Ready to hunker down for winter? Not so fast. Now's the time to tackle a few chores that will help your house and yard ride out the cold season ahead. Here are a few to check off your to-do list.

Clean the gutters

Gutters and downspouts direct rainwater away from your house. That keeps water from pooling around the foundation and leaking into the basement, or freezing in the gutters at the roof line and causing damaging ice dams.

But those gutters and downspouts can't do their job if they're clogged with leaves and other debris.

After the trees have finished shedding their leaves, get up on a ladder and clean that stuff out. Plug the top of the downspout with a rag first to keep debris from going down the spout, and wear heavy gloves to protect your hands.

Reader's Digest Association's "1001 Do-It-Yourself Hints & Tips" recommends removing the debris with a plastic sand shovel or garden trowel, or you can fashion a scoop from a plastic milk jug. Dump the debris into a bucket instead of pushing it over the lip of the gutter to avoid dirtying the siding, the book suggests.

When the gutter is clean, run some water into it from a garden hose. Clear a clogged downspout with a plumber's snake or a blast from the hose, working from the bottom up so you don't compact the clog.

Clean up the garden

Even though plant growth winds down this time of year, diseases don't necessarily go away. Many pests and pathogens spend the winter on diseased plant parts, lying in wait for the chance to launch a new attack in spring.

That's why plant experts preach the importance of cleaning up diseased plant material. Prune out affected stems, remove diseased leaves and pick up any plant debris that's lying around. Diseased annuals should be removed completely.

The affected plant material can be composted, but only if the pile gets hot enough to kill pathogens. Most home compost piles don't get sufficiently hot, but municipal composting facilities do.

Fertilize your lawn

Lawn-care experts often say this is the best time to fertilize a lawn.

Fall fertilizing prepares grass plants for the rough winter ahead and ensures nutrients will be available to them in spring, when growth resumes.

Ohio State University's Joe Rimelspach recommends two fall feedings, one around Labor Day and the other right about now. If you skipped that first fertilization, you won't see the dramatic response in your lawn that you would have otherwise. (Your grass will still benefit from an application this time of year, he said, if you get some warm days.)

For an average lawn, he recommends applying a high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer at a rate of 1 to 1.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. This late in the year, much or all of the nitrogen in the fertilizer should be water-soluble as opposed to slow-release, since the latter won't release enough nitrogen before the weather gets too cold for growth. The percentage of soluble and slow-release nitrogen is usually marked on the fertilizer package. More information here.

Store your mower

You may be in the habit of adding fuel stabilizer to your lawn mower before you store it for winter, but that's not enough, said Mark Stiles, owner of Bath Tractor.

Gasoline often contains ethanol, which pulls moisture from the air. If you leave the gas in the tank for an extended time, that moisture can cause metal to corrode, he said. In addition, the ethanol and water can settle to the bottom of the tank over time, causing engine problems and damage.

Gasoline shouldn't be left in a lawn mower or other gas-powered equipment for more than two months, Stiles said. Before you store that equipment, run the engine until it's out of gas, he advised.