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27 Fall Gardening Tasks to Prepare a Flower Garden for Winter

Now that the leaves are starting to fall from the trees and the flowers are fading away, what’s next for the garden? Here’s a fall task list for you to start to prepare your garden for the winter season.

When I was a new gardener, and summer was over, I was sad to see my flowers fade away with summer. But I looked forward to a much-needed break from the crazy hours I spent out in the garden, tending to my flowers.

I had no idea that the hard work wasn’t over quite yet.

prepare garden for winter: marigolds growing along a white picket fence and greenhouse

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I’m a self-taught hobby gardener, not a Master Gardener. Everything I share with you on my blog is my personal opinion and things that worked for me along the way.

prepare garden for winter: purple asters in the cottage garden

Fall Garden Checklist

Preparing a garden for winter is one of the most important things you can do in the gardening year. With these fall tasks, you’re basically setting your garden up for success for the next season.

Here are 27 ways to prepare a garden for winter.

Cleaning and Clearing Out the Garden

1. Cut Back Infested and Diseased Plants

Now is the time to cut back perennials that are done blooming for the season, and are diseased or pest infested.

Diseased plants can spread to healthy ones if not removed. Cutting off the dead or dying foliage on a plant will help prevent fungal growth, infestations, and disease.

You can choose to let many of the spent perennials decompose in the winter garden to add more nutrients back into the soil as long as there are no signs of disease, pests, or fungus. They will also provide soil protection and reduce soil erosion if left through the winter season.

Many seedheads are beneficial through the winter and can provide food to wildlife.

2. Remove Weeds in the Garden

Prepare the garden for winter by keeping the weeds at a minimum through the fall. Remove any invasive weeds in the garden beds.

fallen leaves on the ground in the garden

3. Clear Debris and Fallen Leaves

Deadhead spent flowers and clean up any debris, such as faded blooms, fallen branches, and spent annual plants. This will help in eliminating areas for insects and diseases to overwinter.

Rake up and remove fallen leaves from the garden beds and lawn.

4. Divide and Transplant Perennials

Before the ground freezes, divide any mature perennials that are starting to overcrowd an area in your garden beds. Transplant these to other areas around your garden, or share them with friends and neighbors.

5. Clean and Store Garden Tools

It’s that time of year when seed trays, plastic markers, tomato cages, and gardening tools should be sterilized by soaking them in a water-bleach solution.

After soaking them, let them air dry before storing them in a garage, shed, or greenhouse for the winter.

Sterilizing your garden tools and equipment will help reduce mineral build-up. It will also help prevent the spread of fungus and bacteria to your new plants when you reuse the tools and pots.

prepare garden for winter: dahlias along the split rail fence

Soil Care

6. Test Soil and Analyze

Check your soil in the garden to analyze your soil to understand its condition.

A soil test will give you an idea about what nutrients your plants might need for the next growing season. By knowing your soil’s pH level and nutrient content, you can make informed decisions about fertilizers and soil amendments.

Soil amendments such as compost, manure, straw, or well-rotted leaves will help enrich the soil, retain moisture, improve soil structure, and provide essential nutrients.

prepare garden for winter: white picket fence flower garden

7. Add Organic Matter for Enrichment

Give your soil a boost by adding organic matter which is anything that contains carbon compounds that were formed by living organisms. Examples are lawn clippings, leaves, stems, branches, moss, insects, earthworms, and microbes.

It also encourages beneficial organisms to thrive.

  mowing leaves into mulch

8. Mulch to Protect Roots

Spreading a 3-inch thick layer of mulch to your garden beds is an important fall task. Here are some of the benefits of adding mulch to your garden:

  • Prevents weeds
  • Maintains moisture levels
  • Insulates the garden soil
  • Adds nutrients to the soil as the leaves break down
  • Prolongs the growing season and will allow your fall garden to flourish
  • Provides habitat for overwintering bugs, butterflies, and small animals
  • Helps protect your soil from blowing away in heavy winds

Did you know that you can use your fallen leaves for mulch? They make a great substitute for mulch and have many of the same benefits.

9. Cover Crop for Nutrient Retention

When getting your garden ready for winter, consider cover cropping. Instead of leaving your soil bare during the cold season, you plant certain crops, like clover or rye, which act like a protective cover.

These cover crops keep your soil in place, preventing erosion, and their roots help retain essential nutrients. Once spring comes, you can turn them into the soil, enriching it with all those stored nutrients.

prepare garden for winter: row of dahlias in the garden

Protect Plants

10. Dig up Tender Bulbs and Tubers to Prepare for Winter

Dahlia tubers and other tender bulbs will not survive the winter months in hardiness zones 7 and below. In those parts of the country, they need to be dug up shortly after the foliage turns brown in fall for winter protection.

