep Carved Pumpkins From Rotting
When asking yourself how to keep a pumpkin from rotting after carving, one of the most important steps to make sure you don’t end up with pumpkin mold before it’s even Halloween is picking the right one from the get-go. Here’s how to pick a good pumpkin that won’t rot right away:
1. Look at the pumpkin’s stem. If a pumpkin’s stem is less than one to two inches long, the pumpkin will decay quicker. You also want a pumpkin stem that’s thicker and greener, which means the pumpkin is healthier and better for carving. Pro tip: Don’t lift pumpkins by the stem — it can cause damage and make them age faster!
2. Check the pumpkin’s skin for blemishes. Some dents and boils are just unique shapes that happen while the pumpkin is growing, but if the skin is actually punctured, gouged, or dinged, the pumpkin is more likely to attract pests and rot faster.
3. Feel the pumpkin for soft spots. Just like other gourds and produce, a soft area on a pumpkin means it’s already started to rot. You want a pumpkin that is uniformly firm when you press on it. If a pumpkin feels heavy and loose inside, skip it — the insides might already be rotten.
4. Buy your pumpkin from a local patch. It’s common sense: Produce purchased locally is fresher because it takes less time and distance to get to you. The closer the pumpkin is grown to you, the less bruising and damage it suffers after being picked. Not sure where to find your local pumpkin patch? Local Harvest has a full list of pumpkin growers and U-pick farms near you!
How to Make Carved Pumpkins Last Longer
Once you’ve picked out a perfect, unblemished, local pumpkin, there are more steps you can take to preserve it. How long carved pumpkins last depends on where you live and how you’re displaying your carved pumpkin. But, more generally, here is how to make your carved pumpkin last longer:
1. Don’t cut the top off. We know, we know — this goes against all pumpkin-carving logic. But when you cut the stem from the rest of the pumpkin, it no longer has access to the nutrients in the stem so it will wilt faster. Instead of cutting from the top, follow in the footsteps of professional pumpkin carvers and make a hole in the back of the pumpkin instead.
2. Make sure you scrape out all of the pumpkin guts. This reduces the likelihood of bugs and fungi coming to try to eat the pumpkin pulp and speed up the rotting. It also has the added benefit of thinning the skin a little so that your pumpkin is easier to carve!
3. Give your carved pumpkin an antifungal wash. There are about as many theories on how to go about protecting your pumpkin’s interior from fungi and mold (which speed up the rotting process) as there are types of jack-o’-lanterns. Research on carved pumpkin preservation methods is quite limited, but the tests we could find showed that a bleach bath is the most effective way to make your pumpkin last longer. That said, here are the three very common methods:
- Wash your pumpkin with bleach. Most expert pumpkin carvers will tell you they bathe their jack-o’-lanterns in a very small amount of bleach mixed with cold water. Use about 1 Tbsp. of bleach for every quart of water.
- Spray your pumpkin with peppermint soap. If you want to go the all-natural route, you can wash your carved pumpkin with peppermint dish soap (peppermint has antifungal properties). To clean your pumpkin, put a small amount of peppermint soap — we recommend Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Pure Castile Liquid Soap ($18.48, Amazon) — into a clean spray bottle and lightly spray the inside of your carved pumpkin.
- Spray your pumpkin with lemon juice or vinegar. Another pumpkin preserving spray you can try is diluted lemon juice (one part lemon juice to one part water is recommended) or vinegar is another all-natural way to prevent pumpkin rot. If you’re wanting to know how to keep squirrels from eating pumpkins too, the vinegar method is a great option for deterring the pesky critters.
- No matter what method you use to kill germs, make sure you dry your pumpkin thoroughly when you’re finished so you don’t undo your hard work trying to fend off mold.
4. Seal in moisture with petroleum jelly. Because dehydration is one of the main causes of pumpkin rot, you want to make sure your pumpkin retains as much moisture as possible. Petroleum jelly to the rescue! Apply a thin layer of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly ($7.50, Amazon) to all of the cut edges of your pumpkin (you might want to use a cotton swab or paper towel in tighter areas) to prevent losing extra moisture.
5. Refrigerate or soak your carved pumpkins overnight. If you live in a warmer area, rather than leaving it out on the porch at night, you could try to extend the life of your jack-o’-lantern by putting it in the fridge or a large bucket of cold water. Before putting it in the fridge each night, spray the inside of the pumpkin with the peppermint soap mixture again and then wrap it in a trash bag so that it gets the chance to rehydrate.
