After Halloween’s spooktacular fun has ended, you’re probably wondering what to do with those carefully carved Jack O’ Lanterns. It’d be a shame just to throw them away! After all, either you or a farmer worked hard to grow them, and they are still biodegradable and edible even after they’re cut with grinning faces. Fortunately, they don’t have to go to waste! Here, we’ll give you eco-friendly and creative ideas to reuse your Jack O’Lanterns.
You can reuse carved pumpkins in your garden, kitchen, and craft room. From composting to art projects to fun recipes, let’s dig into 19 ways to use Halloween Jack O’ Lanterns after the festivities have passed!
Ideas for Old Halloween Jack O’ Lanterns
Amidst all the candy wrappers and plastic pales, it’s nice to know that most traditional Halloween decor (like straw bales, corn mazes, and pumpkins) is still natural and biodegradable. As long as you don’t use preservatives, paint them, or dip them in glitter, spent Jack O’ Lanterns have abundant secondhand uses, so they don’t have to go to the landfill.
Chop ‘Em Up and Compost
If decoration-free, you can add pumpkin scraps to compost in smaller pieces.
Reuse your Jack O’Lanterns in your compost! Organic matter is any once-living material that microorganisms can decompose to incorporate into the soil. Jack o’ lanterns fit the bill so long as they are free of any synthetic decor. Pumpkin skins and flesh are a valuable addition to your compost pile.
Use a knife, axe, or shovel to chop the pumpkin into smaller pieces. The smaller chunks will speed up the process and make incorporating the pumpkin with other compost ingredients like leaf litter or grass clippings easier.
Remember to keep your compost pile well-aerated and monitor the temperature. If it doesn’t get hot enough, you may have a few volunteer pumpkin plants sprout next spring from the pile or the bed where you add the compost. Fortunately, they are easy to remove or let ramble!
Make a Pumpkin Planter
A pumpkin planter is a charming decoration for November, as you can fill it with soil to hold decorative plants.
A pumpkin planter is a really cute way to reuse Jack O’Lanterns and decorate for November festivities. You’ve already done the first step of hollowing out your pumpkins. This makes them easy to fill with soil to hold a decorative plant. Try a clump of chrysanthemums, orchids, succulents, or bulbs like daffodils.
Did your smiley face carvings leave large holes? Just line the bottom of the pumpkin with a layer of burlap, newspaper, or paper bags before adding the soil. Be sure to choose a species-specific soil blend, like peat moss for orchids or a well-drained cactus mix for succulents. Transplant into the pumpkin just like it’s a pot!
To multiply the functionality, use your pumpkin planter for species you plan to transplant outdoors in the spring. The expired Jack O’ Lantern will act like a biodegradable pot that you can plant directly in the ground.
When the pumpkin starts to soften or sag, you have two options. Either plant the entire pumpkin with its flowers into the ground, allowing your plants to continue feeding on the decaying squash, or gently transplant your flowers to a new container and compost the remaining pumpkin.
Make Pumpkin Puree
Transform your expired Halloween pumpkins into pumpkin bread.
Pumpkin bread is a holiday classic you can make from your uncarved Halloween decor! Why buy canned pumpkin puree to bake with when you already have an abundance of squash to enjoy? Making pumpkin puree to use in baking is a great use for pumpkins that you painted instead of carved; just scrub the paint off the pumpkin’s exterior before you bake it.
Set your oven to 350°F. Carefully cut your pumpkin in half, then remove the seeds and stringy material inside. Lightly brush the cut pumpkin edges with oil, then place it cut side down into a roasting pan or a sheet pan with sides. Add just enough water to come just barely up the side of the pumpkin, enabling you to steam and roast simultaneously.
Roast for 45-55 minutes or until the pumpkin skin is soft and easily pierced with a fork, then allow it to cool before scooping the soft flesh out. Mash the flesh into fresh pumpkin puree that you can use immediately or freeze for later!
