Not sure how to start preparing your garden for winter? Here are 11 fall gardening tasks to help prepare for winter.
With fall in full swing, the garden is showing signs that it is slowing down for the season.
It’s a bittersweet time for the gardener because, on the one hand, you want it to keep going, but on the other hand, you want a break from the grind.
Some of my perennials are dying back, others have powdery mildew on them, the leaves are changing and falling to the ground. While the gardens still look pretty good overall, it’s time to start preparing the garden for winter.
The first frost will be here before we know it and there are some plants that need to be lifted or brought indoors before that happens.
Follow these tips to garden in the fall and get your garden ready for winter.
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Why Prep Your Garden for Winter
Once you’ve reached the end of the busy growing season, it can be tempting to just let nature have its way with your garden and let it be a problem to think about in spring.
But taking care of some fall gardening tasks to prepare for winter will not only make your spring chores easier, but it can also make your garden healthier.
By preparing your garden for winter in the fall, you can:
- Ensure perennials are protected and ready to bloom again in spring
- Keep your soil healthy (and even make it healthier) throughout winter
- Reduce damage to garden beds and gardening tools by properly packing them up
- Get new bulbs in the ground so your spring garden is ready to go
Preparing your garden for winter isn’t always the most glamorous part of gardening, but it’s very important!
When should I start winterizing my garden?
The best time to start winterizing your garden will depend on your location. But in general, you want to get most of your fall gardening tasks to prepare for winter taken care of before the first frost.
For me in New Jersey, freezing temperatures can arrive as early as mid- to late-October usually in October. Pay close attention to the weather conditions as you enter fall. If it looks like freezing temperatures are coming, make sure to bring tender plants indoors right away.
If an early frost is expected and you want to keep things going, you can opt to cover tender plants with a crop cover, sheet or other covering to protect them from harsh overnight temperatures.
I have to admit though, that I don’t do this with all of my garden flowers and plants. My gardens are too large and expansive to get everything covered, so I just let nature take its course and focus on things like my houseplants.
11 Ways to Prepare Your Garden for Winter
There are many fall gardening chores you can do now to prepare your garden for winter. Most gardeners I know have their own unique winter garden preparation checklists. We all do it a little bit differently!
Here’s a guide to what I do in my garden each year:
1. Bring Houseplants Indoors
If you brought houseplants outdoors for summer, it’s time to bring them back inside before the first frost. Re-pot or divide plants that are outgrowing their containers to ensure they stay healthy indoors throughout the winter.
It can be hard to know when the first frost is coming – it’s often earlier than you might expect! Check the weather regularly to see if a frost is expected or bring them indoors now to avoid the risk of damage.
I usually bring mine in sometime during the month of October. But it really depends on the nighttime temperatures. If they are getting consistently colder, I bring them in sooner than later.
2. Lift Tender Plants, Bulbs and Tubers
A “tender bulb” is a type of plant that is a bulb or tuber in its natural habitat but is not hardy enough to withstand cold temperatures and frost in certain regions or climates.
If you have tender plants, bulbs and tubers in your garden, you have two choices to prepare for winter: treat these plants like annuals or dig them up and store them indoors for the cold season.
While there are certain plants I prefer to treat like annuals (for example, I don’t try to keep my snapdragons or zinnias alive all year), I like to lift and store most of my tender plants, like dahlias, colocasia, and caladiums, so that they’re ready for the garden come spring. Learn how to overwinter dahlias and other tender perennials here.
3. Overseed the Lawn
Fall is a fantastic time to overseed the lawn. By adding grass seed in early fall, you give the seed time to establish root systems after the hot summer months and before the ground freezes. Come spring, your lawn will be able to bounce back better than ever!
Here in New Jersey, it is best to overseed your lawn with tall fescue grass than other varieties like Kentucky bluegrass or perennial rye. According to Rutgers, tall fescue grass is more disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, and less habitable for Japanese beetle grubs.
4. Cut Back Diseased Plants
I like to leave a lot of my perennials throughout the winter, but it’s important to cut back any diseased plant foliage before winter and remove all of the foliage. Doing so ensures that these issues don’t spread and become worse by spring. Just make sure that you do not compost any of the diseased plant foliage you cut.
