The first winter can be critical for newly planted trees and shrubs. They are more likely to suffer because they are not yet well-established in the new location. This is especially true of evergreen plants which constantly lose moisture from their foliage during the winter months.

The best thing that can be done for them is to mulch them generously. Wood chips, tree bark, sawdust, leaves or straw can be used for this purpose. Six inches of mulch would be best.

The mulch conserves soil moisture. It moderates soil temperatures, helps keep the soil from freezing, deeper than normal, perhaps deeper than the roots extend.

A well-established plant should have roots well below the frost line where they can get moisture even when the ground stays frozen for extended periods of time.

Mulching strawberries also is a good idea. It can protect the plants from heaving, due to alternate freezing and thawing.

Oak, sycamore and beech leaves are good for mulching if you can keep them from blowing away. They do not become soggy and mat down when it rains. Maple, elm, ash, birch and poplar leaves are undesirable for mulching because they do mat down, but they can be used if mixed with oak and sycamore leaves.

A much eliminates the impact of raindrops falling on bare soil, reducing soil erosion. Heavy rains can really batter unprotected soil. The mulch delivers the water gently to the soil, surface, preserving its pore structure.

If you seeded a fescue or bluegrass lawn this fall and mulched it with grain straw, leave the straw in place for the winter. It will, if it hasn't already, settle close to the ground. Eventually it will become part of the soil.

The vacuum created by the whirling blades of the lawn mower will remove some of it next spring and that is all right.

But don't attempt to rake off the straw from newly sprouted grass. The shallow-rooted young grass plants will be pulled up and you will lose a surprisingly large part of your stand of grass.

Many gardeners like to dig their gardens in the fall after crops have all been harvested. It may be good exercise but otherwise can be a serious mistake.

Digging merely to loosen the soil does not accomplish anything because after a couple of heavy rains the soil settles back to its former condition. It does make the soil more susceptible to erosion.