Short and tall. Fat and round. Bright orange, pale pink, even green.

Now is the season for pumpkins, and you can find them in all shapes and sizes and a rainbow of colors.

Whether it's Halloween jack-o'-lanterns, a holiday centerpiece or an arrangement by your front door or for your fireplace mantel, pumpkins make the best decorations.

However, they are perishable. But there are a few simple steps you can take to extend the life of your pumpkins.

First, pick the best pumpkins. Look for pumpkins with firm stems that are at least a few inches long. If the stems are missing, loose or decaying, the pumpkin will rot faster.

Avoid pumpkins with dents or bruises. A deep nick or scratch will speed deterioration.

How you plan to display your pumpkin — carved, painted or natural — will determine how to best preserve it.

Carved pumpkins

Medium and jumbo pumpkins make the best jack-o'-lanterns. But, once you carve it, your pumpkin will start to decay faster. So wait until just a few days before Halloween to create your masterpiece.

First, scoop out all of the seeds and strings. Then, carve your design. After carving, rinse out the inside with water. Make sure to get out the loose pumpkin pulp as that is what will rot first. 

When you've finished your design, submerge your pumpkin in water. Add two teaspoons of bleach for every gallon of water needed. Be sure to wear protective gloves, clothing and eye wear when working with bleach.

Keep your pumpkin submerged for at least three minutes. Remove the pumpkin and allow it to air dry.

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Finish by rubbing mineral oil over all surfaces, inside and out.

This simple process should make your carved pumpkins last a little longer.

Painted pumpkins 

Painted pumpkins last longer than carved pumpkins because you are not exposing the innards to air.

Before painting, wash pumpkins in a solution of a few teaspoons of bleach mixed with a gallon of water. The bleach kills fungus and other bacteria that can cause premature rotting. Again, be sure to wear protective gloves, eye wear and clothing.

After the pumpkin dries, let your imagination and paintbrush go to work. The good news is that the paint acts much like the mineral oil, creating a shield to keep moisture out.

Once the paint dries, wipe the pumpkin down with mineral oil to give it a beautiful sheen.

Natural pumpkins

You can keep natural, whole pumpkins looking great for a couple of months with this two-part process: Wipe down the pumpkin with a solution of a few teaspoons of bleach mixed with a gallon of water. Protect your eyes, clothes and hands. 

After the pumpkin dries, you want to seal out moisture. So wipe it down with mineral, vegetable or olive oil, petroleum jelly or even a good car wax. A spray matte sealer will also work.

For a natural centerpiece, gather a few mini pumpkins and some pine cones, fall flowers or leaves. Larger pumpkins, combined with branches, tall grasses, pots of colorful flowers or hay bales make stunning statements on your front porch or steps.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.