5. Tidy Up Perennials and Annuals
I don’t cut back my garden as much as some gardeners, but I do make sure to tidy up plants that are falling over. I leave a lot of perennials and their deceased foliage up all winter so the birds can enjoy the seed as well as add winter interest to the gardens.
That’s not to say that I don’t cut back some perennials too, because I certainly do. But there are some plants, like sedum autumn joy and joe pye weed, that look beautiful in the gardens covered in snow so I leave them be until spring.
Moreover, I pull out most of the flowering annuals from summer too when they are completely done for the season or otherwise don’t look good anymore.
In general, the only flowering annuals I leave are pansies flowers because they will overwinter and bounce back in spring. So I can actually get two seasons out of them here in my gardening zone 6a.
And while we’re cleaning things up, I usually take one last cut of all the flowers before the first frost so I can enjoy them indoors. They will be done after the first frost anyway, so might as well get a few more days with them, am I right?
6. Plant Bulbs Before Winter
Plant spring flowering bulbs (Tulips, Daffodils, etc.). Do not plant too early though – I usually wait until the temps are much cooler – usually in late October and sometimes as late as early November.
Planting bulbs now ensures you have a beautiful, early spring garden! Learn how to plant bulbs in fall for an unforgettable spring garden here.
7. Plant Perennials, Trees & Shrubs
Bulbs aren’t the only thing you can plant in fall to prepare for winter and spring. Now is a great time to plant perennials, vines, shrubs, or trees. Garden nurseries are selling their stock off at a discount so run, don’t walk to get plants now while supplies last.
While it is generally recommended to get them in the ground weeks before the ground freezes, as long as the ground can be worked, you can plant.
8. Dig, Divide and Move Perennials
One of my favorite things about gardening is that I can change the design of my garden each year. Not only does this keep things interesting, but it promotes good plant health too!
Dividing perennials is an essential gardening practice that involves separating the roots and crowns of mature perennial plants into smaller sections. These smaller sections become new plants, which you can place in new spots throughout the garden.
This process is crucial for maintaining the health and longevity of perennial plants and ensuring that they continue to thrive and bloom for many years to come. This fall, spend some time digging up, dividing, and moving perennials around to tweak next year’s design and keep your plants healthy.
9. Pick Up (and Use) Leaves Properly
Leaves can be great organic matter for soil, but your plants won’t like it if they’re piling up and smothering them throughout the fall! Pick up leaves weekly and make sure they’re not covering plants or accumulating around the base of trees.
Don’t just move leaf piles to other parts of your yard, either. They make great homes for rodents as well as promote other pests and diseases. However, they can be helpful though! Instead of tossing leaves, make leaf mold compost with THESE tips.
You can use the leaf mold compost to cover any bare garden beds and cover beds where you’ve planted new bulbs or perennials. The compost will help protect the plants and enrich the soil for a better spring garden.
While leaf mold has fewer nutrients than regular compost (made with yard and food waste), it excels at improving soil structure and moisture retention. I use both leaf mold and traditional compost to feed my plants instead of using fertilizer because feeding plants start with really good soil quality.
10. Do General Maintenance
Fall is the time to take care of any general garden and yard maintenance that might have fallen through the cracks during the busy summer months. Damaged raised beds or containers will only get worse in the winter as the snow piles up and temperatures rise and fall.
Take some time now to clean up all your gardening tools, sharpen any that need it, and take stock of what might need to be replaced by spring. If you have a watering or irrigation system, make sure that’s turned off before the ground freezes too!
We have an irrigation system that is tied to the house that we blow out and turn off every fall. But I also have these drip irrigation systems that run to all of my containers. We regularly pull these out, clean them off, and store them for the season.
As an aside, the drip irrigation systems that I use for my container gardens are AWESOME. I set them on a timer so they keep my planters hydrated all season long with no work from me. Ever since I started using them, my container gardens have never looked better.
11. Reflect and Plan
One of the best things you can do this fall to prepare your garden for winter is to reflect on the past season and plan ahead. Take note of the plants that really thrived this growing season and make sure to pay close attention to any plants that didn’t. Consider the factors that may have impacted the plants’ growth and plan for adjustments in the coming year.
If you want to add new plants or change the layout of your garden next year, fall is the perfect time to start making those plans. After all, you’re going to be dividing and moving perennials and planting bulbs – you might as well do it strategically!
