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When to buy your pumpkins for Halloween: Tips for buying pumpkins before they run out

Discover the ideal time for buying Halloween pumpkins

A family having fun in a pumpkin patch
pikselstock / Shutterstock

Fall is such a fun season. There’s apple picking, hayrides, those inviting leaf piles, and of course Halloween. October 31st is one of the most highly anticipated days of the year for candy-loving kids, and it’s a pretty exciting one to celebrate for family members of all ages. Costumes, decorations, trick or treating, and jack-o’-lantern carving all combine to make it an all-around awesome holiday.

Once the calendar hits September and the kiddos are back at school, those pumpkin patches start looking very inviting. The temptation is to go pumpkin picking before the local farms get crazy is huge. The closer you get to Halloween, the more people start heading to the pumpkin patches for fall activities. Is there a right time to buy Halloween pumpkins?

An autumn Halloween pumpkin patch
JamesChen / Shutterstock

Pumpkin-buying tips

Pumpkins are a popular fall and Halloween decoration. Since pumpkin spice starts making an appearance around Labor Day, is actually September too early to start picking pumpkins? Well, just like any fruit, choosing the right pumpkin is important, especially if you want it to last through Halloween. No one wants a mushy jack-o’-lantern on their front porch just in time for Mischief Night or a rotten pumpkin when it’s time for carving.

So, is there a perfect time for buying Halloween pumpkins? The short answer is yes. Pumpkins are typically ripe for the picking in October. If you choose wisely, your fall pumpkins can last in your autumn display until Thanksgiving. Jack-o’-lanterns are another story, though. Carving your pumpkin will shorten its life on your porch, but for a good cause. Before heading out to the pumpkin patch this fall, keep these pumpkin-buying tips in your back pocket.

When to buy Halloween pumpkins

Pumpkins will last for two to three months if they’re not carved, so you don’t have to worry about them rotting until you cut into them. If you want to display them on your doorstep just as pumpkins or painted instead of carved, anytime in September or October will do.

Pumpkins are an acceptable autumn decoration, not just Halloween. When uncarved, pumpkins be displayed through November along with gourds. It is, after all, part of the gourd family. For this reason, you can buy your pumpkin in September, if you want, but there is no rule about the correct time to buy. A month before or a week before Halloween are both fine as long as you don’t carve.

The rule of thumb is to carve close to Halloween, but don’t buy close to Halloween. If you leave buying Halloween pumpkins to the weekend before October 31st, you will most likely get stuck with yucky, or ones invested with bugs.

You want your jack-o’-lantern to be at its peak on Halloween night, not on its way out. Carve it as close to October 31 as you can and resist the urge to get it done too far in advance. There are plenty of other Halloween crafts to do all October long.

Where to buy Halloween pumpkins

There usually isn’t a shortage of places to buy pumpkins come mid-September. When to go to purchase pumpkins depends on what’s important to you. Consider price, convenience, kids’ experience, and time invested. Grocery stores and mega-marts often have pumpkins available during right after Labor Day. You can easily pick one up on your regular grocery run.

The price would be fine, and the pumpkin would be clean. Grocery store pumpkins are often sourced from local farms too. The only downside is that there wouldn’t be a fun pumpkin-picking outing for the family. Kiddos will probably feel disappointed they didn’t go out to a pumpkin patch to pick pumpkins. This may or may not be an option for you, depending on how urban your area is and the age and interest level of your kids.

If you go to a pumpkin patch, the price will be relatively similar to going to the store. The main attraction of buying Halloween pumpkins at a patch is the experience. Kids get to hunt for pumpkins, go on a hayride, and more. Many local pumpkin patches turn pumpkin picking into a fall festival of fun.

How do you pick a pumpkin that can go the distance?

Whether you choose a pumpkin at a market or grocery store, pick one that is hard, firm, and solid instead of soft. Don’t choose a pumpkin with nicks, holes, sunken spots, or blemishes. Letting air inside a pumpkin initiates the rotting process. If you’re at the pumpkin patch, try to stick a fingernail in the pumpkin’s skin. If you can’t get your nail in, the pumpkin is ready for picking. If you can stick your nail in the skin, then the pumpkin isn’t mature enough for picking.

pumpkin with top carved and seeds in bowl next to it
Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Give jack-o’-lanterns a helping hand

The weekend before Halloween is the ideal to carve pumpkins into a jack-o’-lantern. Typically, a jack-o’-lantern lasts around five to 10 days once it’s been cut. Of course, you can let nature take its course. If you want to extend the life of your jack-o’-lantern, give it a boost.

Bleach is one way to help jack-o’-lanterns last longer. One way is to soak your jack-o’-lantern in a bucket of water. Add one tablespoon of bleach per quart of water before carefully placing your pumpkin in the bucket. Soak for 20 minutes. Use rubber gloves to avoid your hands coming in contact with the bleach/water mix. If you’d rather not soak the jack-o’-lantern, you can mix up the water/bleach solution and pour it into a spray bottle. Carefully spray the inside and outside of the jack-o,-lantern with the water/bleach solution. A paintbrush can also be used to coat the interior and exterior of the jack-o,-lantern. Regardless of the way you choose, allow the jack-o,-lantern to air dry before adding it to the fall display.

For a more natural approach, try peppermint. Mix one tablespoon of peppermint in a quart of water and spray the inside and outside of the jack-o,-lantern. Painting it on works too.

The bleach or peppermint solution helps to keep the critters away, too. Decaying isn’t the only enemy of pumpkins and jack-o,-lanterns. Squirrels, chipmunks, and mice enjoy pumpkin in the fall too.

adult carving a pumpkin
Ground Picture / Shutterstock

It’s the Great Pumpkin!

Pumpkins are such a fun part of fall and Halloween. Buying Halloween pumpkins is an activity the whole family can enjoy doing together every fall. If you choose your pumpkins carefully, they can even last in those autumn displays through November.

Remember, it’s not when you buy them but when you carve them when it comes to jack-o’-lanterns. The closer to Halloween, the better where carving is concerned. Be on the lookout for solid pumpkins with smooth, unbroken skin. You don’t need Linus’ Great Pumpkin to help when it comes to buying Halloween pumpkins. Just keep our pumpkin-buying tips in mind whether you’re going to a patch or market.

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Sarah Prager
Sarah is a writer and mom who lives in Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, National…
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