You can also help your pumpkin rehydrate by placing it in a bucket of cold water overnight. Note: You don’t need to do this for carved pumpkins that have been out for less than a week (and even longer if you live in a cooler area). But once you notice signs of your pumpkin wilting, it’s worth giving it a nighttime soak.
6. Wrap it up when it’s not on display. Some pumpkin-carving enthusiasts swear by tightly wrapping their jack-o’-lanterns in plastic wrap whenever they’re not being displayed.
7. Keep bugs at bay. Just like other fruits — yes, pumpkins are fruits! — pumpkins attract fruit flies. Setting a natural trap for fruit flies near your pumpkin can help protect your pumpkin from pesky bugs (not to mention keep your home free of a fruit fly infestation!).
Do carved pumpkins attract bugs?
You can bet on it! The Farmer’s Almanac notes that there are many insects that eat pumpkin, but two of the biggest threats are cucumber beetles and squash bugs, both of which attack pumpkins at all stages of growth. But when it comes to a jack-o’-lantern, your biggest bug problem will be fruit flies, which is why you’ll want to set a trap somewhere near your pumpkin to keep the pests away from your masterpiece.
Powdery mildew is not exactly a bug, but is still another major problem for people who like pumpkins. It’s a fungal disease that affects the leaves of pumpkin plants, so it’s only a problem if you are growing your own pumpkins. The white, powdery mold is pretty easy to spot: It grows on the tops of pumpkin leaves, eventually killing them, and it can also interfere with how the pumpkin ripens. If you see powdery mildew developing on your pumpkins (or any of the plants in your garden, for that matter), there’s a simple, natural remedy that’s been proven effective at treating powdery mildew: Spray milk on it! You can also skip the issue altogether by planting only varieties of pumpkins that are powdery mildew resistant, known as PMR.
Can these pumpkins stay inside?
Of course! When you’re decorating your home for Halloween, you can absolutely display jack-o’-lanterns inside. Just keep in mind that pumpkins fare best in dry, cool places. Where to put carved pumpkins is up to you, but we wouldn’t recommend putting a carved pumpkin in your bathroom where it’s wet and warm, for example!
Also remember that carved pumpkins are like any other fruit: They attract bugs. You can ward away pests with DIY solutions or only display your carved pumpkin inside for special occasions, leaving it in the fridge or on the porch the rest of the time.
When to Carve Pumpkins for Halloween
How long are carved pumpkins good for naturally? Well, the answer to that depends on the temperature in your area. Many people have done tests to see when is the earliest they could carve a pumpkin before Halloween, and the general consensus appears to be about five days before October 31.
If you live in a cooler area and plan to care for your precious pumpkin as if it were your own child, you might be able to schedule your carving sesh a little sooner, but we wouldn’t recommend any earlier than a week before Halloween.
Why are they called jack-o’-lanterns, anyway?
As is the case for many of our favorite pastimes, carving jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween is said to come from an Irish myth: A man named “Stingy Jack” asked the Devil to have a drink with him, but then didn’t want to pay for his drink. Jack managed to get the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for the drinks. But instead of paying for the drinks, Jack kept the coin and put it in his pocket next to a silver cross, which meant the Devil was stuck as a coin. Eventually Jack let the Devil go — so long as the Devil didn’t bother Jack for a year.
After that year had gone by, Jack and the Devil met again, and this time Jack tricked the Devil to climb into a tree, which Jack then carved a cross into. The Devil promised not to bother Jack for 10 years in order to be freed from the tree.
Once Jack died, God refused to let him into heaven, and the Devil was still upset about Jack’s trickery, so he wouldn’t let Jack into hell, either. Instead, the Devil sent Jack to wander around in the dark with only a piece of burning coal as his source of light. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has roamed the Earth ever since. Over time, the Irish “Jack of the Lantern” became known worldwide as “Jack O’Lantern”!
Where did carving pumpkins come from, and what was carved before pumpkins?
Thanks to the myth of Stingy Jack, Irish, Scottish, and English people started making their own Jack O’Lanterns. They carved scary faces into turnips, potatoes, and beets, and then placed them in windows or doorways to keep Stingy Jack and other evil spirits from coming into their homes.
As these communities began to come over to the United States, they brought the practice with them. They soon discovered that pumpkins — which are native to America — were even better for making jack-o’-lanterns. So that’s where carving pumpkins came from, and that’s how it became a beloved nationwide activity every October. Happy carving!