How Are You Preparing the Garden For Winter?
Have you started closing your garden for the season yet?
I’m busy in the gardens digging, dividing and moving plants around here at the new house. And since it’s cooling down more and more every day, I brought all of my houseplants indoors for the season. Many of which are in the sunroom.
Tell me what you are doing in the comments below.
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Looking for More Flower Garden Ideas?
If you love flowers and want to grow more in your garden, here are some posts that will get you on your way, even after you’re done preparing your garden for winter.
From tucking in flowering plants that are deer-resistant or ones that attract more butterflies and hummingbirds, to shade-loving flowers like the lenten rose, these posts will get you on your way to growing a garden that will bring joy for years to come.
Here are more cut flower and cottage garden growing tips, tricks, and design inspiration.
- 5 Quick Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden
- Easy-Care Cottage Garden Ideas
- Flower Garden Ideas for the Front Porch
- Why and How to Divide Perennials
- Perennials vs Annuals
- Flowers that Bloom in Midsummer
- How My Cottage Garden Grew in 2021
- Cut Flower Gardening for Beginners
- The Complete Guide to Roses Care
- The Basics of Hydrangea Care
- Everblooming Cottage Garden Design Ideas
- The Secret to Growing an Everblooming Cottage Garden
Want to Learn How to Grow Flowers With Ease?
If you’ve always wanted to grow flowers but struggled with where to start or how to create something beautiful, I got you. I wrote a book that shares all the things you need to know to grow a beautiful and easy-care flower garden.
- Have you never met a plant you couldn’t kill?
- Have you dug around in the dirt with nothing to show for it except a sunburn and a sore back?
- Do you currently enjoy growing flowers, but are looking for more tips and ideas to level up your gardening game?
Then the Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy Care Garden Book is for YOU!
What’s in the Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide?
- Gardening basics to set you up for success
- Great garden design ideas with ready-made plans for you to follow
- Easy-care instructions for a wide variety of flowering annuals, perennials, and shrubs
- Helpful how-tos for container and cut flower gardening
- Graphs, charts, and lists to help you stay organized
My book publishes on February 6, 2024, but you can preorder now and get a special pre-order bonus chapter you can’t get when the preorder period closes.
Preorder your copy here and get a free, downloadable guide that shares bonus information with tips and unique garden designs to get year-round color in your landscape. Offer ends 2/5/24.
Garden Supplies I Use
I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites in no particular order.
- I like to use a good-quality, potting soil, garden soil, compost, and perlite when planting. While I make my own compost, you can easily buy it ready-made for use.
- I have used this deer repellent with great success. But now, I’m all about this deer repellent that is systemic instead of topical. This means the plant takes it in as opposed to it just smelling bad.
- Hands down this is my favorite hand-weeding tool. You can use it to get underneath roots and loosen soil, and it cuts down on the weeding time because you work much faster.
- But I also love this long, stand-up weeding tool to really get around roses from afar.
- I use THIS ORGANIC FERTILIZER for roses because the blooms are more prolific and it’s organic.
- And I use this organic fertilizer for my vegetables and herbs in the potager garden.
- You’ll need a sharp set of pruners when working with plants and flowers. I buy a few so I can stash them around.
- I use these garden snips to deadhead and cut flowers from my gardens.
- Where pest and disease problems are concerned, if I need to, I generally use this insecticidal soap or neem oil to help control infestations depending on the issue. When using, only apply when pollinators are less active.
- This is my favorite set-and-forget slow-release fertilizer for houseplants, annuals, and container gardens.
- Whenever I stake my peonies or other plants, I generally use these grow-through garden supports because they work really well and keep the blooms upright.
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Want to learn more about me?
I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as find ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes too.
Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging.
Fall Garden Tour Before We Moved in 2021
One of the things I love to do is to look back at what happened in prior seasons to learn from my gardens.
What worked? What looks good? Did any plants have trouble? How’s the garden looking in fall? And what should I change next year.
Although these garden photos are from last year, there are a lot of things I’m planning to do this year to wrap up my new gardens for 2022 and prepare them for 2023.
One thing my new gardens need is some callicarpa and smoketree…stat!
