Fallen leaves provide overwintering shelter for insects. It's a good idea to allow a few leaves to remain beneath shrubs to harbor insects -- good and bad -- which can help feed hungry birds in spring.
On the other hand, leaves piled up against a shed, garage, or home can shelter and provide cover for pests -- including rodents -- seeking winter quarters. Remove these leaves. Chop them and use them as mulch, or add them to the compost pile.
Gather stakes and plant supports from the garden. Store them in a spot where they'll freeze to help destroy overwintering pests.
Fall can be a great time to cut back your perennials if you've got the time and energy to get it done. Make sure to leave 2-3 inches of the plant's stem to help protect fresh shoots from animal damage as they first emerge in the spring. It's also a helpful reminder of where plants are in the yard before they start to sprout.
Consider leaving some perennials standing that add interest to the winter garden -- either by their structure (Achillea, 'Autumn Joy' sedum) or by attracting birds to seed heads (coneflowers, black-eyed Susans).
Ornamental grasses should be left standing to protect their crown from a harsh winter.
Test Garden Tip: Pull spent annuals and toss them in the compost pile. Don't pull stems of self-sowing annuals so plants can seed serendipitously. Birds may also nibble on seeds.
Continued on page 3: Think Ahead