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When's the Best Time to Carve Your Pumpkin? Here's How to Keep Your Jack-o'-Lantern as Long as Possible? ›
Fresh, uncut pumpkins will maintain their freshness for quite a while, but once their tender inside flesh is exposed to the air, they can start to rot. That's why it's best to wait as long as possible before creating your Halloween Jack o' Lantern. Plan to carve your pumpkin about two to three days before Halloween.How long can you keep a jack-o-lantern? ›
Generally, carved pumpkins last between 3 to 5 days, but weather and sunlight can play a huge role in your lantern's life. If you live in a colder climate, your pumpkin could last up to a week, but if it's exposed to heat, it may only last a few days.What is the best way to preserve a jack-o-lantern? ›
Dip, wash or spray your finished carving with a 10 percent bleach solution. This will kill any microorganisms on your pumpkin. Rub the cut areas with petroleum jelly, which helps lock in the moisture and slow the drying process. Consider using an electric light or glow stick instead of a candle.How early should you carve your pumpkin? ›
The later, the better. "Carve no more than three days before Halloween," Evan recommends. If you plan to celebrate on the weekend before or after Halloween, pick a pumpkin carving date a few days before then. Carve too early, and your pumpkin will scare off trick-or-treaters with its rotten teeth!How long do jack-o-lantern pumpkins last once picked? ›
"If the pumpkin was healthy when picked and diseases were controlled in the field, the pumpkin can last 8 to 12 weeks," he says via email. He adds jack-o-lanterns don't fare as well: They last five to 10 days. The best storage temperature for pumpkins ranges between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, he says.How long does it take for Jack O lanterns to rot? ›
Once carved, pumpkins will generally only hold up for three to five days — or up to two weeks if you live in a colder climate — before wilting and showing signs of decay.What keeps a jack-o-lantern from rotting? ›
Apply petroleum jelly or olive oil to the cut surfaces to prevent dehydration over time. Spraying the cut surfaces with hairspray can also slow down the decaying process. Products designed for anti-humidity work really well.How do you make pumpkin lanterns last longer? ›
Clean Pumpkin: Clean the pumpkin with bleach and water. Use a spray bottle and apply 2/3 cup of bleach mixed with water. Let the pumpkin sit for up to 24 hours. Moisturize Pumpkin: Apply Vaseline, WD-40, or vegetable oil to keep the pumpkin moist.How long does a jack-o-lantern last after carving? ›
A carved pumpkin will last anywhere between three to 14 days. This depends on a multitude of factors, but two weeks is definitely pushing the limit and assumes that you live in a colder climate.Does hairspray preserve Jack O lanterns? ›
Spray it up: Hairspray and acrylic finish sprays can seal in a pumpkins freshness. They also prevent mold.
Should you put a jack-o-lantern in the fridge? ›
Bring your jack-o'-lantern in during the day and keep it in the fridge. Bacteria and fungi work fastest in warm temps, so protecting your pumpkin from daytime heat will help.Can you put Vaseline on jack-o-lantern? ›
It's not a myth. Smearing petroleum jelly on your jack-o'-lantern helps it stay fresh longer.Is it better to carve a pumpkin warm or cold? ›
A warm pumpkin is much easier to cut into so start by bringing your pumpkin to room temperature by leaving it out in a warm room for a few hours, or overnight if you can. Next using some warm soapy water, clean the outside of the pumpkin and dry off thoroughly using some kitchen paper.Do you need to leave a pumpkin before carving? ›
Hold Off on Carving
Fresh, uncut pumpkins will maintain their freshness for quite a while, but once their tender inside flesh is exposed to the air, they can start to rot. That's why it's best to wait as long as possible before creating your Halloween Jack o' Lantern.
Wipe off the pumpkin: Use the kitchen towel to wipe off the outside of the pumpkin so that it will be easier and safer to carve. Cut out the design: Make straight cuts into your pumpkin along the lines of your design, removing the pieces and discarding them in the refuse bowl.Can you eat pumpkin after using jack-o-lantern? ›
Sure — as long as it is in good condition and hasn't' yet been carved. Pumpkins typically used for jack-o'-lanterns usually are larger, with stringier pulp and more watery flesh. However, you can still eat the jack-o-lantern variety with fairly good results.Can you leave carved pumpkins out overnight? ›
If you plan on keeping your pumpkins outside, be sure to place them in a dry, shaded spot—like a covered porch—for the entire season. Too much hot sun will speed up a pumpkin's decaying process, as will rain. Moisture from rain can lead to mold and mush, which no one wants on their beautiful pumpkins!Do you cut the top or bottom of a jack-o-lantern? ›
Cut from the bottom, not the top. Cutting your opening from the bottom of the pumpkin helps prevent the sides from caving in later. If you do carve from the top, cut out the lid on an angle. This way it won't drop inside the pumpkin when you replace it, like it would with a straight up-and-down cut.What do you soak jack o lanterns in? ›
Give your jack-o-lantern a bath.
