Gardens will look better when all the droopy annuals and pushy unwanted plants are pulled out. Weeds and diseased plants must go. Vegetables and fallen fruit should be cleared out, but for winter interest ornamental grasses and perennials can be left uncut until next spring. In this area, the best time to start the new gardening year is when the species crocus bloom. Species or botanical crocus are great indicator plants and are much more reliable than the calendar. There is still time to plant crocus.

Gardeners can make a list of all “wish we had” thoughts: Photos of troubled areas in the garden are helpful, as are the exact measurements of these areas so the new plants purchased will fill only the area. Since most plant clumps look alike at the end of winter, clumps to be moved should be labeled. Labels made from the side panel of soda pop cans work well. A nail or an old ball point pen works well for writing names and instructions, and the label should last the winter. Bulbs can be planted outdoors until the ground freezes solid; usually about the last week of December. Deer and rabbits are much less attracted to daffodils than to tulips, and tend to ignore the minor bulbs all together. Critters that dig up bulbs can be frustrated by laying a piece of chicken wire over the dug up area until the ground freezes solid.

Fallen leaves should be admired and cherished: They produce leaf mold (garden gold). Leaves can be shredded on the lawn by running over them with the mower then used for mulch after the garden beds freeze. The leaves will protect the plants by keeping the soil from the freezing and thawing that pushes the plants out of the ground.  

Leaves make great compost – either in a pile in the yard or in in large black plastic bags with some water and a handful of high nitrogen (lawn) fertilizer added. The bags can be stored under bushes and, with patience microorganisms will break down leaves into soil – doing their best work when the temperature is over 60º F.

Tools should be gathered, sharpened and cleaned to prevent rusting over the winter. Gather up and clean all tools, containers and garden ornaments. After the last tool is put away, the gardener is rewarded by nestling into a comfy chair and start dreaming about spring beauty with less backache in next year’s perfect garden.