This is a regular question asked by many gardeners just about this time of year. There are many things you can do to improve the well-being of your plants and landscape and here are just a few.
The mulch layer in your beds should be checked to see if you have about three inches of cover. This will ensure good weed suppression, hold in moisture, add a little organic matter and keep a more constant soil temperature during the winter months. Plants, especially conifers, can be damaged by winter burn which is caused by desiccation in the winter during dry periods with windy conditions. Please do not over mulch beds too deep or make mulch volcanoes around tree trunks. This can reduce oxygen and gas exchange to soil and roots and this excess mulch up against tree trunks at the root flare can cause rot and decay.
Moderate pruning can be done to shrubs and small trees to even up form and remove dead or diseased wood. Heavy pruning should be avoided so as not to stimulate new growth prior to the cold winter and thus having tender shoots killed.
Many perennials that go dormant and turn brown on top can be pruned down and cleaned up for the winter to have a neat and tidy look. Remember to mulch them as well when finished, this helps with winter insulation.
Fertilizing can also be done for the winter and help your plants perform even better in the spring. The type of fertilizer you choose is important and should be very low in nitrogen as they will not need this for vegetative growth this time of year. The phosphorus and potassium should be higher in percentages as this will be beneficial for root growth, stored carbohydrates and help improve winter hardiness. Something like a 1-2-2 ratio would be a good choice or you may find a packaged fertilizer designed just for this.
Tree wrap can be used on newly planted thin bark trees to help prevent trunk tissue damage, sun scald, from the strong winter sun. This can also help reduce rapid fluctuations in temperature keeping a more moderate temperature on the trunk which can help reduce the chance of frost cracks.
This would also be the time to tag plants for transplanting when they become dormant. Relocating a plant or dividing bulbs and perennials are best done while the plants are dormant, so if you tag them now you can proceed when you’re ready and when the time is best.
Have fun and at the same time, you can add a little exercise while preparing your garden for the winter season.