Just as bears and raccoons hibernate over the winter, most plants go dormant during the colder months. Most plants need sunlight, warmth and water to grow -- three things usually lacking in the wintertime -- so they stop growing and rest for a few months. During that time you get to take a break too, but before you trade in your leaf rake for a snow shovel, prep your plants.
Try to get in one last good watering of your outdoor plants during the late fall before the first hard freeze. You can also apply a slow-acting fertilizer to trees and shrubs, which will continue to feed the plants through the winter months.
For perennials and bulbs, cut back any dead above-ground parts to ensure all of the plant's energy is devoted to building strong roots. To keep the roots and bulbs from freezing, add an insulating layer of mulch in the fall.
Container plants are the most vulnerable in the winter because pots do a terrible job of insulating a plant's roots. Move potted plants into an area that's sheltered from the wind and snow, like a garage or shed. Wrap their containers in insulating material, like foam, straw or clippings from evergreens. You can also apply an antitranspirant spray (a chemical solution that helps reduce moisture loss when the air is dry by limiting how much water evaporates from the plant's leaves).
Tie evergreen branches together to keep them from breaking off in the cold and wind. Trim weak branches on any trees hanging over your house or driveway so they won't snap under the weight of snow or the force of the wind and cause damage.