Our gardens signal us when it’s time to prep for fall and winter. Annual flowers turn brown and die; the leaves take on autumnal colors; and the last of the harvest is ready to bring in. It’s tempting to take a break from outdoor chores, but it’s smart to prepare for the cold weather ahead. Cleaning up now will make it faster and easier to plant again next spring.
Once your plants have died or succumbed to the cold, take up their supports. If the stakes, cages, and trellises are still in good shape, pull off any clinging foliage and store them away.
Rake your garden spot to remove leaves and plant debris, including any unusable fruits and vegetables. Pull or dig old stems and roots. If you see any bugs or disease, don’t add the debris to the compost pile, where problems can overwinter and spread. Burn it instead (if burning is allowed in your area; always follow local and community fire safety regulations), or discard it.
Dig tender bulbs, and store them in paper bags in a dark, dry spot until spring. Some tender plants can be dug, too, and will survive in a sunny window until they can be replanted outside.
Use a cold frame or floating row covers to extend any crops that are still producing.
Don’t bag raked leaves for the trash collector. Pile them in an out-of-the-way spot. Eventually they’ll form leaf mold, a valuable garden amendment. To speed up the process, shred leaves with a lawn mower.
Clean, repair, and put away garden furniture.
Close down and drain fountains, and water features before freezing temperatures arrive. Drain and store hoses and sprinklers.
Clean, oil (if needed), and put away garden tools. After the last use, prep mowers and other lawn care equipment for the winter.
Store or cover pots and planters that might crack in freezing rain or ice.
Prepare For Spring
Empty your compost bin and spread the compost and/or composted manure over the garden.
Plant a cover crop of “green manure” such as rye, clover, or buckwheat. Cover crops help control erosion, prevent weeds from sprouting during warm spells, and build better soil.
Sketch your garden before you forget where crops were growing, so you can rotate them next year.
Tips For Gardeners in Warm Winter Areas:
- If you prefer, leave plant supports in place until spring, when new growth appears. Many birds will appreciate the dried seed heads you leave; they especially like sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans, and purple coneflowers.
- If you don’t see pests or signs of disease in fallen leaves or old mulch, leave it on the ground to help protect tender perennials from the cold. Replenish with fresh mulch as needed.
Tips For Gardeners In Cold Winter Areas:
- In fall, gradually reduce the water you give your perennials to harden them off for winter. Don’t feed now, which would cause tender, new growth that will die in a freeze.
- After the first frost, prune and mulch most perennials for the winter. Some perennials, such as coral bells, butterfly weed, and mums, are better left unpruned, so their foliage can help protect their crowns.
- Wait until spring to prune trees and shrubs.
- To prevent ice build-up on your lawn this winter, improve drainage with core aeration this fall. Level any low spots so water won’t stand in pools when the ice and snow melt.
Image: Shutterstock/Elena Elisseeva