It’s the countdown to Halloween: the decorations are appropriately ghoulish and the kids are a quiver with anticipation of sugary excess. But wait — has the family Jack ‘o lantern gotten a bit too eerily rotten even for fright night? With a little bit of forethought, you can avoid a scare on Halloween with our five tips for putting your pumpkin’s best face forward this year.

Halloween Pumpkin

1. Choose Wisely
Even before the knives come out, starting with the freshest possible pumpkin is the best way to ensure longevity in your Jack o’ lantern. The best way to choose a pumpkin in the patch (or your local grocery store) is to look for plump and unblemished specimens with a vibrant orange colour and an intact stem. Avoid gourds that are mushy or have soft spots, indicating that spoilage is already occurring or will occur shortly.

2. The Power Of Procrastination 
Sometimes, it’s OK to leave some things to the last minute. Waiting until the day before Halloween (or the day of, if you’ve got the day off and are super ambitious) delays the start of the clock in terms of rot and decay. Rushed for time or trying to keep those costumes pristine? Consider using stickers, glue-on adornments and markers instead of — or to complement — the decorative cutting.

3. Keep It Clean
Making sure your hands  are clean when prepping your pumpkin will keep yesterday’s pudding out of the middle of your creation and inhibit mold. Also wipe down your surfaces as well as the outside of the pumpkin, and dry it thoroughly. A mild bleach solution, vinegar or lemon juice may help keep bacteria and fruit flies at bay. Scrape the inside of the pumpkin and remove all the gooey innards, and be sure to give it a wipe out as well.

4. Polished Presentation
To keep your pumpkin perfectly plump, you can use petroleum jelly or oil to coat the insides and cut edges and wrap the whole thing well (or rehydrate it with a quick soak before trick or treaters arrive, but be sure to drain it completely to avoid pumpkin puddles).

5. Think About Temperature
Pumpkins are like most people: happiest when it’s not too cold or too hot. Bring your pumpkin indoors if the weather falls below zero to avoid a cycle of freezing, thawing and rotting, but avoid making them too toasty lest they shrink. To prevent mold, keep them away from high humidity. If storing your gourd outside, concrete may add heat and the potential for spoilage, so consider giving it a cushy seat with a piece of cardboard until the big night.

Prefer to eat pumpkin? Try these 25 Tasty Pumpkin Desserts.