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How to Prepare Your Garden for the Winter Season – Fall Task List

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 preparing your garden for the winter season.

fall flowers and pumpkins on metal chair

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 was just about to begin!

This is such an important time to be out in the garden, getting ready for the winter season.

purple asters in the cottage garden

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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.

dahlias along the split rail fence

Fall Task List

1. Plant Bulbs, Trees, and Shrubs


Planting tulips, daffodils, and many other spring-blooming bulbs should be done in late September through October before the first hard frost.


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 winter months.

black-eyed Susans in cottage garden

2. Maintain Garden to Prepare for Winter


Keep the weeds at a minimum through the fall. Deadhead and clean up any debris, such as faded blooms, fallen branches, and spent plants. By removing weeds and debris, you are eliminating areas for insects and diseases to overwinter.

Fallen leaves however are a different story.

fall tasks to prepare the garden by mowing leaves into mulch

3. Add Mulch to Your Garden

Spreading a 3-inch thick layer of mulch to your garden beds is an important fall task. 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.

  • Prevent weeds
  • Maintain moisture
  • Insulate the soil
  • Add nutrients to the soil as the leaves break down
  • Prolong the growing season and will allow your fall garden to flourish
  • Provide habitat for overwintering bugs, butterflies, and small animals
  • Help protect your soil from blowing away in heavy winds

coneflowers in containers

4. Divide and Transplant Perennials

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.

dahlias in front of greenhouse

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

Dahlias and other tender bulbs will not survive the winter months in northern regions. They need to be dug up shortly after the foliage turns brown in fall. Store them in a cool, dry place for planting outside next spring.

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 thick layer of mulch around the plants to protect them from any damage caused by freezing temperatures.

fall tasks to prepare the garden by putting geraniums in pots in greenhouse

6. Overwinter Tender Plants

I overwinter my geraniums, but here’s a great blog post about overwintering other tender plants as well.


One of the items on my fall task list to prepare my garden for winter is to dig my geraniums out of my containers and window boxes before any threat of frost and transplant them into pots. Then I move the geraniums into the greenhouse for the winter. If you don’t have a greenhouse, read my blog post to find out other ways to store your plants through the winter season.

fall tasks to prepare the garden with pansies waiting to be planted in greenhouse

7. Plant Fall Garden Containers

Now that you’ve transferred your tender and sensitive plants to a safe place to be stored over the winter, or your summer annuals have died back, it’s a perfect time to plant some fall annuals in the garden.

Some of these annuals will even stay through some or all of the winter season, depending on your climate.

ornamental cabbage, mums and asters

Violas, pansies, mums, flowering kale, ornamental cabbage, asters, and celosia are just a few fall favorites that I’ll be planting in the next few weeks for a new pop of color and interest.

flower containers

8. Store Items from the Garden Before 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.

empty cell trays for seeds

9. Clean Containers and Tools and Store for Winter

Seed trays, plastic plant markers, Sterilizing your tools and equipment will help reduce mineral buildup. It will also help to prevent the spread of fungus and bacteria to your new plants when you reuse the tools and pots.

Purple asters and sedum autumn joy in garden

10. Cut Back Most Perennials in the Garden

Hard prune or cut back perennials that are done blooming for the season, or that are diseased. Cutting off dead or dying foliage on a plant will help prevent fungal growth, infestations, and disease.

Here’s where it gets complicated.

Some plants need their foliage for protection over the winter and shouldn’t be pruned until spring-like asters and hostas. Know your plant’s particular care requirements for the best results.

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

cottage garden overlooking the Puget Sound

I hope this fall task list helps you create your own plan to prepare your garden for winter. By completing these projects now, your garden will be even more successful next spring. Make sure to leave a comment and let me know if you have any other questions.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening!

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  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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