BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. - The growing season has ended and many gardeners are heading out to clean up what the frost has left behind. But some gardeners don't bother with fall cleanup.

"This is because they planned for their gardens to seamlessly transition into the cold months," said a University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist.

"With a little extra preparation, your post-frost garden can also be an aesthetic asset with little to no work," said Marlin Bates.

Now is a good time to begin thinking about the plants that you will set out next year, Bates said. The pictures in the garden center in the spring only document the in-season attributes of the plants. "The dormant-season attributes of those plants should play an equal role in your selection," he said. "As you peruse garden magazines or observe your neighbors' gardens this season, take note of plant material that looks good after the frost."

Try to look beyond evergreens. Both deciduous shrubs and herbaceous perennials (those that die down to the ground annually) can contribute to a beautiful winter garden. These gardens not only look attractive, they also can provide habitat and food for wildlife.

By choosing certain perennials and using annuals judiciously, you can substantially reduce the fall cleanup schedule around the yard. Plants like rudbeckia and echinacea leave spent flower heads that add vertical elements to the garden. Ornamental grasses with their dried leaves left uncut offer substance in the dormant garden. Shrubs with exfoliating bark like beauty bush, or vivid stems like red osier dogwood, introduce texture and color to the landscape. "Other shrubs that offer persistent fruit, such as winterberry, also add a burst of color," Bates said. "All of these create even more interest with a dusting of snow on the ground."

To achieve an attractive landscape through the seasons, Bates recommends using annuals, herbaceous perennials and woody perennials (deciduous and evergreen). Balancing these plants, choosing them wisely and placing them appropriately can lead to a fall season that doesn't require tedious cleanup.

For additional information and resources, see MU Extension's Horticulture and gardening site.