Soak it in a bleach bath (1 teaspoon bleach per gallon of water) or wash it thoroughly with a peppermint castile soap solution.
When you're decorating your home for Halloween, you can absolutely display jack-o'-lanterns inside. Just keep in mind that pumpkins fare best in dry, cool places. Where to put carved pumpkins is up to you, but we wouldn't recommend putting a carved pumpkin in your bathroom where it's wet and warm, for example!
How do you keep Jack O lanterns from turning black? ›
Some people soak their carved pumpkins in diluted bleach or vinegar water after completing them.Can you spray vinegar on jack-o-lantern? ›
Spray Your Pumpkin With Water and Apple Cider Vinegar
Fill up a spray bottle with water, then add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. With a spoon, swirl the mixture together to create an organic mist that moisturizes your jack-o'-lantern and deters insects from making your pumpkin their new home.
Why does this work? The vinegar kills fungus, making it hard for the pumpkin to rot. That's why vinegar-soaked pumpkins look so new; they're unblemished by the grossness that inevitably befalls their untreated peers.Can you leave Jack O lanterns lit? ›
Open flames must constantly be monitored to ensure the safety of trick-or-treaters, the home, and residents. If you are not staying with the lantern the whole time, try an alternative. A popular option is simply a fake candle. A battery-operated LED light brings that same cheerful glow without the risk.Can you leave jack o lanterns lit outside? ›
Be sure to prevent dehydration, but try to avoid wet, mold-promoting conditions as well. A variety of disinfectants and preservatives are useful in slowing deterioration. Even so, an outdoor jack-o'-lantern will require protection from interested animals, so be on guard if leaving your grinning friend outside.How do I protect my jack o lanterns from squirrels? ›
Petroleum jelly: Cover your pumpkin in a heavy coat of petroleum jelly or a vapor rub. Squirrels don't like sticky substances. And a thick coat of the jelly can last for weeks. Lacquer spray: Coat all sides of your pumpkin with lacquer spray and let dry until hard.What can I spray on pumpkins for less rotting? ›
After carving, wipe down all surfaces of the pumpkin with a vinegar-water solution (1 part vinegar to 1 part water) to kill bacteria and fungal spores. You can then spray the pumpkin daily with this solution. If you're only going to apply one treatment, this is the one to choose!Does vinegar make pumpkins last longer? ›
Preserving a pumpkin with vinegar is one of the best ways of protecting your pumpkins, both carved and uncarved, from the unavoidable effects of oxidization for longer, meaning that you can enjoy fall decor ideas and, later, Halloween decorating ideas – for longer.Does Vaseline preserve pumpkins? ›
You Can Use Petroleum Jelly To Keep Your Pumpkins From Rotting This Halloween. Here's How. After hours of scooping out orange guts, setting aside seeds for baking and carving out a fresh face in your orange pumpkin, the last thing we want to see are our jack-o-lanterns and hard work rot away after a week or two.What do you put inside a jack-o-lantern light? ›
For bright light that lasts, place one small LED flashlight inside your jack-o-lantern. Or, add multiple flashlights for a more radiant look.
Do you rinse a pumpkin after carving? ›
Once you're finished carving, rinse the pumpkin inside and out with water. Soak the entire jack o' lantern in a solution of 1 gallon water to 1 tablespoon bleach for 15 minutes. Remove and allow the pumpkin to air dry. Coat the interior with vegetable oil or petroleum jelly to prevent mold and dehydration.Should I wash my pumpkin after carving? ›
#8: Keep Your Pumpkin Fresh
Mold is the enemy of your pumpkin, so keep it fresh. Dunk your carved pumpkin in cold water with a cap full of bleach to kill any bacteria then let it soak for up to 8 hours.