At the end of the season, store them in a cool, dry place through the winter.

I’m in hardiness zone 8b and have a much milder climate in the winter. I leave my tubers and bulbs in the ground throughout the winter, but add a few inches of mulch around the plants to protect them from any damage caused by freezing temperatures and heavy snow.

 putting geraniums in pots in greenhouse

11. Overwinter Tender Plants

Tender plants are those that are sensitive to cold temperatures and are more likely to be damaged or killed by frost or freezing conditions. Examples of tender plants include:

  • Some annuals, such as impatiens, begonias, and coleus, are not cold-hardy and need protection from frost.
  • Citrus trees
  • Herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley

One of the items on my fall task list to prepare my garden for winter is to overwinter my geraniums in the greenhouse.

If you don’t have a greenhouse, no need to worry. There are still other ways to overwinter your geraniums.

Winterize Your Garden

12. Store Items from the Garden

Bring garden furniture, accessories, structures, and equipment indoors before the freezing temperatures.

  • Ceramic and clay pots and containers can crack when the temperatures are cold enough to freeze, especially those that have potting soil in them.
  • Statues and other breakable yard art are also vulnerable during the winter months and should be removed from the garden until the temperatures warm up.
  • Clean, cover, and store pillows, cushions, and outdoor furniture in a dry and protected area.

13. Insulate Cold Frames and Greenhouses

By adding insulation such as bubble wrap, row covers, or blankets, you can trap heat and keep the frost from coming in.

This extra layer of protection can make all the difference in maintaining a thriving garden throughout the cold season.

Pest and Disease Control

14. Remove Potential Pest Habitats

Fallen leaves, garden debris, and old plant material can all become cozy hideaways for pests during the winter.

By clearing away these hiding spots, you’re reducing the likelihood of infestations in the spring.

15. Apply Dormant Oils or Natural Pest Repellents

Dormant oils can be sprayed on trees and shrubs during their dormant season, smothering overwintering insects and their eggs.

Use natural repellents like neem oil or garlic spray.

These eco-friendly solutions not only help prevent pest infestations but also keep your garden safe and healthy throughout the winter months.

16. Inspect Plants for Signs of Disease

Look for discolored leaves, spots, or unusual growth patterns.

Catching and addressing any issues now can prevent diseases from spreading and becoming more problematic in the spring. If you spot any problems, prune affected parts or use disease-resistant varieties when replanting.

prepare garden for winter: red and orange dahlias being held after harvesting

Harvest and Compost

17. Harvest Flowers

Harvesting your garden before winter sets in helps ensure they won’t be lost to frost or pests, and you get to enjoy them indoors.

18. Compost Garden Waste

By collecting fallen leaves and garden waste in a compost pile or bin, you’re creating a valuable resource for your garden.

As these materials break down over time, they transform into nutrient-rich compost that can be used to improve soil quality in the spring. Composting not only reduces waste but also enriches your garden’s soil, making it more fertile and productive.

Green materials include anything that’s still alive or wet like green leaves, grass clippings, and manure. They contain more nutrients, including nitrogen, and compost more quickly.

bird bath in cottage garden with lavender and chives

Watering and Irrigation

19. Adjust Watering Frequency

As you prepare your garden for the winter months, one essential adjustment to make is in your watering routine.

With cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours, plants generally require less water. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other problems, so it’s a good idea to cut back on watering frequency.

Monitor the weather, soil moisture, and the specific needs of your plants, and adjust accordingly.

20. Drain and Store Garden Hoses

When water freezes inside hoses, it can cause them to crack and become useless. So, before the winter chill sets in, disconnect your hoses, drain them completely, and coil them up neatly for storage.

21. Protect Outdoor Water Features from Freezing

As temperatures drop, the water in fountains, ponds, and birdbaths can freeze, potentially causing damage. To prevent this, consider investing in a floating de-icer or a submersible heater to keep the water from freezing completely.

prepare garden for winter: rows of tulip bulbs being planted in raised bed

Winter Planting

22. Plant Spring Bulbs

As the gardening season winds down and winter approaches, it’s a great time to plan for a vibrant spring.

One way to do this is by planting spring bulbs before the first hard freeze. Flowers like tulips, daffodils, and crocuses are planted in the fall, and they’ll stay cozy underground until the following spring.

23. Plant Trees and Shrubs

Fall is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. The soil is still warm enough for the roots to establish if you plant well before the first frost of the season. This way, there is time to acclimate before the cold weather.

