CLEAN UP THE GARDEN
Pull out spent annuals -- both flowers and vegetables -- and add them to your compost pile. (If they're diseased or heavily infested with insects, bag them for pickup.)
As long as they're healthy, you can leave perennials in place. The stems will help trap insulating snow and some seedheads provide food for wintering birds. If you prefer to cut perennials in fall, wait until they've been zapped by frost. That allows the plants to gather energy from the sun as long as possible.
Mulch perennials with several inches of straw or marsh hay or a deep layer of dry leaves once the soil freezes. If the soil hasn't frozen by early December, go ahead and mulch.
KEEP ON THE GRASS
As long as your lawn is still growing, keep mowing. Set the lawnmower blade lower so the grass is only about 2 inches tall.
Rake fallen leaves and compost them or keep them to use as winter mulch.
September was extremely dry, so water your lawn regularly to help it go into winter in good condition. But wait until next spring to fertilize the lawn.
PLANT TREES AND SHRUBS
Early autumn is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Mulch them well and water them once a week (depending on rainfall) until the ground freezes. The mulch will keep the soil warmer, which will allow more time for new roots to develop.
Because mulch breaks down over time, it's good to add more mulch to existing trees and shrubs. Try to maintain a depth of 3 to 4 inches.
PUT PRUNING ON HOLD
Wait until late spring -- after they've bloomed -- to prune spring-flowering shrubs. The buds have already formed, so if you prune now, you'll be cutting the spring show.
You'd be wise to wait until spring to plant fruit trees or plants, such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. They do much better when they have an entire growing season to become established.
PROTECT TENDER ROSES
Hybrid tea roses -- and even some shrub roses -- aren't hardy here. You need to protect them before the temperatures drop into the teens.
You could try the Minnesota tip method: Dig a narrow trench on one side of the plant, tie the canes together, loosen one side of the roots, tip the plant into the trench, then cover it with soil and mulch. But it's easier -- and just as effective -- to mound a foot or so of soil over the center of the rosebush, then cover the mound with mulch and some chicken wire to hold the insulation in place.
PROTECT YOUNG TREES
Harsh winter sun and foraging animals can harm trees, especially young trees with thin bark. Fruit trees (including ornamental crabapples) are particularly vulnerable. Wrap trunks with plastic tree protectors, but be sure to unwrap them as soon as weather warms in early spring.
If you don't want to bother wrapping and unwrapping trees, use hardware cloth (sturdy metal mesh) to form a cylinder several inches larger than the tree trunk. Push it several inches into the soil and fasten it together. It can be left in place year-round until the trunk grows large enough to fill the cylinder.
Deb Brown is a garden writer and former extension horticulturist with the University of Minnesota. To ask her a gardening question, call 612-673-7793 and leave a message. She will answer questions in this column only.