A cold and windy week has made it clear that my garden needs a tidy up. Wherever you live, and whatever the weather you have enjoyed (or endured) lately, and unless you are a very tidy gardener, most outdoor spaces benefit from a good tidy up before the winter. If you can, leave part of your garden relatively untouched as a place for wildlife. And tidy the rest of the garden up!

It is not about looking tidy (though that is a nice look as winter rolls in). More important is removing hiding places for pests and diseases that can harm your plants, removing debris that can rot fences and woodwork or create slippery and slimy areas that make your outdoor space tricky and uninviting in winter.

Tidy up

Tidy up! Here's a great example of the look you need as winter approaches: brush leaves and debris from walls and out from under containers and furniture.

Here are my five ‘tidy up’ steps for the next few weeks. Perhaps they will help you tackle this important, if not always exciting, time of year outdoors.

Tidy up step one: dead plants, leaves and flowers

Clear annuals from containers and borders. Clear away vegetable plants that have finished cropping. Dead head any other flowering plants or shrubs. Clip back to a tidy shape herbaceous plants, but don’t cut them down to the ground as their growth will provide some protection from frost and rain. Cut back dead or yellowing leaves on cabbages and other veg. Add the dead plants and clippings to your garden compost heap or bin.

Tidy up

Remove dead and dying leaves and flowers - 5 minutes on this Stachys byzantina (commonly called rabbits' or lambs' ears) will transform it and prevent leaves forming a rotten mass around the stems.

Tidy up step two: leaves

Wherever you live, leaves will fall on your space. We talked about leaves in a recent blog. Here’s a reminder to scoop them out of ponds and water features, sweep them from lawns, brush them out from behind and under containers and garden furniture, and away from the bottoms of fences or sheds, house and garden walls.

It’s really important to remove leaves that fall on the top of perennial plants. Shake the plant gently, pick the leaves off by hand, or take a small brush to the job.

Tidy up

Clear leaves from the top of precious plants to prevent rotting. Sarah Buchanan

Put deciduous leaves on garden compost heaps, create a special leaf compost heap (it's easy: read how to do it here) or simply fill sacks with leaves and pile them out of the way. Wherever you put your leaves, jump on them a lot to squash them down – this is a great job for children!

Tidy up step three: undergrowth and overgrowth

Cut back plants that are creeping over paths or the edges of borders. Cut back low hanging branches that will be in your way (and out of sight on dark nights) as you come home or park your car. Cut to about half their length any long leggy stems on shrubs or roses to prevent winds rocking their roots.

Tidy up step four: go under cover

Clear dead plants and debris from greenhouses and garden frames. Sweep out garden sheds and garages (how do leaves get in there too?). Clean tools and check for any damage - and get them repaired. Clean and make ready for winter your garden furniture.

Tidy up

If you want to keep tender plants in your greenhouse over winter - install bubble wrap or other lining. (And why not add a garden seat, like this greenhouse in Marle Place Gardens near Tonbridge?)

Take the mower to be serviced and secateurs and saws to be sharpened. Give away excess flower pots, tools and gardening kit you really don’t need: charity shops, city farms, Women's Institute 'Country' plant markets and charities like Workaid which refurbish tools to give them a new life may be glad to take them in and raise funds for their work by repairing and selling them.

Tidy up step five: sit down!

This is easy: put your feet up with a gardening book, catalogues for garden furniture and plants and plan for next year!