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Phone: 630-584-6166
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7775-B Illinois Route 47
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News Release

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How to Pick a Pumpkin and Help it Last

Ornamental pumpkins set the scene for fall holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving.

“Making wise choices when picking or purchasing your pumpkins is important to their appearance, use and longevity,” said University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Richard Hentschel.

When picking pumpkins from the field, local farm or even a store, keep an eye out for these things:

  • First, look for pumpkins with stems, at least two inches long. “Do not pick one without a stem. They do not last as long,” Hentschel warns. “Also never carry a pumpkin by the stem.”
  • Next, make sure the pumpkin is free of obvious dark marks or soft spots, cuts and bruises. The skin should be intact and firm, Hentschel said.
  • Also, you may want to choose one that is symmetrical with a flat bottom so it sits well, especially for carving.
  • For seasonal outdoor displays, choose a variety sizes to create a pleasing arrangement, and consider adding in ornamental gourds for other colors, shapes and textures, said Hentschel.

When you get home from pumpkin picking, wash each one gently with warm water and dry thoroughly. Keep or display them in a shady, cool place, if possible.

“Heat and sun will cause all pumpkins, carved or not, to soften and deteriorate faster,” said Hentschel. “If you decide not to carve your pumpkins, proper care may even allow you to show them all season long into Thanksgiving.”

If you do plan to carve pumpkins for Halloween, Hentschel said to consider timing, lighting and cutting:

  • Do not cut too early. “Just a day or two before you expect to light them up is best,” he said. “You can still display them as whole pumpkins in the week or two before Halloween.”
  • If using a traditional candle as the light, create a vent hole in the backside near the top and place the votive inside a glass to contain the flame and protect it from the wind, he explained. You also may want to check out battery-powered LED lights, tea lights or other safe, efficient light sources this year.
  • Use a sharp tool when carving, and coat cut-outs with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil to slow down shrinking from moisture loss.

“When making decisions about your ornamental pumpkins this year, keep these tips in mind to make the most out of your display and your dollars.”

Learn more about pumpkin varieties, selection and farms, visit extension.illinois.edu/pumpkins 

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Source: Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator, Horticulture, hentsche@illinois.edu