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How to Keep Pumpkins from Rotting: 11 Easy Fall Tips

A rotting jack-o-lantern on a front porch stoop.

How to Keep Pumpkins from Rotting: 11 Easy Fall Tips

Understanding how to keep pumpkins from rotting is crucial for maintaining your fall display colorful and fresh for as long as possible. Because, unfortunately, pumpkins can go bad fast, and there’s nothing sadder than a soft, squishy pumpkin just days after you’ve harvested or carved it.

I’ve had enough of watching our hard work on creating stunning pumpkins deteriorate so quickly! So I needed to discover what methods we could utilize to make them last longer.

Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite strategies that seemed to work best:

How to make uncarved pumpkins last longer:

  • Allow the rind to fully cure
  • Soak in a bleach or vinegar solution to kill microbes that cause decomposition
  • Store in a cool, dark place

How to make carved pumpkins last longer:

  • Apply bleach, hairspray or oil to the cut ends to help slow down the rotting process
  • Spray the pumpkin down with peppermint essential oil or dilute bleach to kill new microbes
  • Bring it inside if frost or hot days are in the forecast

In this post, you’ll learn (in much more detail) how to preserve pumpkins- carved or uncarved- for the longest time possible. And good news- it’s not that hard!

Let’s jump in!

RELATED: Don’t throw those pumpkin seeds out after making a jack o lantern or a pie- instead, save them for next year!

How Long Does a Pumpkin Last?

An uncarved pumpkin with a healthy, intact rind can last for several weeks or even a few months after the autumn harvest. With proper care, you should be able to roast a pumpkin for Christmas pies if you want to.

Once you’ve cut into the protective rind, however, the story is very different. On average, most carved pumpkins last between three and five days. In colder, drier climates, you may get lucky and have a pumpkin that lasts for a week or more, but that’s definitely the exception and not the rule.

With that timeframe in mind, it’s helpful to use a few of the tricks in this article to extend the shelf life of both an uncarved or a carved pumpkin as long as possible.

Why Did My Pumpkin Rot So Fast?

Pumpkins rot for the same reason anything else does: exposure to oxygen and moisture, leading to the multiplication of fungi and bacteria that decompose the tissues.

An uncarved pumpkin is like a sealed jar from the grocery store: All the oxygen and moisture is kept out of the soft, vulnerable interior by the tough, thick rind. Once that rind is punctured, these agents of decay can have their merry way, regardless of how much time and effort you spent carving!

How long does it take for a pumpkin to rot? It depends on where you are and the season, but a compromised pumpkin will likely rot within a week. Pumpkins will rot especially fast in warm, humid climates, where fungi and bacteria easily grow.

RELATED: Did you know there are literally hundreds of pumpkin types out there? You’ve got to see some of these pumpkin varieties for yourself!

4 Tips for Preserving Uncarved Pumpkins

If you’re looking to keep your whole pumpkin in storage for use later on, a few easy steps make a big difference.

  1. Cure before storage
  2. Submerge your pumpkin in bleach water
  3. Submerge your pumpkin in diluted vinegar
  4. Store in a cool, dark place

1. Cure Before Storage

Curing is the process of allowing certain vegetables to develop a hardened, dry layer that protects them from rotting in storage. It helps the pumpkins dry down as much as possible, removing the moisture that leads to decay. It’s the traditional method for getting pumpkins, as well as other fall-harvested squash, ready for storage.

Curing is also an easy process. A good area for curing has plenty of airflow and is dry and warm, preferably temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Your pumpkins need good exposure to the air to cure properly, so set them down on a pallet, a layer of cardboard, an old window screen or a large open basket. Make sure to give each pumpkin plenty of room, laying them out in a single layer, not touching.

Allow them to cure for 10-14 days.

Melissa K. Norris is one of my favorite homesteaders/gardeners to follow. This video shows how she harvests and cures her spaghetti squash, and the same principles apply to pumpkins:

2. Submerge Your Pumpkin in Bleach Water

A bleach bath will help eradicate any bacteria or fungus that may be on the outside of the pumpkin.