If you want to check out my new gardens throughout the season you can see them here:
- Early Spring Garden Tour 2023
- New Gardens Tour
- Early Spring Garden
- Early Summer Garden Tour
- Gardening for Summer Highs and Lows
- The Prettiest Fall Garden Ideas
But I also share weekly pics of the gardens in my Sunday updates.
Subscribe here so you don’t miss out on the gardening inspo!
Front Entry Garden in the Fall
This fall, I tucked in some pansies, celosia, garden mums, and field trip pumpkins to ramp up the autumn vibe in the front walkway garden.
When you plant pansies in the fall, they will overwinter and bounce back in spring.
I love this gardening hack because it saves money in the garden.
As far as cutting plants back for the season, most of this garden will remain intact so the birds can eat the seed from the dried flower heads.
I also leave it intact for the winter to add interest because snow will sit on the dead plants instead of flat ground.
Thus, I will not cut this garden back until spring.
I do need to lift the Dahlias and other tender perennials soon.
They are tender in New Jersey and won’t survive the winter outdoors.
HERE‘s how I will do it.
It has huge holes in the center of the plant, which is the plant’s way of telling me to divide it to keep it happy and healthy.
It’s amazing how different the garden looks in just a few years right?
I love to try different things with my front porch and seasonal annuals and it makes all the difference.
Right now, the garden mums, sedum autumn joy, and foliage colors create such an autumnal vibe.
You guys know how much I love sedum autumn joy because I talk about it all the time.
There are so many types of sedums, but I love sedum autumn joy the most because it is readily available and perfect for beginner gardeners.
Watch this video to learn more about sedum autumn joy.
Sedum Autumn Joy’s color is one of the reasons this plant is one of my favorites and a must-have for anyone wanting a garden that is always in bloom.
The color and texture that this plant adds through the seasons is incredible and it is a low maintenance plant to boot.
But overall the fall garden colors look amazing this season.
I’m really happy with how this garden has progressed through the years.
The Mailbox Garden in the Fall
The mailbox garden was pretty low maintenance this fall.
I tucked in some fall annuals to fill in the gaps.
But overall I left this bed alone and it still looks amazing!
Here’s a look back at the mailbox garden in 2019.
Not too much has changed, except I started gardening more in the bed on the other side of the driveway.
The Well Garden in Autumn
I love this garden now.
It used to just be a mish-mash of plants to hide the well equipment, but it’s been looking better and better every year.
Still one of my favorite ornamental shrubs, callicarpa puts on quite a show in fall with these bright purple berries and yellowing foliage.
How gorgeous are these berries on Callicarpa (Beautyberry)?
I think the birds love them as much as I do.
This garden already has quite a bit going on so I tucked in a few fall flowers to keep the autumn vibe going while the other plants faded out.
Two of my favorites in this garden are my limelight hydrangea and smoketree.
I just love the contrast of the yellowing foliage and flowers of the limelight with the dark foliage of smoketree.
Both accent the fall garden well and I can’t wait to see how they change even more as fall progresses.
Backyard Gardens in the Fall
The backyard gardens are winding down but still look amazing!.
The deck is still getting used, but the houseplants are making their way indoors.
I still have a few houseplants outside that are so big I almost don’t know what to do with them.
But this year, they will overwinter in the basement with grow lights because I just don’t have the room for them on the main floor.
Most of the shrubs in that border have brilliant fall color so it’s just a matter of time before the foliage brightens up the landscape for one last time.
I do not cut much back in these beds either.
Yes, it is a lot to clean up in spring, but I don’t mind.
I prefer to feed the birds and have something interesting to look at during the winter.
The backyard border is not as vibrant as it was a few weeks ago. But the fall color is about to kick in for the final show of the season.
The cottage garden in front of my shed still looks gorgeous.
My dahlias are all still blooming.
Even Cafe Au Lait decided to finally bloom.
Better late than never I guess.
But my sedum autumn joy looks gorgeous back here with the ornamental grass.
And have I mentioned lately how glad I am that we swapped out the old fencing for this picket fence?
That small change this year made such a difference.
The inside of the cut flower garden has been completely cleaned out.
I’ll be adding some compost and leaf mold to it soon.
The vegetable garden had such a productive season this year in my new raised garden beds.
You can hear all about these awesome beds HERE.