Until there’s a grinning jack-o’-lantern on your front porch, can you even call it fall?

Millions of people will dig in to a pumpkin this year with the idea of creating the perfect jack-o’-lantern. But if you don’t start with the perfect pumpkin, you might not get the results you want. Follow these steps to find just the right gourd for your jack-o’-lantern and keep it fresh for longer.

Step 1: Decide in advance what you’re looking for – Do you want a large jack-o’-lantern? A smaller one? Something in between? Do you need one that’s taller (rather than rounder) to accommodate the design you have in mind? If you know what you’re looking for before you go pumpkin-hunting, you’re more likely to land one that fits your budget and carving idea.

Step 2: Find a fresh one – We all know what happens at the end of the season. Rotting pumpkins are a smelly, ugly mess. But if you start with the freshest available, they’ll last longer and help you avoid a saggy smile. Picking a pumpkin from a garden is a great option because a pumpkin starts its inevitable decline as soon as it gets plucked from the vine. In a store setting where it’s already been removed from the vine, look for a pumpkin that has part of the vine still attached (but don’t use the vine as a handle!). Look for bright orange pumpkins, as the color tends to fade as time goes on. Lastly, look for a pumpkin without soft spots, mold or cuts. Those elements are signs that the pumpkin will spoil early.

Step 3: Keep it clean – When you cut into the pumpkin to make your design, clean it out thoroughly, making sure to scrape away the stringy elements from all sides and the top of the pumpkin, too. Rinse the interior of the pumpkin with water, then carve your design.

Step 4: Preserve it for safekeeping – When the carving process is complete, rinse the pumpkin again. Then, place the pumpkin inside a bucket that contains a solution of one teaspoon bleach per one gallon of water. Pumpkins float, so make sure that you dunk it and stir it to make sure all sides get covered. Let the pumpkin dry on paper towels. Or, alternately, you can smear a thin coating of petroleum jelly on exposed surfaces to cut down on rot.

Step 5: Discard your pumpkin responsibly – Don’t hesitate to get rid of your pumpkin when the time comes. Pumpkins are a great source of nutrients, so see if a local farmer might want it for cattle or hog feed. You can also simply compost your jack-o’-lantern.