Find a bucket or basin that is big enough to fully submerge your pumpkin. Bleach dilutions for food sanitation should not exceed 100 parts per million (ppm), and 65 ppm is more than enough for most garden produce. According to Michigan State University, this boils down to one teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water in your container. Always measure bleach, and never guess!

Dunk your pumpkin in the bleach solution, and allow it to sit for five minutes. Then remove the pumpkin, rinse it with clean water and allow it to air dry.

3. Submerge Your Pumpkin in Diluted Vinegar

If you’d prefer to not work with bleach, a vinegar bath is also effective for killing off any hitchhiking bacteria or fungus.

Add 1 cup of white vinegar to 5 gallons of water, submerge your pumpkin, and let it sit in the solution for up to fifteen minutes. Then fish it out and let it air dry.

4. Store in a Cool, Dark Place

Before the advent of refrigeration technology, vegetables like pumpkins were stored in root cellars: cool, dark, and with consistent temperature and humidity. These are the conditions in which pumpkins keep best, so try to find a storage place that emulates this. It may be a shed, basement, or unused closet in the house.

RELATED: Save garden space and still have homegrown pumpkins with a handy pumpkin trellis system!

7 Tricks for Preserving Carved Pumpkins

You’ve had a blast making a fun jack-o-lantern, and now you’re wondering how to make carved pumpkins last longer. Carved pumpkins need different attention than whole pumpkins. Piercing the flesh and exposing the interior to air, fungus and bacteria leads to quick decay unless you take a few extra measures.

As far as the timing of when to carve your pumpkin, Lindsey Hall, a horticulturist at Positive Bloom and pumpkin expert, says, “As a general rule, uncarved pumpkins last much longer than carved ones, so I’d recommend carving them up on Halloween or three days before at the most.”

But once you have your jack-o-lantern, how do you keep it grinning for as long as possible?

  1. Give your pumpkin a bleach bath
  2. Keep candles out of your pumpkins
  3. Seal the cut ends with oil
  4. Use a moisture-absorbing packet
  5. Seal the cut ends with hairspray
  6. Spray your pumpkin with peppermint essential oil
  7. Spray your pumpkin with dilute bleach water

1. Give Your Pumpkin a Bleach Bath

Bleach solutions work on carved pumpkins too! But the solution needs to be stronger, according to Hall:

“Once your pumpkin is all carved up, you can submerge it into a bleach solution (mix approximately five fl oz of bleach in a bucket of water) and leave them in the bucket for 24 hours.”

2. Keep Candles Out of Your Pumpkin

Hot candles can accelerate decay in Halloween pumpkins. Instead of using real candles, use a remote-controlled LED faux-candle, or even a string of battery-powered fairy lights.

3. Seal the Cut Ends With Oil

Oil naturally repels water, and one way to keep carved pumpkins fresh is to keep the moisture inside the tissues by coating the cut surfaces with some form of oily substance.

“You can oil the edges to prevent them from losing moisture, and petroleum jelly is definitely the best option,” says Hall. “But if you don’t have any, you can use WD-40 or any oil you find at home.”

According to Firefighter Insider, WD-40 is highly flammable in it aerosol form- so no open flames or candles around your jack o lantern when applying it!

4. Use a Moisture-Absorbing Packet (Silica Gel Pouch)

You can find silica gel pouches in various packages and containers, where they are placed to absorb moisture and keep contents from clumping. They can do the same for your carved pumpkin, too! All you need to do is save up a few silica packets and place them around the bottom of the pumpkin.

Three silica gel moisture-absorbing packets.

If you use this trick, definitely DON’T use a real candle. You don’t want to light silica gel on fire!

5. Spray the Cut Ends with Hairspray

Hairspray is also a great way to seal in moisture and keep the inside of your pumpkin from withering quickly. Use several coats, and do your best to cover every part of the scraped-out inside as well as carved-out edges.