However, if you have carved your pumpkin, burned candles inside your Jack O’ Lantern, or can see any visible mold, avoiding edible uses altogether is best. Similarly, avoid eating pumpkin flesh that has been treated with a preservative to slow down decay; using a treatment on the flesh renders it inedible for humans, pets, or wildlife.
Roast Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are nutritious and tasty.
Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds are among the most nutritious and delicious seeds you can eat from your garden! Reuse your Jack O’Lantern to make this healthful treat. If you haven’t already scooped out your Jack O’ Lantern seeds, sort through the stringy flesh and lay the plump seeds on a baking tray.
If desired, drizzle in coconut oil and a sprinkle of salt, then roast at 350°F for 10 to 25 minutes, checking and tossing them regularly until they are fragrant and golden green. Alternatively, toss the seeds with tamari (soy sauce) before roasting for a delicious umami-flavored snack!
Feed Them to Your Chickens
Chickens enjoy pumpkin flesh and seeds for their nutrients.
You can reuse Jack O’Lanterns to feed your chickens. They appreciate the nutrient-dense starchiness of pumpkin flesh and the healthy fats of the seeds. If you toss a few old Jack O’ Lanterns into your chicken coop, they will gladly peck away until the squash is emptied.
However, if you want to avoid random chunks of pumpkin skins rotting on the ground all winter, it’s best to chop up the squash in smaller pieces so it is manageable for their little chicken beaks.
Ensure you’ve removed any candles and residual wax before feeding Jack O’Lanterns to your chickens. Also, don’t give them pumpkins that have been painted or treated to slow decay.
Create a Pumpkin Birdfeeder
Instead of purchasing birdseed, use the seeds from your discarded squash to support local wildlife during the winter.
Why buy birdseed when your discarded squash decor is full of seeds? If you want to support local wildlife as they transition into winter, reuse your Jack O’ Lanterns by putting out seeds, or simply set your pumpkins on the border of your garden near a birdfeeder or water source. I prefer to attract native birds to my landscape while keeping them away from my vegetable beds, so this creates a great distraction that keeps them from my edible garden!
As with pumpkins you’re giving to your chickens, avoid feeding your wild birds pumpkins that have been treated, painted, or that still have candle wax or debris on them.
Organize a Pumpkin Chucking Event
Make post-Halloween clean-up fun by organizing a pumpkin chucking event with friends and neighbors.
Post-Halloween clean-up can be just as fun as the holiday itself! Invite neighborhood children and friends to a pumpkin chucking event where they use catapults and slingshots to fling pumpkins out into the distance.
The squash will crack open and get eaten by critters or decomposed by microbes over the winter. You can even offer awards for participants who chuck their Jack O’ Lantern the farthest!
Only do this if you have a forested border to your property or a reliable place for pumpkins to go to rot. Avoid chucking pumpkins into wildlands, public property, or your neighbor’s pristine yard!
Host a Pumpkin Smash
If you lack space for pumpkin chucking, have a smashing event in your yard with neighbors.
If you don’t have the space to chuck pumpkins, you can always smash them in your yard! Invite your neighbors to bring their old Jack O’Lanterns to a designated area and use hammers, shovels, or boots to break the pumpkins into pieces.
Afterward, gather the chunks in a wheelbarrow and take them to a compost pile! This satisfying experience makes your compost preparation easier, offers an opportunity for education, and brings people together for communal bonding.
Create Pumpkin Seed Art
Engage kids in an art project by using Jack O’Lantern seeds to create mosaics or paintings on paper.
Jack O’ Lanterns can be reused in fun art projects, too! Get the kids involved by transforming pumpkin seeds into a creative autumn display. Gather the seeds, wash them, and dry them off, then use non-toxic glue to attach the seeds to paper or cardboard posters in different arrangements of mosaics or paintings.
To take the craft to the next level, use natural plant dyes like marigolds, turmeric, or beets to color the seeds for more elaborate artwork.
Donate to Yard Waste Facility, A Local Farm, or the Zoo
Urban gardeners can eco-friendly dispose of Halloween decor by taking pumpkins to yard waste facilities for municipal composting.
