As soon as the calendar reads October 1, you may be tempted to break your foam tombstones, rubber bats, and 12-foot skeleton out of the attic. But there's at least one Halloween decoration you should avoid putting out at the first sign of fall. Jack-o'-lanterns are an important part of the spooky season, but if you display them too early, they may not last until October 31. Here's the best time to carve your pumpkin so it looks fresh and fearsome for Halloween.

According to Real Simple, you should pick up your pumpkin within a week of when you plan to carve it. Look for gourds with firm, unmarked skin that feel heavier than they look. A green, healthy stem indicates that the pumpkin was picked recently and will last longer on your stoop.

If you can resist the temptation, you should wait until the last minute to plunge a knife into your pumpkin. One week to three days before October 31 is the ideal timeframe to carve and display your jack-o'-lantern. Any earlier, and you risk having a rotten, collapsed squash outside your home when trick-or-treaters arrive. Decomposition happens even faster when the weather is warm, which is another reason to wait until later in the season to carve your pumpkin.

There are a few tricks you can try to extend the life of your decoration for as long as possible. After scooping out the seeds and guts, clean the inside and outside of your pumpkin with a solution of one teaspoon of bleach per one quart of water. This will kill much of the bacteria responsible for mold and decay. Once your jack-o'-lantern is complete, disinfect it again by soaking it in a bucket of water and two-thirds of a cup of bleach for 24 hours. Keeping your creation in the refrigerator at night will help it last even longer—and protect it from would-be pumpkin smashers.

Here are more tips for carving the ultimate jack-o'-lantern this Halloween.

[h/t Real Simple]