If you’re going to use a real candle in your jack o lantern, wait until your hairspray is completely dried. Some formulas have flammable ingredients, and you don’t want to have to find out the hard way if your does.

6. Spray Your Pumpkin with Peppermint Essential Oil

Peppermint essential oil has the same disinfectant properties as bleach and vinegar, and it can help reduce decay on the interior of your pumpkin. You can buy a pre-made essential oil spray or make your own. In a spray bottle, add four drops of oil per ounce of water, and shake well.

7. Spray Your Pumpkin with Dilute Bleach Water

A bleach dilution will also help slow decay and keep the pumpkin from rotting too quickly. Add 2 teaspoons of bleach to 2 cups of water and shake well.

For best results with this and the peppermint essential oil spray, re-apply every other day.

Some final advice from Lindsay Hall: Be mindful of the order you use the anti-rot steps. “For instance, if you’re keen on immersing your jack-o-lantern in the bleach solution, you shouldn’t be applying petroleum jelly, oils, or WD-40 beforehand. All these ingredients trap moisture and prevent the pumpkin from shriveling. However, they can also trap bacteria, which will only speed up the rotting.”

How to Refresh a Shriveling Pumpkin

When your pumpkin starts to shrivel ahead of schedule, what can you do? Try dunking your pumpkin in ice water or give it a bleach bath to help re-hydrate the shrunken flesh. Let it air dry in a cool, shady spot.

Keep the refreshed pumpkin away from heat and direct sunlight.

How to Harvest Pumpkins for the Longest Lifespan

A gardener harvesting a pumpkin from the garden.

Harvesting your pumpkin at the right time gives you a fruit that’s in tip-top shape and has the best chances for long-term storage. Over-ripe pumpkins have likely already started the decomposition process, and a killing frost can turn your pumpkins mushy.

Pumpkins are typically ready to harvest from late September to October, depending on the particular variety and expected days to maturity. A harvest-ready pumpkin shows these signs:

  • The vine is completely dried-out and dead
  • The pumpkin has a hollow sound when thumped
  • The skin is dull, not glossy
  • The stem attaching the pumpkin to the vine is dry and hard
  • The rind is tough and resists indentation from a fingernail

When you harvest, leave about 4 to 6 inches of stem. Removing the stem can damage the rind, leaving it open to bacteria and fungus.

Use a dry rag to wipe the pumpkin clean of dirt, debris, bugs or dampness.

How to Prevent Pumpkins from Rotting On the Vine

The decomposition process is also true of pumpkins on the vine. But in that case, the rind puncture is not caused by a carving knife, but instead by contact with excess moisture on the ground that inoculates the skin with bacteria and fungi. These microbes eat away at the rind until they reach the interior flesh.

The best way to keep pumpkins from rotting on the vine is to prevent excess water on the ground. There are a couple of ways you can do that:

  • Direct your water to the roots of the plant instead of just the nearby soil in general
  • Regularly inspect your pumpkins for discolored or softened rinds, which indicate bacterial growth.
  • Use a pumpkin support cradle to keep your pumpkin off the ground

When to Store Your Pumpkin in The Refrigerator

You can increase the lifespan of your jack-o-lantern by bringing it in during the day and keeping it in the fridge. Bacteria and fungi work fastest in warm temps, so protecting your pumpkin from daytime heat will help. Then you can put it out with lights on at nighttime.

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Keep Pumpkins from Rotting

This is different for every climate. The best way is to keep an eye on your weather app, and anytime the projected nighttime temperatures dip below 40 degrees, bring it inside.

Pumpkins that are mostly ripe will finish ripening after harvest, but pumpkins that are mostly unripe will not.

Final Thoughts

We hope this post has helped you learn how to keep pumpkins from rotting and prematurely ruining your autumn plans. Remember to harvest correctly, clean thoroughly, and regularly check your stored pumpkins for decay. And when it comes to carving pumpkins, timing is everything for the best display!

Any tips for carving pumpkins or preserving them? Let us know in the comments below- learning is a community effort, and your thoughts may be just the answer someone else needs!

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