Carver’s guide to preserving carved pumpkins

Photo courtesy of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The ghoulish sights on the front steps this Halloween season should be a glowing Jack-O-Lantern creation, not a rotting pumpkin. Knowing how to best preserve both whole and carved pumpkins is essential to ensure they are fresh throughout the fall season.

Whole pumpkins

“One of the biggest parts of preserving your pumpkin is selection,” said Alabama Extension regional home grounds agent, Jack LeCroy.

In order to pick a healthy pumpkin, make sure there are no cracks or blemishes present. Also be sure to feel the pumpkin for soft spots.

“Soft spots could mean the pumpkin is already starting to rot, which will quickly decrease the lifespan of your pumpkins,” LeCroy said.

Rot will be the quickest detrimental factor for a carved pumpkin. It is important to store pumpkins in a location with good air circulation and dry conditions to avoid rot as much as possible.

“When planning your fall decorations, make sure to keep plants that will require watering away from your pumpkins to avoid any type of moisture buildup,” he said.

Placing the pumpkin in a shaded area would be best for its longevity. Sunlight can start to breakdown pumpkins faster. If there is a heavy frost in the forecast, take care to cover them or bring them indoors.

Dry, shaded, cool temperatures and good air circulation are ideal conditions to help carved pumpkins thrive in decoration displays.

Carved pumpkins

Just like whole pumpkins, selecting a healthy pumpkin is the first important step for preserving a carved pumpkin. To keep pumpkins fresh as long as possible, a soak in a bleach solution should do the trick.

LeCroy and his colleague Hannah Dykes, a regional home grounds agent, share the following tips:

  1. Rinse pumpkins with soapy water before carving.
  2. Mix one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water in a bucket large enough to submerge the pumpkin.
  3. Submerge pumpkins in the water, holding it under the water for two minutes. Make sure to wear gloves!
  4. After soaking, let the pumpkin air dry.


These pre-carving steps should help prevent microbial growth, which can set in fairly quickly and wilt the pumpkin. Another way to prevent this is to spray the carved pumpkin with the same bleach mixture every day. This will keep the carved flesh hydrated while keeping microbial growth from getting out of hand.

Lastly, while Halloween excitement builds as October continues, an important step to preserve the longevity of a carved pumpkin is not carve too early. Rot is yet another problem to avoid when carving a pumpkin. If you carve too early in the season, rot is more likely to set in over time. Carved pumpkins are more likely to deteriorate quicker than whole pumpkins. These hollowed out spaces allow places for pests to burrow in and feast on the pumpkin as well.

Post carving

After carving, make sure to smear the inside and outside of the pumpkin with petroleum jelly to keep it hydrated as well. If pests present an issue to your pumpkin, mix the petroleum jelly with hairspray, acrylic finish spray and Tabasco sauce.

Here are a few additional tips to keep carved pumpkins from wilting:

  1. Instead of using real candles to light pumpkins, try using battery-operated lights.
  2. If the pumpkin does begin to wilt, can salvage it by soaking it in cold water. Fully submerge the pumpkin in cold water overnight. Its skin should come out rehydrated and ready to shine again. Make sure it is thoroughly dried before displaying again.
  3. As an addition to using petroleum jelly, spray the outside of the pumpkin with clear acrylic spray. This provides another layer of defense against bacteria and pests.

Making sure pumpkins are prepped and ready for display will provide the perfect spooky addition to festive fall decorations.

More information

For additional information on preserving pumpkins, visit the Alabama Extension website,