The Best Ways to Extend a Jack-o-Lantern’s Life

The Best Ways to Extend a Jack-o-Lantern’s Life

Want to make a jack-o-lantern last until Halloween and beyond? Carving pumpkins is a quintessential Halloween act—but anyone who’s ever attempted it knows that once a pumpkin is carved, its lifespan is nearing its end. Squirrels will eat them (though there are ways to prevent that), and unless you’re careful, your jack-o-lantern can get rotten before the big day.

But with some planning, you need not fear a saggy Halloween pumpkin. From when to harvest your pumpkins to how to preserve them, all it takes are a few preventative steps. Here are some ways to lengthen the lifespan of your jack-o-lantern.

Carve a pumpkin from the bottom so it lasts longer

Most preservation tips focus on what you do after you carve your pumpkin, but you need to start earlier: Don’t cut your entry hole around the stem on top. The stem is a big part of the pumpkin’s structure—that’s where it once got its nutrients, before you scooped it up and took it home to disembowel it. Plus, the stem that is left on top is heavy, which leads to a collapse of the lid you created.

Instead of carving your hole up there, cut it out from the bottom of the pumpkin, or on the back. This will help preserve the jack-o-lantern’s structural integrity and make candle insertion way easier. (Use an electric light, though, instead of a real candle, which can actually cook the inside a little, damaging it more.)

Get the freshest pumpkin possible

Go to a pumpkin patch, not a grocery store, to get a pumpkin that has been more recently picked. The ones in stores bump around on trucks for who-knows-how long, but patches are bustling and turnover is high to meet demand. You can even find some patches where pumpkins are still on the vine, but in most cases, they’ll be a bit removed from where they grew.

Look for a firmly-attached green stem, as that indicates the pumpkin is young and fresh. A brittle stem is a sign that this one’s been off the vine for a while. Don’t get one with visible bruises or holes, and don’t expedite the weakening process by picking that sucker up by its stem. Instead, scoop up all your pumpkins by the bottom and hold them firmly (or gently place them into a wagon) instead of swinging them around by those vital, nutrient-rich stems.

When you get home, store the pumpkin outside or even in your fridge until you’re ready to carve. This will stave off premature aging. Just don’t freeze the pumpkin—a little chill in the fridge is just right.

Carefully time your carving

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, you should hold off on carving as long as possible. The sooner you gut your pumpkin, damage its structural integrity, and stick it out in the elements, the sooner it will crumble. This is especially true in areas with higher humidity.

If you insist on having jack-o-lanterns out all season, pick up some smaller pumpkins and carve them with simple designs, knowing they’ll rot out before Halloween week. Save your large, complex ones for the big day.

Finally, apply a little petroleum jelly to any cut surfaces once you’ve finished your carving. It will slow down the dehydration process that degrades the edges of your design.

Use bleach to keep a carved pumpkin fresh

Fungi and various contaminants can also harm your jack-o-lantern. Remember, the pumpkin was just a gourd, susceptible to the same kind of damage as any fruit or vegetable. Sterilize your tools before you hack into it and when you’re done, use a solution of one-part bleach to nine-parts water to gently wash down the sides and cuts, killing the microorganisms that seek to harm your beautiful decor.

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