How to Keep the Squirrels from Eating Your Pumpkins

A cautionary tale.

I've gone to war with the squirrels over my Jack-o-Lantern.

Squirrel eating jack-o-lantern
terry6970/Getty Images

Today, I present a cautionary tale. I know that I carved my pumpkin too early. I knew it was too much to hope that in the deep South and our not so mild fall temps, my adorable Cheshire Cat gorgeous gourd wouldn't stand a chance against the bugs and the mold and the general yuck. But I carved my pumpkin while visiting my nieces and nephews last Friday. It was definitely too far out to last until Halloween, but we had fun. I even did a quick search on how to preserve the pumpkin longer and saw that hairspray might do the trick. Spoiler alert: It does not. The bugs seemed to love the hairspray.

What I didn't expect was a broad daylight attack by squirrels as I stood in my window in plain sight. I looked up from my Sunday afternoon Halloween movie marathon to see a squirrel right on my balcony as it leapt down to the table with the pumpkin on it. I then became a crazed lady at the door, knocking on the window and shouting at my intruder. The furry fiend scurried off. I then did a quick Google search on how to keep the uninvited guest away from my gourd and came up with suggestions of spraying it with Pledge. This seemed to do the trick, well a little. There were still little nibbles, but I guess the squirrel didn't like the taste of the lemon-scented cleaner because there were only a few bites taken. I cannot say the same for my friend, Charlene Honeycutt who sent me the following with the message, "Me: I can't ever seem to carve a scary face. Squirrels: We got you."

charlene's pumpkin
Charlene Honeycutt

This had me thinking, well, what should we have done? I couldn't recall a time that squirrels had ravaged my festive creations before, but surely it is a common problem, and someone knows how to curb it. I reached out to the experts at Orkin. Ben Hottel, Technical Services Manager, kindly sent along these tips:

  • After carving, sprinkling ground cayenne pepper on your pumpkin could help. It contains an ingredient called capsaicin, which is also found in chili peppers, and it could help prevent squirrels from invading your pumpkin. This ingredient is also often found in bird seed as a squirrel-deterrent.
  • When it comes to carving your pumpkin, wait as long as possible. Once sliced open and gutted, pumpkins can start rotting within a week. Deciding when to carve your pumpkin can be highly dependent on weather. If you live in an area that is cooler this time of year, you will have fewer issues with insects and more issues with vertebrate pests such as squirrels. If you see the pumpkin start to slump or attract pests, it is probably time to throw it out. Orkin offers pest control services that conduct perimeter treatments around houses, which could help reduce some of the crawling pests in the area that might try to attack pumpkins.
  • When carving, remove all the guts. The more guts you remove, the less attractive the pumpkin will be to pests. Getting rid of moisture also makes it more difficult for bacteria to take root and cause the gourd to rot.
  • Don't leave your carved pumpkins out in the rain. They will get moldy and insects will start congregating in the water that pools up, in turn, prompting you to throw out your hard-earned Jack-O-Lantern.

It's too late for Charlene and it's too late for me, but if you've waited to carve your pumpkins, heed the above advice and happy haunting.

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