One simple way to tell if you've chosen a good gourd? Take a close look at the stem.

One of our favorite fall activities? Carving pumpkins. Jack-o'-lanterns make great Halloween decorations for your porch or patio, and you can create a range of pumpkin faces—from scary to silly to squash versions of your favorite storybook characters. But it all starts with choosing the right one, and we got the scoop straight from the pumpkin patch. Ahead, how to select a seasonal gourd that will last through Halloween.

batch of pumpkins on burlap

The pumpkin's color matters.

When it comes to finding the perfect pumpkin for carving and displaying, color makes a huge difference. "A pale yellow pumpkin isn't going to keep," says Lana Rufener of Rufener Hilltop Farms and Market in Suffield, Ohio. "Make sure it's a good color, and what you want is a deeper orange." A pumpkin that is mostly green, but has patches of orange, will work if you don't plan on carving it right away, Rufener says. "It can still ripen even after you've picked it from the patch, but don't start carving until it's mostly orange."

Look for holes, wounds, or scabs.

"You don't want soft or darkened spots," says Linda Dussel of Dussel Farms in Brimfield, Ohio. "Small imperfections can be okay if you plan to carve the pumpkin immediately, but if you're waiting and need it to hold up, then you don't want blemishes." The reason? Soft spots indicate that the pumpkin is beginning to spoil and rot (to check your gourd, press your fingers across the skin). Scrapes, on the other hand, aren't as bad as wounds or soft spots. "But you need to make sure that your pumpkin doesn't have any open holes," says Rufener, noting that "a blemish-free pumpkin would be the ideal choice."

Choose a pumpkin with a green stem.

A pumpkin's stem can be a good indicator of its health. "A stem that's a pretty green is always best," says Rufener. "They can dry up, though, and that's okay—the pumpkin can still be good." What you truly need to look out for is evidence of mold, which signals that the pumpkin is on its way to decaying. "A green handle is better than a brown handle if you want your pumpkin to last through October," adds Dussel.

Don't go for minis.

They might look cute, but Dussel says that they can be harder to carve. Ultimately, these pumpkins' small size creates a safety hazard; they increase the risk of getting cut with the carving knife and require a more acute level of skill. "The smaller size also means that you might not be able to fit a candle or a flashlight inside," Dussel says. So, if you want to choose an option that both you and your children can carve together, a larger gourd is always the best route. Another benefit of choosing a big one? "They can be sculpted like clay for carving really cool facial features," Dussel says. "Carve outside in, and you can get some great light and shadow effects."

An odd-looking squash might be exactly what you need.

If you want to have a truly frightening or unique jack-o'-lantern, then choosing an odd-shaped pumpkin might be the right way to go. "Sometimes, pumpkins are oddly shaped if they've grown next to a rock or had a vine wrapped around it," Dussel says. "So-called 'warty' pumpkins have been really popular during Halloween because they make great faces for goblins or witches." These blemishes aren't "warts" at all: They are the result of a genetic mutation that creates a bumpy texture across the skin. "It's one of the many varieties of pumpkins," says Dussel. "And it might be exactly what you're looking for."


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