How to stop pests eating jack-o'-lanterns – expert ways to keep critters at bay

Make sure Halloween decor lasts. These are the strategies that stop pests from snacking on carved pumpkins

jack o' lanterns and spider decorations on doorway steps
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Carving a pumpkin is an unmissable Halloween tradition so it’s a shame when the spooky display also proves a major attraction for the bugs and critters that can ruin your handiwork.

The local wildlife is bound to take notice of Halloween decorating ideas that provide an easy meal, but your goal is to stop the pests eating the jack-o’-lantern on the front porch so you can enjoy the ghastly results of pumpkin carving ideas for as long as possible.

We asked the experts to reveal the ways to keep the uninvited diners away from a carved pumpkin, and these are the tricks they shared.

Clever ways to stop pests eating jack-o’-lanterns

Bugs and other critters like to feast on jack-o’-lanterns. However, they can be discouraged from turning their attention to the outdoor Halloween decor that’s bringing the season’s eerie atmosphere to your home. This is what you need to know about why carved pumpkins lure pests and what to do about it.

spider web pumpkin

(Image credit: Alamy)
  • Keep the yard tidy Take proper care of your lawn, advises Meg Pearson. ‘Keep the yard well manicured, as many smaller animals thrive in areas with unkempt lawns,’ she explains.
  • Seal your home ‘Additionally, making sure your home is sealed and there are no available entry points will reduce the local critter population thus reducing the chances they make a meal out of the pumpkin,’ says Meg. ‘You may also want to keep your jack-o’-lantern on an elevated surface that may be difficult for an animal to access.’
  • Prepare the pumpkin the right way ‘Firstly, ensure that you completely remove and dispose of the pumpkin guts, as this moist part of the pumpkin is particularly attractive to pests,’ recommends Autumn Hilliard-Knapp. ‘It is best practice to thoroughly dry out the inside of the pumpkin with a rag or paper towels.’
  • Use a citronella candle ‘For even further protection I would consider placing a citronella candle inside the pumpkin,’ says Autumn.
  • Opt for vinegar While some recommend using a bleach solution to spray the inside of a jack-o’-lantern to deter pests, bleach is harmful and even fatal for creatures who feed on a pumpkin treated this way, according to the Toronto Wildlife Center. ‘To safely preserve your pumpkin, instead use a natural solution of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water,’ the center recommends instead.
  • Try cinnamon Another alternative is cinnamon, according to Bryan Clayton, garden expert and founder of GreenPal. ‘A natural repellent that works wonders is a cinnamon spray,’ he explains. ‘Just mix a couple of tablespoons of cinnamon with water and spray it inside and around the jack-o’-lantern. It’s a great way to keep away a variety of critters.‘
  • Resort to a physical barrier Bryan suggests, ‘A small chicken wire fence or similar barrier can be an effective way to physically keep pests away from your jack- o’-lantern. It's not the prettiest solution but it works,’ he says.

Which pests are attracted to jack-o’-lanterns?

Beasties of a variety of sizes are likely to come after jack-o’-lanterns. ‘Many rodents such as mice, rats, and squirrels will be interested in feeding on your jack-o’-lantern, but they may also attract larger animals, such raccoons, opossums, groundhogs, and deer,’ says Meg Pearson, training manager at Critter Control, a humane nuisance wildlife removal company.

A variety of insects are also drawn to them. ‘Fruit flies, ants, gnats, and earwigs are some of the main pests that are attracted to jack-o’-lanterns,’ says Autumn Hilliard-Knapp, horticulture specialist at Perfect Plants Nursery.

Meg Pearson
Meg Pearson

Meg Pearson is the training manager at Critter Control, a humane nuisance wildlife removal service. She advises on rodent and other wildlife issues within the home and garden, and the costs associated with preventing and addressing these, as well as the risks pests pose to our families and pets.

Autumn Hilliard-Knapp
Autumn Hilliard-Knapp

Autumn is a horticulture specialist and marketing professional at Perfect Plants Nursery. With four years of experience in the horticulture industry, she has developed a passion for helping people create beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy. Her expertise in horticulture encompasses a broad range of activities, including plant care and selection, landscape design, and maintenance.

What attracts pests to jack-o’-lanterns?

We’re delighted by the results of carving pumpkins, but what’s the lure of Halloween porch decor for the local wildlife? ‘Though your annual jack-o’-lantern is a fun piece of fall decor, it can essentially act as a free meal for the local critter community,’ says Meg Pearson. ‘Many critters are opportunist and will quickly take advantage of the pumpkin decor.’

‘The delectable interior of jack o’lanterns acts as a magnet for pests,’ agrees Autumn Hilliard-Knapp. ‘Pumpkins are a desirable treat for many pests, and when transformed into a jack-o’-lantern, the scent becomes particularly enticing. The carved openings provide convenient entry points for pests to reach the interior of the pumpkin. Pests also find the inside of the pumpkin to be an ideal location for reproduction, as it offers abundant nourishment for their offspring, contributing to the proliferation of pests.’

sculpted jack o lantern

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Pest prevention tactics to avoid

There are ways to keep critters away from spooktacular jack-o’-lanterns as we’ve seen; there are, however, a couple of methods you should avoid. 

‘Some people wrap their pumpkins in plastic wrap overnight thinking it will protect them,’ says Bryan Clayton. ‘Not only is it not effective, but it also traps moisture, leading to a quicker rot.’

Chemical pesticides should be swerved, too. ‘You might think a quick spray of pesticide will do the trick, but it's not recommended,’ he says. ‘Many pests can tolerate these sprays, and you don’t want to put chemicals where kids might be touching the pumpkins.’ 


What can you spray on a carved pumpkin?

A carved pumpkin can be sprayed with a mixture that uses pantry ingredients. ‘Make a simple repelling spray from water, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice,’ suggests homesteader Lindsey Chastain, the founder of The Waddle and Cluck. ‘Apply it liberally to your finished jack-o’-lantern daily.’

A jack-o’-lantern creates the right ghastly atmosphere, but if the attentions of critters put you off, don’t forget the alternatives to pumpkin carving that avoid exposing the attractive interior. Pumpkin painting and other no-carve pumpkin ideas can produce equally spine-chilling results. A display of pumpkins and lanterns can look great on the porch, too, and can be teamed with other Halloween craft ideas, for a homemade spookfest.

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.