By this time, your scary (or adorable) jack o’lantern has worn out its welcome. The grinning gourd is about to lose its spot on the porch to the next set of holiday decorations. Maybe you have some uncut pumpkins grouped around the house to herald the arrival of fall. Or you've just scraped out what you need for a pie, and are wondering what to do with the rest. At some point, all of these natural decor items are going to have to go somewhere.
Tossing them in the trash bin is one option, though not very eco-friendly. Composting is a better choice. Or you could give the pumpkin a new purpose and make an animal very happy. Here are four ways to reuse your pumpkins.
Offer It to the Birds
The feathered friends that flock to your yard would be thrilled with a little pumpkin snack. Scrape out the flesh and seeds and put them in a dish or bird feeder. “Blue jays, crows and perhaps some other scavengers would go for the seeds,” says Nicole Netherton, executive director of the Travis Audubon in Central Texas.
Birds will dig into the seeds just as nature made them. However, if you want to get a little fancy for the flock, you can roast the seeds in your oven or air fryer. Once roasted, you can grind the seeds into pieces to make them easier for smaller birds to eat. Just be sure to leave off the salt and other seasonings. Salt is an important part of a bird's diet, but foods high in salt—like salted seeds and nuts—can be toxic to birds.
The flesh of the pumpkin is a good snack for birds as well. Before giving it to your avian friends, if you used candles in your jack o’lantern for Halloween, be sure to cut around any wax that might be left inside. Consumption of the wax would not be good for birds. Additionally check there is no mold present as this can lead to respiratory disease. You don’t need to cut up the pumpkin into pieces: The birds will take what they want from it.
Make a Compostable Bird Feeder
If you have a whole pumpkin that is no longer needed for decor duty, turn the whole thing into a compostable bird feeder. Heather Abern of The Three Keeper Blog cut her pumpkin in half, scooped out the seeds and added some birdseed in its place. The all-natural creation even drew a few squirrels for a quick snack. You could also leave the pumpkin seeds in place if you wish. One creature or another will enjoy them!
If you live in a cooler climate and your pumpkin is still in good shape, you can extend its decorative usefulness by adding some appropriate soil and a pretty plant. Dr. Joe Masabni, a small-acre vegetable specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, cautions that this idea won’t adapt as well in warmer climates, as the pumpkin will start to rot pretty quickly.
No matter where you live, once the planter starts to lose shape or rot, Masabni suggests that you simply return it to the earth. “Bury it in a raised bed, next to flowers or around trees to feed the nutrients to them,” Masabni says. If you live in a rural area with a pond or lake, you might consider cutting up the gourd and tossing it into the water. Masabni says the pieces will float a day or two and then sink to the bottom, again releasing nutrients back into the environment.
Feed the Four-legged Friends
Birds aren’t the only pumpkin fans in the great outdoors. Squirrels, deer, raccoons and most other wildlife mammals will be happy to help you make good use of your leftovers. “All the wildlife will eat it,” says Masabni. “I have seen squirrels go inside the [jack o’lantern] opening and raccoons clawing to get in.”
Before you take steps to share with animals, consider whether you really want to, he advises. “The trick is if you want to invite raccoons to your garden or backyard by putting pumpkins outside,” Masabni says. “They learn [your home] is a source of food and that might not be such a good idea.” Also, some states have laws against putting food out for wildlife, so check local regulations first. It is fine to share with your own animals, of course.
If you live in the country or a more rural area and are fine with visitors, cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces and toss them about 50 or more feet from your home. “If you break it up, the smaller pieces make it more accessible and the wildlife will thank you for it!” says Masabni.
Any pumpkin that has been painted must have all of the outer shell peeled off for the animals’ safety, or you can just bury it and let it nurture the ground.
One reason to cut up the pumpkin is to keep deer from getting their antlers stuck. But the main reason is to make the meal easier for the animals to eat.
“Deer can smell it from farther away when you expose the flesh, so they don’t have to do the work. It’s ready to eat,” Masabni says. “I wouldn’t leave the pumpkin whole; it would take forever [for them to eat]. It’s like your food. You could swallow a steak, but it will go down better if you chew it into smaller bits.”
Sharing your fall bounty with wildlife that live around you is a sustainable way to use up pumpkins after they have served their purpose in your home. You keep them out of the trash bin, animals get healthy snacks before winter sets in, trees and flowers reap the benefits of any leftovers. It's the circle of life, in your own backyard.
The Importance of Salt (Sodium Chloride) in Bird Food. Hagen Avicultural Research Institute.
Aspergillosis in Birds. VCA Animal Hospitals.
Don't Feed Wildlife. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pumpkins for Wildlife: From Backyard to the Zoo. The Nature Conservancy.