The best time to carve your pumpkin is just a few days before Halloween. So, anywhere between 3-5 days before Oct. 31 to avoid your pumpkin turning into a moldy pile of mush. There are also some helpful tips to consider when picking the right pumpkin for carving and the right tools that are needed.What do you soak pumpkins in before carving? ›
Submerge your creation in a bucket filled with water and 2/3 cup of bleach. Leave the pumpkin there to soak for up to 24 hours. After carving your pumpkin, give it a bleach-water bath to preserve it longer.Where is the best place to keep a pumpkin before carving? ›
Keep the pumpkin out of direct sunlight and take it inside or onto a sheltered porch if rain threatens. Prevent premature shriveling by spritzing the pumpkin daily with 1/2 teaspoon bleach and 2 cups water in a spray bottle; this moisturizes the rind and helps prevent mold from developing on the Jack-o-lantern.How do you keep pumpkins from rotting before carving? ›
'Clearing away any pulp, escaped sugars, or microbes will help you get a good start on stopping pumpkins from rotting. ' Dilute one part of bleach in 10 parts of water and apply evenly over the surface of the pumpkin before wiping away with a damp cloth. Rinse with plain water and dry thoroughly before carving.What do you put under pumpkins when carving? ›
If you're hesitant to use harsh chemicals on your pumpkins, petroleum jelly or vegetable oil are good alternatives for keeping pumpkins hydrated. Spread a layer of the jelly or oil along the carved edges of your pumpkins to prevent them from drying out quickly.How long will a pumpkin last once carved? ›
How Long Do Pumpkins Last? Before carving: Freshly harvested or store-bought pumpkins can last 1 month at room temperature and 2 to 3 months if stored in a cool, dark, dry place. After carving: Pumpkins only last 3 days to 1 week before rotting, depending on the weather conditions.How long will a pumpkin last uncarved? ›
If you keep uncarved pumpkins out of the hot sun or freezing weather, you can expect them to last two to three months. As to carved pumpkins, they can last as little as a few days, so keep that in mind if you want to display your carved masterpiece on Halloween night.Do Jack O lanterns last longer in the cold? ›
Pumpkins prefer a cool, dry climate, which means you should bring your pumpkin inside when it's freezing or raining or you can keep them on constant display from the inside if you have a street-facing front window. There are a couple of things you can do before digging into your pumpkin to ensure a long life.
What can you spray on pumpkins to make them last longer? ›
Spray the inside and out of the pumpkin with a bleach and water solution (1 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water), a sudsy spray of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap. After spraying, allow the pumpkin to dry out completely before beginning to carve.How do you make pumpkin carving last longer? ›
If you decide to carve your pumpkins, extend their life by rubbing petroleum jelly ($2, Target) around the carved areas of the pumpkin. If you don't have petroleum jelly on hand, use olive oil or coconut oil.Does Hairspray preserve pumpkins? ›
Spray it up: Hairspray and acrylic finish sprays can seal in a pumpkins freshness. They also prevent mold.Will refrigerating a carved pumpkin make it last longer? ›
If you can, refrigerating your pumpkin each night will go a long way in helping to rehydrate your carved pumpkin (and keep it away from any bugs or critters). This is an especially good idea if you live in a warmer climate.Does vinegar keep pumpkins from rotting? ›
Preserving a pumpkin with vinegar is one of the best ways of protecting your pumpkins, both carved and uncarved, from the unavoidable effects of oxidization for longer, meaning that you can enjoy fall decor ideas and, later, Halloween decorating ideas – for longer.How long will an uncut pumpkin last indoors? ›
Whole pumpkins generally last about 2-3 months in cool indoor storage conditions, although there are heirloom types that can last up to one year in storage! At room temperature, most pumpkins last only about a month. Carved pumpkins last a much shorter shelf life.Is it better to keep uncarved pumpkins inside or outside? ›
Avoid leaving your pumpkin outside during freezing temperatures. Ideally, you want to place it somewhere with a temperature in the upper 50s to lower 60s Fahrenheit. So if you're in an area where freezing weather is likely during October, be sure to bring your pumpkins inside each night.Does Vaseline help pumpkins from rotting? ›
Once you've carved your jack-o-lantern, grab the petroleum jelly. You can use it around the edges of your cuts to make them last longer. If you don't have Vaseline, vegetable oil or WD-40 works, too.Does Vaseline stop pumpkins from rotting? ›
It's not a myth. Smearing petroleum jelly on your jack-o'-lantern helps it stay fresh longer.What can I put under my pumpkin to keep it from rotting? ›
Look for products containing neem oil, azadirachtin, or pyrethrin, and always follow the label instructions. Sometimes you can prevent rot with environmental controls, such as gently lifting pumpkins off the soil when they're small and placing them on a clay pot, straw, mulch, or a piece of landscape fabric.