Jack-o'-lanterns can be true works of art, but they can begin to disintegrate in no time at all. There's nothing sadder than seeing a sunken, rotting carved pumpkin sitting outside a house during the Halloween festivities.
Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true techniques that can help keep your Halloween carving fresh longer. Learn how to extend the life of those carving creations with just a few simple steps.
Pick the Right Pumpkin
The first step in selecting the perfect gourd is to choose a carving pumpkin rather than a pie pumpkin. Carving pumpkins are larger with thinner skin and have less "guts" on the inside.
If possible, buy your pumpkin from a local pumpkin patch, as not does that help the local growers in your area, but you're also getting a fresher, less thrown-around pumpkin that's potentially been harmed during the shipping process.
When you've found a contender, pick it up and tap it—you should hear a hollow sound. Inspect it for scratches, bruises, or dark spots, and then turn it over. Press your thumb against the bottom. If the skin gives, the pumpkin isn't fresh, so it's more likely to rot quickly. You want to select a pumpkin that has firm flesh all over and with no soft spots.
Store Your Pumpkin Properly
Warm weather and hot sunlight can speed decay in a pumpkin. Store both cut or uncut pumpkins in a cool, dry place, such as in a cool basement or the refrigerator, when not on display, as that will help keep them fresh longer. Be aware that freezing temperatures are just as harmful as heat, and pumpkins left out in the rain will get soggy, which also speeds up the rotting process. Smaller cut pumpkins can be wrapped in plastic and stored inside the refrigerator for a few days before Halloween.
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. Plan to carve your pumpkin about two to three days before Halloween. A carved pumpkin should last approximately three to five days.
During the carving process scrape out as much of the pumpkin guts as possible. You want the inside of the pumpkin to be clean, as any of the stringy pulp left will encourage mold and be attractive to pests.
Treat With Bleach or a Bleach Substitute
Once you cut your pumpkin, the goal is to slow the rotting process. Fill a spray bottle with a bleach solution by mixing 1 tablespoon bleach per quart of water. Spray both the interior and exterior of the pumpkin with spray, giving special attention to cut surfaces. Once it dries, the bleach solution will kill bacteria that cause mold.
If you're not comfortable with using bleach, spray the pumpkin with a solution of peppermint Castile Soap and water. Simply mix 1 tablespoon of the peppermint soap into 1 quart of water and put the solution into a spray bottle and spray the pumpkin. Peppermint has anti-fungal properties and it will also make your pumpkin smell good!
Apply Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly is an all-purpose, low-cost product that can protect the cut edges of your jack-o'-lantern while also keeping the pumpkin moist. Just cover all cut edges of a pumpkin, as well as the entire interior, with petroleum jelly. This reduces moisture loss and keeps a pumpkin looking fresh for longer. If you don't have any petroleum jelly on hand, coconut oil also works to protect the carved areas and inside of the pumpkin.
Soak the Pumpkin
If you cut your pumpkin too early and now it's shriveled and sad-looking, revive it for Halloween night by soaking it in a bucket of cool water for a few hours and then draining it thoroughly. This is a quick, short-term fix that will plump up your pumpkin for the critical trick-or-treating period.
Keep Carved Pumpkins Off Ground
Squirrels, ants, and other pests are attracted to pumpkins, so keep them up off the ground if at all possible. The porch railing or an outside table are good spots to display your jack-o-lantern. Or use your decorating skills: place your carved pumpkin on a hay bale or old chair and arrange gourds, fall leaves, and hay bales for a festive arrangement.
Fruit flies will also flock to carved pumpkins and speed up the rotting process. So guard your pumpkin with a DIY fruit fly trap.
Use Other Lighting
Instead of candles—which make the inside of the pumpkin hot—use a battery-operated tea light that flickers or a glow stick.
These tips will help keep your jack-o-lantern looking perky during the Halloween holiday. So go pick out the perfect one, get out the pumpkin carving kit, decide on a design, and carve that pumpkin!