As soon as the leaves begin to fall and the temperatures drop, most gardeners start thinking, “Fall cleanup!” I hate that phrase and the thinking that it exemplifies, i.e., cut everything to the ground and rake all the leaves out of the beds.

Chelone ‘Hot Lips’ deadheads in fall

Chelone ‘Hot Lips’ snow-covered deadheads

Please, do not cut everything to the ground. Leave dormant deadheads that will provide food for the birds and sculptures for you. The crowns of many perennials are more vulnerable to cold when exposed; leaving the stems allows snow to collect and blanket the crowns. If you have perennials such as phlox or monarda (beebalm) that have been besieged with powdery mildew, do cut those to the ground and remove.

Cleveland front yard with Spiraea and Pennisetum in December 2010

Please, do not cut ornamental grasses down now. They are glorious as they sway in the snow and wind. Wait until early spring, probably early to mid-March, but before the new growth emerges. I gnash my teeth whenever I see grasses cut down in October.

Late fall garden with evergreen foliage of Scabiosa ‘Mariposa Violet’ showing through leaf mulch

Please, do not rake leaves out of the beds. They are Mother Nature’s way of enriching the soil. As the leaves decay, they return their nutrients to the earth.

Yes, do remove wilted vegetables from the edibles garden and allow the soil to dry out, thus deterring slugs that love moisture. Most annuals should also be removed, the exception being snapdragons, the roots of which frequently winter over and then flush out new growth in the spring. If you have fruit trees, pick up fallen fruit and add it to the compost pile.

Weeds among Hosta ‘Golden Meadow in young garden

This is the perfect time to weed. You can see the ground again and getting a head start on weeds is always advisable, particularly since there’s always so much to do in spring.

This is also the perfect time to prune dead wood out of your shrubs. You can clearly see what is alive and what is not. When shrubs are still dormant in spring, it’s often difficult to distinguish between the two.

Rosa Oso Easy ‘Cherry Pie’ in flower and with hips and yellowing foliage on my front slope a few years ago

Enjoy the colors of fall and remember to plant some spring blooming bulbs now so that when spring comes, you aren’t saying, “Oh, I wish I had planted some…..”