The Halloween tradition of pumpkin carving and jack-o’-lantern making comes from ancient Irish folklore surrounding Stingy Jack. As the story goes, Jack was a drunk who made a deal with Satan and was doomed to spend eternity roaming the earth with only a hollowed-out turnip to light the way. The name ‘jack-o’-lantern’ is thought to stem from a natural phenomenon in which strange lights can be seen flickering over peat bogs. This is also commonly known as ‘will-o’-the-wisp.’
Today, the art of pumpkin carving is a traditional Halloween activity and, every year, stores are filled with large, orange vegetables all ready to be scooped out and sculpted. Whether you’re a fan of fearsome faces or intricate designs, pumpkin carving is great fun – until, that is, you start to encounter pumpkin pests. Several species of insects are drawn to pumpkins and the seeds and pulp you scoop out of them, especially once they start to rot. But what are the most common pumpkin plant pests, and how can you avoid them this Halloween?
One of the main reasons rodents approach houses is to find food, and a carved-up pumpkin sitting out on your stoop makes for tempting bait.
Keep in mind!
Rats, squirrels, and mice will all flock to nibble at the large, decomposing vegetable outside your door, taking big chunks out of your lantern as a result.
This not only ruins the aesthetic of your Halloween decorations but also puts them just a few short steps away from being inside your home – an no-one wants to deal with a rodent invasion.
Though harmless to humans, aphids can decimate your garden if an infestation takes hold. These tiny, soft-bodied insects gather in large numbers and feed voraciously on young, succulent leaves and shoots, which can severely damage indoor and greenhouse plants. They are also one of the most common pumpkin pests and, if you aren’t careful, can hitch a ride into your home on the produce you bring back from the store.
Fruit flies are a year-round nuisance, but they are especially active in late summer and fall. You are especially likely to find them buzzing around your jack-o’-lantern this Halloween because they are very attracted to rotting or fermented fruit and vegetables. After just a few days of sitting out on your front porch, your lovingly-carved jack-o’-lantern will inevitably start to decay, attracting fruit lies from far and wide. As the decomposition of your pumpkin progresses, you’ll probably notice greater and greater numbers of these pumpkin insects buzzing around.
Another creature that finds decaying organic matter irresistible is the earwig, and a common pumpkin-invading pest. Once your jack-o’-lantern is past it’s best and starting to droop, earwigs often arrive in droves to feast on the mushy, rotting vegetable.
Top tips for effective pumpkin pest control
Choose your pumpkin wisely
When shopping for a pumpkin, inspect those veggies carefully before selecting one to take home. The aim is to keep your pumpkin as fresh as possible, so begin by looking for the freshest one you can find. Fresh pumpkin is firm and bright orange, with a bright green stem. Next, check for wounds and holes in the outer skin of the pumpkin. Smooth, unbroken skin is less likely to harbor bugs.
Inspect your pumpkin carefully before bringing it home
If you want to avoid introducing a new pest species to your houseplant, inspect your pumpkin and its stem carefully before bringing it into your home. If you see bugs, spray the pumpkin with a firm water jet to knock them off before bringing it indoors.
Discard of pumpkin innards properly
For some people, scooping out the slimy, fleshy innards and seeds of the pumpkin is the best part of lantern-carving. This soft, juicy goo is the most delicious part of the plant for most pests species, however, so it’s important to discard of it properly.
Make sure you’ve done a thorough job of gutting your pumpkin, and that you haven’t left any flesh clinging to the inside of the vegetable.
Once you’ve finished, wrap up the flesh and seeds firmly before disposing of them in the trash. Alternatively, you can use this part to whip up a pumpkin pie or roast the seeds to crispy, salty deliciousness.
Use lemon juice to delay rotting
Pumpkins only really start to attract pests once they begin to rot. Once they’ve been cut into, this is inevitable; however, you can delay the process by rubbing the outside of your pumpkin with lemon juice. This is because lemon juice has antimicrobial properties that help to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi that cause organic matter to decompose. It also helps to store your lantern in a cool, dry place, as excess moisture can accelerate the rotting process. Proper treatment and storage of your pumpkin can help to keep it fresh for longer, therefore reducing the number of bugs that are attracted to it.
Spray your pumpkin with a pest-repelling concoction
Another effective way of keeping insects off your pumpkin is to make it unpalatable to pests. Don’t reach for the insecticides yet, though; you can easily whip up a non-toxic pest repellent spray at home using dish soap. Simply mix a teaspoon of liquid dish soap with water in a spray bottle and use this to spritz the inside and outside of your freshly carved pumpkin. The taste and smell of the soap is enough to repel a wide variety of pests, and will effectively discourage critters from nibbling on your lantern.
Pumpkin-carving is one of the more enjoyable Halloween traditions, and no house looks complete without a Jack-o’-lantern out front on the 31st. Unfortunately, a whole host of creepy-crawlies and pests are drawn to rotting vegetation, and your pumpkin is no exception. Within a few days, your pumpkin will begin to attract flies, rodents, earwigs and more, unless you take proper control measures to keep your jack-o’-lantern pest-free.