How to Keep Pumpkins From Rotting and Ruining Your Fall Front Porch Display

Dear gourd—you'll be so grateful for these pumpkin-preserving tips and tricks.

You made a trip to the pumpkin patch (because fall, obviously), you carefully selected the most gourd-geous picks to take home, and you gave them a proper throne on your front porch. Or, maybe you even decided to switch things up this year and take pumpkin planting into your own hands at home. After feeding, weeding, and watching out for bugs all season long, your garden is finally setting loads of pretty fruit and you have some festive orange gourds to show for it.

And no matter how you sourced them, next comes the fun part: decorating! Whether carving or painting is more your speed, the sky’s the limit when it comes to putting your own artistic spin on each pumpkin for your home or exterior. But that makes it all the more frustrating when your special creations start to look soft, rotten, and downright disgustingly mushy, especially well before October 31. Some pumpkins in your collection sadly may have a date with the trash can, but you can prolong the same fate for the rest of the lot with a few simple hacks. Here's how to keep pumpkins from rotting on the vine in the first place—as well as tips for how to keep a carved pumpkin from rotting around Halloween, too.

How Long Do Pumpkins Last?

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First things first: Before you even pick your gourds, whether from a farm or your own yard, know that their lifespans will vary based on certain conditions—namely whether they've been cut or not. Steve Reiners, a horticulturist at Cornell University, explained to NPR's The Salt that healthy, un-carved pumpkins can thrive for 8-12 weeks in certain environments, whereas your beloved jack-o'-lantern might only see 5-10 days of shelf life. Time your Halloween pumpkin carving accordingly!

Also, know what to look for if you want to snag the best pick of the patch. Avoid gourds with any soft spots (an indication that it could already be rotting), holes that can potentially attract pests, or loose, brown stems. Basically, the firmer, the better.

How to Prevent Pumpkin Rot on the Vine

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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.

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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 them 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

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Wash down the outside before carving. Before you reach for those carving tools, keep your carved pumpkin safe from squishiness by wiping down the outside with a diluted bleach solution. This will remove microbes. Do the same to all surfaces 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. Or, if it won't fit, store it in a cool spot, like your basement.

Choose battery-operated LED lights. Instead of a candle or traditional light strands, which throw too much heat and contribute to decay, says Buskirk, opt for flameless candles.

Don't cut off the stem. According to NPR, experts believe it still supplies important nutrients to the gourd, even after carving.

Plaster on a layer of Vaseline. Applying petroleum jelly to the carved edges of your pumpkin helps retain moisture and prevent shriveling—but only after you've washed the pumpkin with bleach. You can also use WD-40 instead, but bear in mind that both products are flammable, making real candles within your jack-o'-lantern even more of a major no-no.

How to Prevent Uncarved Pumpkins from Rotting

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Moisturize daily. To fend off mold and bacteria, mix water with a bit of bleach and give your gourds a refreshing spritz.

Avoid freezing temperatures. Weather that's too cold can lead to decay, so avoid sticking pumpkins in the freezer or exposing them to frost. With that being said, it's still safe to give your pumpkin an ice bath if you notice it's drying out. Just be sure to immediately dry the gourd, otherwise mold may appear.

Try a pumpkin preservation spray. Spray-on products like Pumpkin Fresh are designed to keep your pumpkins, well, fresh, so you can enjoy them for as long as possible.

Fend off pesky pumpkin-eaters. Don't let rodents turn your front porch display into a snack. A combination of Vaseline and Tabasco sauce can help repel squirrels or rats, as well as an animal repellent spray.

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