By Vicki Spencer
Many of my garden stories bring back memories of time spent with my mother. She never thought of herself as artistic but enjoyed craft projects inspired by her women’s magazines. One year, we experimented with making planters out of an abundant crop of pumpkins. Our greatest challenges were preventing mold and defending pumpkin planters against squirrels.
Fresh pumpkins, especially Cinderella pumpkins with flat tops, make the best planters. If you don’t grow pumpkins, you can find an assortment at garden and grocery stores or you can have fun picking your own at a local pumpkin patch.
Increase the longevity of your fresh pumpkin planters by washing the outsides with a solution of water, bleach and a squirt of dish soap. You can also soak pumpkins up to 24 hours in a solution of 1/3 water and 2/3 bleach. Either way, it’s important to let pumpkins dry completely before carving.
Use a sharp knife to cut an opening on the top of the pumpkin, remove seeds and scoop the interior out just like making a jack-o’-lantern. Let pumpkins dry for another day or so. Less moisture inside will protect against immediate rotting. Preserve your pumpkins even longer by spraying with a coating of matte sealer found in your store’s paint or craft section.
Before planting, drill a couple holes in the bottom for excess moisture to drain through and add a layer of small pebbles inside. For the best protection against rot, place small plants in their containers on top of the pebbles and cover edges with sphagnum moss. You can plant directly in pumpkins but you should use new potting soil or soil sterilized by baking 20 minutes and cooling.
Chrysanthemums in rich autumn tones are popular for pumpkin planters. Succulents also work well with their gorgeous greens and minimal water needs. They make great centerpieces. Place taller succulents in the center and smaller ones like hens and chicks around the outside along with burro’s tail, which will drape over the edge. You can add dried flowers for more color. It’s also fun to plant kitchen herbs in small gourds but you have to keep them out of direct sunlight.
Dramatic effects are created when you cluster pumpkins and gourds of varying sizes on your porch and steps. The length of time pumpkins will last depends on many factors, including their freshness, heat and humidity.
Tricks to make them last longer include rubbing the outsides with peppermint oil or petroleum jelly and putting them on 1/4-inch-thick cardboard pieces to absorb moisture from the ground. Be sure to keep indoor planters away from heat. I learned this lesson the hard way when my first planter started smelling and totally collapsed in my hands from mold inside when I tried moving it. Yuck!
Outdoor planters last longer if placed in a covered area where they won’t be exposed to rain or snow. Since planters typically last a month, you should start planning now for Halloween and Thanksgiving displays.
Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.