One of the most time-honored fall traditions is carving a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern. It’s something that kids, adults and insects look forward to as soon as the leaves start changing colors. After hours laboring over every detail, the last thing you want is a swarm of hungry bugs feasting on your Halloween decor.
The freshly-opened insides of a pumpkin are just too tempting for most bugs to pass up. It’s like putting a bowl of opened candy on your front porch, especially once the pumpkin starts rotting.
But that’s not going to happen this fall. We’ve rounded up our top tips on how to keep your jack-o-lantern looking great and free of yard pests well beyond Halloween.
Understand Pumpkin Anatomy
First things first, preserving a jack-o-lantern begins with understanding what will cause a pumpkin to rot. The flesh of a pumpkin acts as a protective layer, much like human skin. As soon as you pierce through a pumpkin’s skin it’s vulnerable to insects, mold, bacteria and fungi. All of these things will speed up decomposition.
Oxygenation also causes molecular changes that lead to rot. Dehydration is another problem that will cause a jack-o-lantern to look shriveled and withered.
Start by Picking the Right Pumpkin
For advice on picking the best pumpkin we defer to the master of home decor – Martha Stewart. Generally speaking, you want to avoid picking a pumpkin that’s already on its last leg since it will start to decompose and attract flies much quicker. Ms. Stewart says a fresh pumpkin should be deep orange and the stem should be bright green.
Cucurbitologists (pumpkin experts) also suggest looking for a very firm pumpkin that’s free of blemishes. Wounds, frost damage and holes are weak spots that give insects easy access.
Clean Out All of the Guts
The pulp inside the pumpkin is the most delicious part. The less there is to nosh on, the fewer bugs there will be looking for a free meal. After cutting a hole in the top of the pumpkin, use a spoon or spatula to scrape the inside clean. You may need to apply a bit of pressure to remove it all. Bonus: Removing all of the pulp also reduces mold growth inside the jack-o-lantern.
Treat the Outside to Delay Rotting
Most jack-o-lanterns begin to rot about a week after carving. You can prolong the life of your jack-o-lantern by treating the outside with lemon juice. Once you’re done carving, rub lemon juice on the outside of the pumpkin.
The acid in the lemon juice helps maintain the color, delays rotting and keeps insects away by preventing oxygen from interacting with enzymes in the pumpkin. You can also use vaseline or vegetable oil to create a protective barrier.
Spray the Inside With Bleach Water
You can protect the outside of the pumpkin with lemon juice, but what about the fleshy inside? Spraying the inside of your jack-o-lantern with a solution of one teaspoon of bleach to one gallon of water can provide three benefits.
First, it will prevent many bugs from crawling around inside. Bleach taste just as bad to bugs as it does to humans. Second, bleach water helps the pumpkin stay moist inside to delay rotting. Third, bleach is an antimicrobial solution that prevents mold growth.
Light a Citronella Candle Inside
Light has a way of attracting some insects, which means your illuminated jack-o-lantern is a bug beacon. That is, unless you use a citronella candle inside. Then suddenly your jack-o-lantern becomes a way to get rid of bugs rather than attracting them. But keep one thing in mind – candles of any kind can shorten the life of a pumpkin by heating up the inside.
Keep the Jack-o-Lantern Out of the Sun
Be mindful of where you place your jack-o-lanterns out in the yard. Sun exposure will speed up the decomposition process of the pumpkin once you cut into it. Avoid direct sunlight whenever possible by putting the jack-o-lantern on the porch where it’s also up off the ground.
Store Your Jack-o-Lantern in the Fridge
Prolonging the life of your jack-o-lantern and protecting it from bugs also depends on how you store it. Ideally, pumpkins should be kept around 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperatures dip below that jack-o-lanterns should be brought inside to avoid freezing. A freeze will inevitably lead to thawing, which speeds up the decomposition process.
Some people clear out space in their fridge for the jack-o-lantern so it continues looking fresh for as long as possible. Storing the jack-o-lantern in the fridge overnight also prevents early morning and nocturnal insects that bite at night from munching on the pumpkin.
Did your jack-o-lantern invite a pest infestation? The team at Vulcan Termite and Pest Control Inc. can provide custom pest control treatments as well as personalized advice on how to prevent pests around your home this fall. Give us a call today to schedule an on-site inspection.