jack o lantern
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How Long Does a Carved Pumpkin Last?

The life cycle of a jack-o'-lantern is short and sweet
jack o lantern
iStock.com/deucee_

A jack-o’-lantern is one of the best porch accessories for October, but if you carve it too early, you might end up with a sad, squishy squash when Halloween finally rolls around. To wow trick-or-treaters and passersby on the big day, make sure you wait as long as possible to dig in because once everything’s all carved up, a pumpkin’s life span lasts just a week on average. 

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In an interview with NPR, horticulturist Steve Reiners said that if a pumpkin is healthy when picked, it’ll keep for eight to 12 weeks uncarved. A good indicator of a viable pumpkin is a firm stem that’s still attached.

Jack-o'-lanterns, on the other hand, are good for just five to 10 days. So what should you do if you jumped the gun and carved your pumpkin on Oct. 14?

If you want yours to last longer, Clorox suggests mixing three teaspoons of regular bleach with three gallons of water. Fill a spray bottle with the diluted solution and, once your pumpkin is carved, spray the inside. This will help your jack-o'-lantern keep its structure and ward off mold and mildew.

This trick also works for mini pumpkins, which make a nice table setting if you’re having people over for a spooky Halloween party. Just cut the top off, scoop the innards out, spray the diluted bleach solution and pop in a tea light.

If you don’t have bleach or you’d rather handle something less toxic, there are other options. Thomas Andres — a cucurbitologist, or pumpkin expert — told Smithsonian that, in addition to bleach, vaseline and vegetable oil can be used as a preservative. He also recommends picking a pumpkin that’s hard, carving it at the last minute and keeping it from freezing temperatures. If it does freeze, it’ll rot when it thaws. The ideal climate for a healthy jack-o'-lantern is upper 50s to lower 60s.

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Another potential hazard for your unsuspecting gourd is the candle you put inside it. That’s the best part, we know, but since it’s obviously an open flame, the fire cooks the pumpkin’s flesh and brings it closer to an untimely death. Try using a battery operated lightbulb or glow-stick instead. Whatever you choose, the little people dressed as vampires, witches and ghosts will surely be impressed. They're only out for the candy, anyway. Don't disappoint by giving away the worst things you can hand out to trick-or-treaters.