Fall gardening is all about making your plants stronger for next spring - for getting your garden ready to grow when winter's finally over. For the best-looking spring perennial garden, you can't just drop leaves over the flower beds and wait until the spring thaw. This is the time to safely tuck your plants into bed, making them ready to come alive again when the ground warms up again.

Perennial Flowers

Fall is the best time to plant most of your favorite perennial flowers. In all but the southernmost regions of the country, plant crocus, daffodil, tulip and other spring-flowering bulbs. Give them plenty of water and bury them as deeply as indicated on the packaging.

For perennials that have been in the ground for a season already, fall is the time to divide them. Dig up bulbs such as day lily and peonies, then split them into two or more pieces before replanting them in a new area

Once your late-blooming perennials finish blooming and die back, cut them off, leaving a stub a couple of inches tall above the ground. In the coldest parts of the country, cover these plants with six inches of mulch such as fallen leaves or peat moss.

Trees and Shrubs

If you want strong, healthy trees in your yard, fall is the time to plant them. In the fall, all the plant's energies are concentrated on creating a larger, healthy root system because none is needed to create and maintain leaves, buds or fruit. The more time a plant has to grow roots, the better start it has to a long life in your landscape.

Plant shrubs in the autumn, as well. The same reason applies: you want the plants to create strong, deep roots before they start to expend energy on creating spring greenery.

Fall is the ideal time to prune trees and shrubs into neater, more compact shapes. Cut off straggly branches before forming the shape you want the tree to grow into.

Plant tree and shrub cuttings in a pot full of moist sand, cover it with a plastic bag and store it in a warm place. Some weeks later roots will form along the cuttings, creating a whole new generation of small trees to use to expand your landscape design.

If you live in an area that frequently suffers through heavy snows and ice storms, it's time to wrap your shrubs. Cold, harsh weather can do serious damage to shrubs, sometimes leaving dead spots in the middle of an otherwise attractive hedgerow. Wrap the bushes in burlap or build a pole shelter to protect delicate shrub branches.

The Lawn

You might not think of your lawn as part of your perennial garden, but for most people it's the largest plant bed they have. Caring for the lawn now sets it up for a healthy, green spring.

Mow and remove weeds as usual throughout the fall, but cut back on the watering. Grass plants begin to go dormant in the fall and don't need as much moisture as they do in the spring and summer.

Aerate the grass to reduce water runoff and to encourage moisture to sink deep into the soil. By fall, most lawns are choked with a network of roots and need some refreshing in order to let the water get below the top layer to the ground below.

Give your lawn a good head start by fertilizing it twice in the spring, once in October and again in November. Feed the lawn with a mix designed for putting the lawn to bed, such as 32-0-10.

This will encourage solid root production while cutting back on nutrients that encourage new blades of grass.

General Fall Chores

After taking care of the specific areas of your perennial landscape, you've just got a few general chores left before putting your yard to bed for winter.

Give your flower beds a boost by digging in some handfuls of bone meal. Bone meal gives the soil a big dose of phosphorus, which is essential to plants for creating flowers.

Finally, rake up all those fallen leaves from the lawn. Whether it's a chore you dread or a cherished family tradition, getting the leaves up allows your grass and plants to take advantage of the spring sunshine that much faster when winter finally breaks next year.

Frugal Village