How to Recycle Halloween Pumpkins for Wildlife

One of my favorite parts of Halloween is carving pumpkins. After the trick-or-treaters clear away, and Halloween is officially over, don’t trash your pumpkins! There are several ways to recycle them with wildlife and your garden in mind. How do you reuse pumpkins in your yard?

Squirrel in a pumpkin by Katherine Flickinger.

Squirrel in a pumpkin by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Katherine Flickinger.

1. Compost Your Pumpkins

If you’ve carved a jack-o-lantern, it may already be decomposing. Pumpkins are 90% water, which means they easily and quickly break down. This makes them a great addition to your compost pile. Prevent unwanted pumpkin plants by removing the seeds first (set seeds aside for #3 and #5). If you don’t have a compost bin or pile, check your local government, nearby farms, or community gardens to see if they collect old pumpkins.

Pumpkins can make a great addition to compost bins or piles. Photo by Karl Steel.

Pumpkins can make a great addition to compost bins or piles. Photo by Karl Steel.

2. Make a Snack-o-Lantern

This is one of the most creative ideas I’ve seen to recycle pumpkins. You can turn your jack-o-lantern into a snack-o-lantern for wildlife! It’s fairly easy to make, and the squirrels and birds will love it. Just make sure to only use fresh pumpkins (if they’ve begun to mold, composting them is a better idea) and to only fill them with enough seed for the wildlife to eat within a few days to prevent the seed from becoming moldy.

Find out how to make a snack-o-lantern!

3. Leave Seeds for Wildlife

Many birds and small mammals will eat pumpkin seeds if you offer them in your yard. Collect seeds from your pumpkins before composting them, and let the seeds dry. Please don’t add salt or seasoning. Place seeds on a flat surface, tray, shallow bowl, or mix in with existing bird seed in your garden.

Nuthatch eats pumpkin seeds by Kurt Bauschardt.

Nuthatch eats pumpkin seeds by Kurt Bauschardt.

4. Cut it into Pieces for Animals

Many backyard animals will eat pieces of pumpkin flesh. You can cut it into pieces and leave it out. This porcupine doesn’t even need it cut into pieces! Don’t do this if large animals such as bears might be attracted to your yard (in most places brown and black bears are entering their winter dormancy by the time Halloween passes).

5. Plant Pumpkin Seeds

The squash bee is one of many insects to that visit pumpkin flowers as a source of nectar and pollen for themselves and their young. If you have room in your yard, you can save seeds to grow your own of pumpkins next year and feed the pollinators in the process.

Bee pollinating a pumpkin flower by Paul Gardner.

Bee pollinating a pumpkin flower by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Paul Gardner.

Garden for Wildlife All Year

Certify Your Wildlife GardenAutumn is a fantastic time to make your yard wildlife-friendly by adding food, water, cover and a place for animals to raise their young!

IMPORTANT: Check with your state wildlife agency to confirm recycling your pumpkin outside is permitted: in states experiencing outbreaks of Chronic Wasting Disease, attracting deer to a pile of pumpkins could lead to disease spread. Also, please keep in mind this applies to non-painted pumpkins, as the toxins in paint can be harmful to wildlife. And keep pumpkins away from the house, ideally near trees.

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