Run leaves through your lawn mower, and then add to a compost pile. For best results, alternate 4-inch layers of leaves with 4-inch layers of grass clippings.
Or, use leaves to turn part of your lawn into a garden bed. Run them through the mower, and then layer them 6 to 8 inches deep over a patch of lawn you want to transform. By spring, what you covered will be ready for flowers or vegetables.
You can make an effective compost pile with just one item from the hardware store. Buy a 4-foot-wide piece of 12- to 14-gauge wire fencing. Bend it into a cylinder about 4 feet in diameter. Wire together the cut edges.
Fill the cylinder with alternating layers of brown matter (such as dried leaves and wood chips) and green matter (such as grass clippings). Keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge, and aerate it every week or so by lifting the cylinder and moving it to one side, and then forking materials back into it. Compost is ready when it's brown and crumbly (this could take a few months in cooler weather).
As outdoor garden color fades, bring a beautiful bloomer inside. Bromeliads are ideal houseplants -- they thrive on neglect, yet their flowers can last 8 to 12 weeks. Give them bright, indirect light, and water when the top 1 inch of soil feels almost dry to the touch (about every 2 weeks).
Chrysanthemums blazing with reds and golds are easy to find at nurseries and florists this time of year. Buy them in bloom, and then pop a few plants from 6-inch nursery pots into a large (16- or 18-inch) container. If you like, mix in a couple of low-growing perennials or grasses.
Give your mums rich, well-drained soil (add a dose of controlled-release fertilizer at planting time) and protection from dry winter winds; water them often enough so that the soil half an inch below the surface never completely dries out. Display in full sun (or light afternoon shade in hot climates).
Hardy plants in 24-inch containers provide color through fall, and even into winter. In cold climates, consider plastic pots with a faux terra-cotta finish -- they're lightweight and won't crack in freezing weather. Fill with potting soil and a couple handfuls of controlled-release fertilizer.
Start with a shrub or some other tall accent plant transplanted from a 2- or 5-gallon nursery can. Add annuals or perennials from 4-inch pots or 1-gallon cans, pairing plants with contrasting colors and textures.
Gophers tunnel through the ground to eat tender bulbs and shoots. Here are two ways to keep them from dining on your garden's most promising nuggets:
1. Use wire baskets. Place a wire basket in the planting hole, add a layer of soil, then add bulbs. Cover the bulbs and the basket with more soil. You can use a regular hanging basket, or buy a chicken-wire pouch sold at nurseries for lining planting holes.
2. Use hardware cloth. Line the bottoms of raised beds with barriers of hardware cloth; bend their edges up inside the frame.
• Shop for color: Some trees (like American sweet gum) develop color late in the season. This is the best time to scout nurseries for them -- you'll see just what you're getting.
• Groom lawns: If you live where winters are very cold, mow one last time at two and a half inches, rake leaves before they mat up, and then edge.
• Protect geraniums and fuchsias: Bring plants into a cool, dark, frost-free place for the winter. An unheated garage is usually fine. Water every two weeks until spring.
• Save dahlias: Dig dahlia tubers after frost burns their tops, shake off the dirt, and let them dry before you put them in cool, frost-free storage for the winter.
• Groom perennial borders: As you cut back perennials, leave those that have seed heads or dried flowers for a wintry touch (and bird food).