Halloween might technically only be one day, but pumpkin season lasts far longer. Chances are, you want your pumpkins to stay ready in good shape for decorating or simply sitting on your porch display for as much of it as possible too. How can you make a pumpkin last longer? Is there a spray that can keep it from rotting? How long will my pumpkin keep if I cut it, or don't cut it? We've got the answers to all those questions and more below.
So as you get ready for a carving session (perhaps while snacking on one of our best pumpkin recipes?), here are some tips for preventing a pumpkin from rotting while you grow it on a vine and for how to stop a harvested pumpkin—from a pumpkin patch, your garden, or a store—from turning mushy too soon. Hint: It starts with selecting a pumpkin without cuts, nicks, bruises, or smooshy spots.
How Long Do Pumpkins Last?
First up, you should know the lifespans of pumpkins vary and are affected by whether or not you cut into them. 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.
How to Prevent Pumpkin Rot on the Vine
Water just until fruit appears. "Pumpkins like slightly more irrigation at the flowering stage for proper fruit development," says Patty Buskirk, lead plant breeder and horticulturist at Seeds by Design. "Keep a steady irrigation schedule until the fruit are set, then cut the water off completely when the fruit begin to turn color to reduce rotting risk."
Let nature do her thing. Pumpkins set lots of flowers then drop the fruit the plant can't sustain to maturity. It's fine to leave any mushy fruit on the vines, but gently lift the healthy pumpkins and place them on a small wooden box, straw nest, or small pallet to protect them from getting too wet, says Buskirk.
Try raised beds and hills. If you have loads of problems with rotting fruit, try planting in raised bed planters or hills about 3 to 4 feet wide next year. Sow about 3 to 4 seeds per planter or hill, then thin to one or two plants. When the pumpkins are set, place the fruits up on the tops of the planters or beds, which allows the extra water to run off. In smaller gardens, you can grow pumpkins vertically on a trellis or fence, providing additional support for heavy fruit by making little hammocks from bean or pea netting.
How to Prevent Carved Pumpkins From Rotting
Wash down the outside before carving. Keep your carved pumpkin safe from squishiness by wiping down the outside with a diluted bleach solution before carving. This will remove microbes that cause decay. Remove every bit of pulp so you won't attract any bugs, then wipe down all surfaces, inside and out, after you finish your masterpiece.
Stay cool. Keep your carved pumpkin out of direct sunlight and refrigerate it for up to ten days when not on display, especially if you live in a warmer climate.
Choose battery-operated LED lights. Instead of a candle or traditional light strands, which throw too much heat and contribute to rotting, opt for flameless candles, says Buskirk.
Smear on a layer of petroleum jelly. It's not proven, but many people say applying petroleum jelly to the carved edges of your pumpkin helps retain moisture and prevent shriveling. Be sure to wash with the bleach solution first, then let dry before "moisturizing." Hey, it can't hurt!
How to Prevent Uncarved Pumpkins from Rotting
Keep mold at bay. To prevent microbes from turning your pumpkin to mush, use the bleach and water wash or dunk, cleaning all sides of your pumpkin.
Avoid freezing temperatures. Weather that's too cold can lead to decay, so avoid sticking pumpkins in the freezer or exposing them to frost. They store best at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees F and humidity around 50 percent.
Fend off pumpkin-eaters. Unfortunately, nothing's foolproof for keeping rodents such as squirrels away because pumpkins are delectable! They actually love snacking on both carved and uncarved pumpkins. One (messy) solution you can try: Mix hot sauce with water and spray. Repeat every few days or after it's rained. It's not guaranteed, but it just may help! You can try a commercial repellant, too, but be aware they're rotten-egg-smell stinky until the spray dries.
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