How do you keep a pumpkin from rotting? Expert tips to help this Halloween decor last longer

If there's one vegetable we associate with fall, it's the pumpkin. Read these tips to prevent yours from rotting to quickly

A woven basket full of pumpkins on a kitchen countertop
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The leaves are changing, the weather's colder and the nights are drawing in which can only mean one thing; Halloween is just around the corner. For us home decor obsessives, that also means Halloween decorations. Forget ghosts or ghouls though because there's a more traditional item (in the form of a vegetable) that's synonymous with this time of year, and that's the pumpkin. 

Be it pumpkin picking, pumpkin carving or pumpkin pie (or even a pumpkin spiced latte), there's no escaping this iconic winter veggie. Even if you're not a member of the Jack-o-lantern tribe, a pumpkin makes a beautiful decorative addition to your home, both indoors and outside. And, not only are they inexpensive, but they're sustainable too. 

Yet, those who've decorated with a pumpkin before will know how prone they are to rotting (after all, it is a vegetable). Since our fall celebrations continue through to Thanksgiving, you might be wondering how to make a pumpkin last, especially if you have young kids who hate to watch their carved masterpiece rot on the porch. 

Although we can't prevent it completely, there are a couple of things we can do to keep a pumpkin from rotting too quickly. So, with the help of some expert gardening advice, we take a look at them. 

Lilith headshot for bio
Lilith Hudson

Lilith is an expert at following news and trends across the world of interior design. She's committed to helping readers make the best choices in their homes through sharing practical tips and guides. With Halloween just around the corner, in this article she asks gardeners for their advise on how to prevent a pumpkin from rotting. 

Hold long do pumpkins last? 

Three different shaped pumpkins on a doorstep in front of a white door

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We won't deny it, all organic produce will inevitably rot. We're not promising to prevent your pumpkin from rotting completely, but what we can do is help you slow down the process. 

Before we take a look at how it's done, it's good to know how long pumpkins actually last. This of course depends on how fresh the pumpkin is when you bought it. Although if you've visited a pumpkin patch or grown your own, your pumpkin will be fresher, organic vegetables won't have added preservatives like those in a store. 

There's also the question of whether your pumpkin is carved. When carved and hollowed out, pumpkins are exposed to the air and will therefore decompose more quickly. 

'If a pumpkin hasn't been cut, it can last for about two to three months before showing signs of delay,' says Kevi Tara, gardening expert and owner of a plant nursery, LEAFnJOY (opens in new tab). 'However, for it to last that long, the pumpkin would need to be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place. Heat, humidity, and exposure to light will result in a faster decay of the pumpkin.' 

What about the most fun fall decor of all, a carved Jack-o-lantern? Since pumpkins are made up of about 90% water, they tend to mold, dehydrate and rot quickly once they've been cut. 'The hard pumpkin rind is a protective feature, sealing moisture and microbes from making their way into the soft pumpkin flesh,' explains Erinn Witz, a garden expert and co-founder of Seedsandspades (opens in new tab). 'Once that barrier has been broken, decay sets in pretty quickly.'   

You can expect a carved pumpkin to last about three to five days before it starts to wrinkle and decompose. (You'll probably notice the smell, too). However, if kept in a colder climate like your fridge, they could last closer a week or longer. 

How do you prevent a pumpkin from rotting? 

A carved pumpkin on a door step surrounded by autumn leaves

(Image credit: Alamy)

So, how can we stop a pumpkin from rotting? If you have kids who can't wait until Halloween to carve their pumpkin, you'll be pleased to hear that there are ways to help make them last once carved. What's more, most of the items you'll need can be found inside your home.

White Vinegar

Besides keeping your pumpkin in a cool, dry and dark spot, you can use a few household products to prevent them from rotting too fast. According to Kevi, white vinegar can be used to delay the rotting process. 'To kill bacteria and other spores, simply mix equal parts of cold water and vinegar then spray the pumpkin inside and out with the solution daily,' she says.

Some sources might advise you to use a solution of diluted bleach to spray on your pumpkin to ensure there's no bacteria on its surface but this could potentially be harmful to animals, especially if your pumpkin is outside, so we wouldn't recommend it. 

Silica Gel 

If you've ever wondered what those little packets of gel beads are inside packaging, they're a type of desiccant that holds water vapor to prevent moisture damage. They therefore also work well to prevent the decomposition of pumpkins by absorbing water. 

'One tip to slow down the natural decomposition process is to put one or two silica gel packets in your carved pumpkin,' Erinn suggests. 'The silica attracts moisture which should help get you a couple of extra days out of your Jack-o-lantern.' However, she also points out that silica gel is flammable so you should never use a real candle to light up your pumpkin in this instance. Instead, go with a battery powered one. 

Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly (better known as Vaseline) is not only healing ointment, but it works as a preservative, too, meaning it can help your pumpkin last longer. 'Simply cover all cut parts with Vaseline after you've finished carving it,' says Kevi. 'But you should also never use real candles inside your pumpkin since petroleum jelly is flammable.'

What about whole pumpkins?

An open shelving unit decorated with pumpkins and other halloween decorations

(Image credit: Alamy)

A collection of pumpkins in different colors and varieties make great fall table decor idea but not when they're turning into a sludgy rotten mess on your dining table. Luckily, some of the steps mentioned above can also be used to stop an intact pumpkin from rotting. 

Cleaning your pumpkin with the white vinegar solution will help prevent bacteria from breaking it down as quickly. Use a cloth and wipe it daily to keep it clean and fresh for longer. For an extra layer of protection, you can add Vaseline over it too to help preserve the rind. 

If your pumpkin is outside, be sure to bring it inside if a frost is forecast is cold damp weather will speed up the decomposition. 

What alternatives are there for longer lasting pumpkins?

 If the thought of maintaining a pumpkin only to eventually throw it away doesn't appeal to you, you could use artificial pumpkins instead, like these ones from Amazon (opens in new tab). This way you can cut the hassle of cleaning and reuse them every year.

There's also the option of painting a pumpkin. Not only is a more kid-friendly option than carving, but using acrylic paints on the surface will help preserve it for longer.