Finish your gift list. Are you still stumped about what to give that special gardener or wannabe gardener on your holiday list? Is there someone you want to nudge onto the gardening path? How about a membership in a garden-related organization, a gardening magazine subscription, or a gift card to your favorite garden supply company? You could even sign them up for classes. Check out the Greater Philadelphia Gardens website for a host of ideas: greaterphiladelphiagardens.org.

Rake leaves. Sure, I know, you'd like to think that leaf-raking is done for the season. However, we all know better. Late-season rains have brought down leaves that have been holding on. Another late fall task is seeing to it that garden beds aren't smothered under too many leaves. We're lucky that Mother Nature offers her own free mulch but sometimes she may overdo. If she does, carefully reduce the leaf layers, allowing three or four inches to remain as winter protection.

Take a good look around. Now that leaves have dropped, see what pruning jobs you can handle rather than putting off until spring. At the top of my list is the crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) we inherited when we moved to our present garden. A recent walk around the garden reminded me to remove the young stems emerging from the base to stimulate flowering on mature branches next year. This woody plant, considered a large shrub or small tree, has beautiful bright pink fringed flowers in summer. Its blooming is complemented by the four-season interest offered by its bark. The bark exfoliates (or peels) to reveal a smooth, tan surface underneath, and becomes increasingly attractive as the plant ages.

Remove leaves that have blown into the middle of deciduous shrubs. Leaves allowed to remain may prevent sprouting along branches next spring. In addition, if leaves stay piled up around these plants, you'll be less likely to appreciate their winter form.

Keep bird feeders well-stocked. After the garden's abundant fruits and seeds are consumed, a continuous supply of tasty treats encourages the winter-hardy birds to stay. When warmer temperatures bring insects out of hibernation, the birds will be there to keep the insect population in check.

Clean mud and debris off tools with a moist rag. Wipe down metal parts with an all-purpose oil to prevent rusting. When you put them away in your garden shed, basement or garage, keep a couple of tools handy for those warmer winter days when you'll be itching to get out into the garden.

Check outside faucets. Make sure they've been drained to prevent damage from freezing temperatures. Disconnect hoses and put them away to extend their lifetime.

Patricia Schrieber is director of education for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (www.phsonline.org), and co-owner of Valentine Gardens (www.valentine-gardens.com). Contact her at: pschrieber@pennhort.org