24. Sow Cover Crops to Protect Soil

Cover crops like clover, rye, or winter wheat can be planted in the fall to shield your garden beds from the harsh winter elements.

They help prevent soil erosion, suppress weeds, and enhance soil health by adding organic matter when turned under in the spring.

prepare garden for winter: fall perennials in garden

Garden Records

25. Document Your Garden’s Current State

Before winter arrives, take a moment to document your garden’s current state, whether it’s by taking pictures or writing down some notes.

This step can help you plan for improvements, track plant growth, and identify any problems that need addressing when spring comes around.

26. Note Any Issues or Successes from the Gardening Season

As you gear up for winter, this is a great time of year to reflect on your garden’s journey throughout the year.

Make a note of any issues or successes you’ve experienced. Did you discover a pest problem that needs addressing next year? Or maybe you grew a new variety of flowers that you loved.

27. Create a Winter Maintenance Schedule

Establish a winter maintenance schedule for your garden. It might include tasks like checking for damage after heavy snowfall and inspecting overwintering plants.

By planning ahead and having a clear schedule, you can stay on top of winter garden care without feeling overwhelmed.

black-eyed Susans and coneflowers in containers

Most Common Questions for Preparing the Garden for Winter

While it might seem tempting to tidy up your garden by removing spent flower heads, it’s often a good idea to leave them standing through the winter.

These plant stalks can provide essential habitat and food for overwintering insects and birds. Plus, they can act as a protective layer, shielding the crown of perennial plants from harsh winter weather.

One simple way to protect your flowering plants is by adding a layer of winter mulch.

Apply a thick layer of organic mulch, like straw, leaves, or leaf mold around your flower beds to insulate the soil and regulate temperature. This helps prevent freeze-thaw cycles that can damage plant roots.

You can also add frost blankets or burlap wraps to individual plants for extra protection.

prepare garden for winter: fall garden with vintage fencing

Covering your flower garden during the winter can be a wise move, especially if you live in an area with harsh cold and frost.

Covering your plants with materials like burlap or frost blankets can shield them from freezing temperatures and frost damage. This protection is particularly crucial for delicate or newly planted flowers. However, not all plants require covering, and some hardy varieties can withstand winter without extra insulation.

sedum autumn joy in the garden

When it comes to fall garden chores, it’s essential to know which perennials should not be cut back. Some of these hardy plants benefit from leaving their foliage intact during the winter.

Plants like ornamental grasses, sedums, and coneflowers not only provide visual interest in the garden with their seed heads and unique textures but also offer shelter and food for birds and beneficial insects during the colder months.

It’s a good idea to start the process in late fall, typically after the first hard frost or when the weather begins to cool significantly.

Winterizing involves tasks like mulching, cutting back certain plants, and protecting delicate plants. By getting a head start in late fall, you ensure that your flower beds are adequately prepared for the colder months ahead.

fall garden perennials

As the gardening season winds down, focus on a few key steps to ensure their survival.

First, trim back any dead or diseased foliage and remove fallen leaves to prevent disease and pests from overwintering. Next, add a layer of mulch around the base of your perennials to insulate the soil and protect their roots from freezing temperatures.

Consider providing additional support and stake taller varieties to prevent them from flopping under the weight of snow or ice.

If you live in an area with extremely harsh winters, you might want to cover your perennials with burlap or frost blankets for added protection.

prepare garden for winter: cottage garden overlooking the Puget Sound

I hope these fall gardening tasks help you create your own plan to prepare your garden for winter. By completing these projects now, your garden will be even more healthy and successful next spring.

If you have any questions or additional suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments below. And be sure to share this blog post link with anyone who may find these gardening tips useful.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening!

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13 Comments

  1. I haven’t done anything yet!! I planted a few bulbs last week and have to finish them this week. I keep avoiding looking at all the work I have to do out there. I think I’m going to wait until Spring to move my perennials because I need to work on the layout a little.

  2. Kim, I am awaiting a large order of tulips from Longfield Garden and I need to get those in the ground soon. Our gardening session is heating up so lots of work this time of year. We don’t have the freezing temperatures but it is a good time to plant trees and shrubs. Thanks for all the great tips!

  3. Kim, these are all really great tips. I plan on spending time this week out there doing some trimming back of plants and some extra mulch around some new plants.

  4. Thank you for the great tips! They are so helpful to me. I am not looking forward to digging out all of my dahlias, that will be so much work this year.

  5. Hi Diana, I can see how this could be confusing. What I meant by debris was fallen branches, spent flower buds and plants that have died off for the season. I hope that clears it up.

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