Patio and urban gardeners don’t need to worry— you can ecologically dispose of your Halloween decor even if you don’t have space on your property. Most yard waste facilities will gladly take pumpkins to the municipal composting area to decompose alongside grass clippings in Christmas trees.
Alternatively, a local farm may accept expired pumpkins to feed to their animals or add to their compost pile. Some zoos even welcome carved pumpkins as toys for their resident animals! If you have many Jack O’ Lanterns that you want to dispose of in an environmentally-conscious manner, it never hurts to call and ask!
An important note: the pumpkins you feed to animals must be cleared of any residual wax. If you painted your pumpkins or used any preservatives, like silica or a disinfectant for mold prevention, the pumpkins are no longer safe for animal consumption.
Make Pumpkin Dog Treats
Include your pets in the fall festivities by roasting and pureeing your pumpkin flesh to add to your dog’s food or treat recipes.
Your furry friends can join in on the autumn spirit with homemade pumpkin treats. Just as with making pumpkin bread, the flesh of an uncarved pumpkin can still be roasted, pureed, and fed to your dogs. Pumpkin is safe for dogs and loaded with beneficial fiber and vitamins.
When my dogs get upset stomachs or diarrhea, I often mix pumpkin into their food to help them feel better. Scrub any paint off, roast your uncarved pumpkin as described earlier, scoop out the flesh, and mix it into dog food or a dog treat recipe.
Remember that the only safe Jack O’Lanterns to reuse as animal food are free of mold, wax, paint, and any synthetic preservatives.
Make Incredible Vermicompost
Do you vermicompost? If not, reusing your Jack O’Lanterns will get you off to a great start! Red wigglers and other compost worms adore the flesh of a carved pumpkin. While you’ll still want to ensure your pumpkin is free of wax, paint, and preservatives, your pumpkin can be turned into rich vermicompost that will be an incredible addition to your garden beds!
If there is any paint or wax on the pumpkin, cut that off. You can cut the carved pumpkin into chunks, but it’s possible to place it into your worm bin intact if you’d like. If you put it in whole, place it with the carved face downward to provide easy access. The worms will climb inside and feast, turning the remnants of your Halloween festivities into rich, dark worm castings over time.
Save Seeds for Planting
Jack O’ Lantern seeds can be saved for planting next season if not cooked or heated.
As long as they haven’t been cooked or heated, the seeds of Jack O’ Lanterns are still viable. Use them for planting in your garden next season. Scoop them out, lay them on a tray or newspaper, and let them dry in a cool, warm place.
Once thoroughly dry and free from any signs of mold or rot, store the seeds in bags or containers. Then, plant in the spring after the risk of frost has passed. If your squash was a hybrid or cross-pollinated with neighbors, the seeds might not sprout true-to-type. They could still grow enjoyable and unique decor!
Decorate for Harvest Celebrations
If carved pumpkins still look nice after your spooky festivities, it’s easy to repurpose them for harvest-season festivities. Cover the scary faces with dried leaves, flowers, foliage, or berries to create a Cornucopia-like display or tablescape.
Bury your natural Jack O’ Lanterns in the soil for biodegradation and future gardening.
If you don’t have the time or energy to make more crafts after Halloween, you can always bury those pumpkins! As long as you didn’t apply anything synthetic to the Jack O’ Lanterns, the squash is fully biodegradable and will readily break down in the soil over the winter.
Dig a hole, throw them in, and cover them with soil to avoid attracting rodents or wild animals. I prefer to bury crop residues on my landscape border and cover them with mulch to plant perennials in the nourished soil in the future.
Final Thoughts: Don’t Throw Away Your Jack O’ Lanterns!
Halloween-carved pumpkins have no reason to go to the landfill (unless they were painted, treated to slow down decomposition, or filled with non-biodegradable materials). Squash is a great source of organic material for the soil or a snack for humans and animals. To make your holiday festivities more eco-friendly and natural, use your pumpkins to nurture your garden, feed local wildlife, or fill your stomach!