How Long Do Pumpkins Last?
This is what you need to know about pumpkin picking, care and storage for the block's best fall decor.
The fall season shows up in many ways—Pumpkin Spice Lattes, autumnal takes on comfort food like pumpkin ravioli, breaking out pumpkin-scented candles. No one has forgotten about apple cider doughnuts, but the everything-pumpkin craze is a sure sign that fall has officially arrived.
With pumpkin purchases skyrocketing at this time of year, it’s good to know the shelf life of the seasonal fruit—yes, technically to botanists, pumpkins are fruits, even though most people call them vegetables. So, how long do pumpkins last? There are several things to take into consideration, like pumpkin variety and intended use, but we’ve gathered the info you need to know before you head to the pumpkin patch.
How Long Do Carved Pumpkins Last?
Carving pumpkins is a Halloween tradition, and a full-fledged family event in my home. There’s something eerie yet whimsical about the glow of candlelit jack-o’-lanterns lining front porches—until they start to look a little off.
Don’t be surprised when your jack-o’-lanterns break down faster than their intact counterparts. Realistically, you’ll only get a few days out of your carved pumpkin before it begins to rot. Plant Care Today says that carved pumpkins generally last between three and five days, though some can stretch it to two weeks. Keep in mind that factors like weather and sunlight also affect how quickly the produce will decompose.
Pumpkins have thick, tough skin, the kind that protects a delicate inside. Once that protective barrier is broken, it’s an open invite for bacteria and fungi to start breaking down the pumpkin’s contents. Luckily, there are ways to preserve a pumpkin and get a few more weeks out of it.
How Long Do Whole Pumpkins Last?
Pumpkins are usually harvested in September and October. Once off the vine, healthy pumpkins will last for a few months—from three to a whole year—if they’re stored properly. During the pumpkin-picking process, there are a few things to keep in mind, according to gardener Mary Jane Duford and her blog, Home for the Harvest.
Opt for the healthiest-looking pumpkins. You might think bigger is better when it comes to pumpkins, but that’s not always the case. Look closely for soft spots, bruising and rot, as pumpkins can often get damaged during harvest and transportation.
Consider cured pumpkins. Some farmers move their pumpkins from vine to a storage space kept at room temperature—this allows it to cure. Higher temps encourage the pumpkin’s outer skin, or rind, to harden, in turn allowing it to last longer than its uncured counterparts. It’s worth asking your local farmer about their harvesting process!
Don’t carry by the stem. If you’re about to hop on a hayride and pluck your own pumpkin from the vine, be conscious not to carry it around by the stem once it’s harvested. Broken, damaged stems are common, and result in a shorter shelf life. Bring a pair of gloves, and make sure to review our pumpkin-picking tips before you head to the patch.
How Long Do Mini Pumpkins Last?
Miniature pumpkins are perfect for fall decoration without the hassle of hauling full-sized gourds home. While there are many different colors and hybrid varieties, after being harvested, mini pumpkins will generally last longer than normal-sized ones.
On average, Specialty Produce cites that petite white pumpkins, like White Gooligans and Casperitas, will last between six and 12 months, given the right storage conditions. The more common orange varieties have a similar shelf life, unless you decide to use them for cooking. They go great with other roasted seasonal vegetables!
How Long Do Pie Pumpkins Last?
Perhaps our community of seasoned cooks already knew this, but the type of pumpkin used for Fresh Pumpkin Pie is often not the same variety used for carving jack-o’-lanterns. While you can still eat the latter, it probably won’t be very sweet.
Pie pumpkins, also referred to as a Sugar Pumpkin, are smaller, denser and darker in color than the pumpkins we pick to carve for Halloween. The pulp inside is thicker and has a rich orange color, and will have a discernibly sweeter taste than larger, more common varieties. Generally, these pumpkins come into season toward the beginning of fall and last for about three months after harvest.
You can roast the seeds from large, mini and pie pumpkin varieties. Here’s our tried-and-true recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds.
How Can You Tell When a Pumpkin Has Gone Bad?
The most obvious sign of a spiraling pumpkin is softening skin and visible decay. If a whole, uncarved pumpkin begins to rot, Eat by Date shares that it will first soften on the bottom, where it comes into contact with a surface, and likely begin to leak fluid. For carved pumpkins, signs of rot—drying, browning pulp and collapse—are easier to see and will progress quickly. Either way, it’s best to get rid of pumpkins showing these signs as soon as you can; they can stain surfaces and attract bugs.
How Should You Store Pumpkins?
If you get your pumpkins early—a few weeks before you plan to carve them—storing them the right way will help make sure they stay in shape until Halloween.
Give them a rinse. Clean pumpkins are happy pumpkins. Soak them in a tub of water and spray them with diluted bleach or vinegar to help prevent rot. Gently pat dry with a cloth towel.
Stay away from sunlight. The darker and drier the storage space is, the better. Direct sunlight and heat will speed up the rotting process, and cold temperatures can inflict still damage. Somewhere between 50° and 60°F is the sweet spot, according to Gardening Know How.
Avoid concrete. If you can, store your uncarved pumpkins on a layer of cardboard, hay or wood. Pumpkins will rot faster on concrete. You can even store them in hanging baskets!
With some pumpkin-picking tips, the right conditions and a little TLC, you can keep your pumpkins bright orange and durable throughout the fall season. We’ll help you get started—here are some places to buy pumpkins this fall.