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Decorate and extend the life of your pumpkin

It’s time to select and decorate pumpkins for your Halloween display. Get family and friends involved in a trip to the pumpkin farm and consider hosting a decorating party.

Whether you grew your own or plan on purchasing one at a farm or garden center, select pumpkins free of holes, cuts and soft spots for decorating. Damaged fruit tends to rot faster, ruining your fall display. And always carry the fruit cradled in your arms not by the stem. Once the stem breaks away from the fruit, the pumpkin is more susceptible to rot and its beauty fades.

Store carving pumpkins in a cool location until you are ready to start cutting. Extend the beauty of carved pumpkins by washing them with warm water and letting them dry before making the first cut. Try leaving the top intact and scooping the insides out through a hole in the back. This limits water entering the carved cavity and helps extend the life of your jack-o’-lantern.

Coat the cuts with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil to seal in the moisture and prolong your display. Take it one step further and use a commercial preservative or peppermint oil to keep your jack-o’-lantern looking its best for as long as possible.

Once in place, sprinkle your pumpkin with cayenne pepper to help repel hungry animals. Avoid touching your eyes and wash your hands thoroughly after using the cayenne pepper.

Don’t give up when your jack-o’-lantern begins to shrivel. Give it a cold bath to freshen up its appearance.

Or put away the knives and break out the paint and crayons to further extend your pumpkin’s beauty. A painted face or design can be just as impressive. And don’t worry if you have limited artistic ability; just download one of many free pumpkin templates.

Put all those broken crayons to use creating a multicolored crayon dripped pumpkin. You’ll wow guests and kids will enjoy this safer pumpkin decorating option.

Wipe the surface of the pumpkin clean and allow to it to dry before you start decorating. Remove the labels from the crayons and break them in half.

Glue the crayons to the top of the pumpkin to prevent them from rolling off the pumpkin while you work. Place one end of the crayon against the stem and the other end pointing away from the center of the pumpkin.

Use your hair dryer to melt the crayons so they’ll drip down the side of the pumpkin, creating a colorful waxy covering. A high heat setting will speed up the process but may make a bigger mess by splashing the melted wax all over the table.

To further dress up your landscape consider converting a few pumpkins into fall planters. Remove the top. Cut a hole large enough to accommodate the pot you’ll be inserting. Remove the seeds and flesh, cut a few drainage holes in the bottom and then set a pot of pansies, asters, mums or ornamental peppers inside.

When your pumpkins start to rot, move them to the compost pile. They will break down into a wonderful soil amendment to use in next year’s garden.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses How to Grow Anything DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio segments. Myers’ website, www.MelindaMyers.com, features gardening videos, podcasts, audio tips and monthly gardening checklists.

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