As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, there are a number of things you can do in the yard to prepare for winter. Performing these few chores now will help get your garden through the cold weather in good shape, and make gardening easier for you come spring.
Pull out spent vegetables and annual flowers or cut them off at ground level to leave the roots to decompose in the soil. Cut back herbaceous perennials, noting that those with strong stems and decorative seed heads (such as purple cornflowers or 'Autumn Joy' sedum) can be left standing to add visual interest to your winter garden. Perennials like lavender and Russian sage that set next year's growth buds on woody stems should be left as well.
Fallen leaves, dead plants and other debris can harbor diseases, rodents, or insect eggs if left on the ground over the winter. Rake up the debris and use it for compost or dispose of it appropriately.
Your fall garden cleanup will likely produce plenty of material for composting. To help it break down more quickly and thoroughly, build your pile with a mixture of materials like dead leaves, grass clippings, plant trimmings and maybe some kitchen vegetable scraps and coffee grounds. For more on how to build a compost pile, read our step-by-step guide "Create a Compost Pile."
If any weeds are still growing in your garden, take this time to get rid of them using a weed killer. Remember to always follow label directions for use. Your yard will look neater during the winter, and you won't have to contend with so many weeds in the spring.
Spreading mulch around trees, shrubs, and other plants left in the garden over the winter does more than just keep your yard looking neat. It will also help prevent soil moisture loss, moderate the effects of winter temperature fluctuations and help keep weeds from sprouting in the spring by blocking growth and access to sunlight. Bark mulch such as Scotts® Nature Scapes® Advanced Color Enhanced Mulch is a good choice because the bark also amends your soil as it breaks down over time.