CONTRIBUTED BY ACES / WRITTEN BY MARY LEIGH OLIVER
Nothing says spooky season like a glowing Jack-O-Lantern on the front steps. While they can’t last forever, there are a few things people can do to extend the lives of their pumpkins and Jack-O-Lanterns. To stay spooky all season long, preventing rot in all pumpkin carving creations is key.
“One of the biggest parts of preserving a pumpkin is selection,” said Alabama Extension regional home grounds agent, Jack LeCroy.
When choosing a pumpkin, they should be free of cracks, blemishes or soft spots. This will help to ensure the pumpkin is healthy and free of rot.
“Rot will be the quickest detrimental factor for a carved pumpkin,” LeCroy said. “It is important to store pumpkins in a location with good air circulation and dry conditions to avoid rot as much as possible.”
As the spooky decorations begin, make sure to keep other plants that require watering away from the pumpkins. This will help to avoid any type of moisture buildup. Also, placing the pumpkins in shaded areas is best for their longevity. Sunlight can begin to breakdown the pumpkins quicker. If there is a heavy frost predicted, cover the pumpkins or bring them indoors. Overall, conditions that are dry, shaded, cool and have good air circulation are the best for pumpkins to thrive in.
Once a healthy pumpkin is picked and spooky creations have been carved, preservation measures are essential. LeCroy and fellow regional home grounds agent Hannah Dykes share the following tips for preserving pumpkins before carving:
Rinse pumpkins with soapy water before carving.
Mix one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water in a bucket large enough to submerge the pumpkin.
Submerge the pumpkin in the water, holding it under the water for two minutes. Make sure to wear gloves.After soaking, let the pumpkin air dry.
These pre-carving steps will help to prevent microbial growth, which can set in quickly and wilt the pumpkin. For additional prevention, spray the same bleach mixture onto the carved pumpkin every day.
“This will help to keep the carved flesh hydrated while preventing microbial growth from getting out of hand,” LeCroy said.
While carving a pumpkin is one of the best traditions of the fall season, carving too early can cause it to rot before Halloween. Carved pumpkins are more likely to deteriorate quicker than whole pumpkins. The hollowed-out spaces allow pests to burrow in and feast on the pumpkin as well.
After carving and preserving with the bleach mixture, add a final layer of petroleum jelly to the inside and outside of the pumpkin. This will help to keep moisture in the pumpkin. If pests present an issue to the pumpkin, mix the petroleum jelly with hairspray, acrylic finish spray and Tabasco sauce. Apply this in the same way to the pumpkin.
Here are a few additional tips to prevent carved pumpkins from wilting too early:
Instead of using real candles to light pumpkins, try using battery-operated lights.
If the pumpkin does begin to wilt, it can be salvaged by soaking it in cold water. Fully submerge the pumpkin in the cold water overnight. The pumpkin skin should come out rehydrated and ready to shine again. Make sure it is thoroughly dried before displaying again.
In addition to the petroleum jelly, spray the outside of the pumpkin with clear acrylic spray. This provides another layer of defense against bacteria and pests.
Don’t let the ghoulish sights on the front porch be a rotting pumpkin. Preserve your carved pumpkins to let them shine through Halloween. For more information about preserving pumpkins, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu