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!

A fall cottage garden

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.

asters in the cottage garden with rudbeckia and ruby snow hydrangeas

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.

Sneak peak of the sunroom with plants, swivel chairs and boho throw pillows

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.

dahlia tubers after getting hosed off - Overwintering Dahlias
Dahlia tubers after getting hosed off

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.

sunset in the fall cottage garden with pumpkins, lantana, celosia and a view of my gardening zone 6a new jersey gardens

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.

Leaving plants up all winter can also give pollinators and beneficial bugs (yes, they really do exist!) safe spaces to overwinter, all of which can help your soil and garden come spring.

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.

sedum autumn joy in bloom
Sedum Autumn Joy

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?

last bouquet of flowers from the cutting garden in 2022 with zinnias, dahlias, snapdragons and celosia

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.

hydrangea paniculata and sugar pumpkins on the fence

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.

Cottage garden in fall with gomphrena truffala pink, rudbeckia, pumpkins and celosia

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.

front pond in fall with bridge in zone 6a new jersey garden

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.

container gardens in the zen garden with supertunias, colocasia and coleus

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!

good directions birdhouse in my cottage garden by the front porch in fall with rudbeckia, celosia and snapdragons and pansies overlooking the valley

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.

dahlia cafe au lait at sunrise
Cafe Au Lait Dahlia Flower
potager garden decorated for a fall dinner party at night
fall garden with asters - preparing the garden for winter this fall

Thank you so much for following along.

Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

stacy ling signature

Home and Garden Blogger Stacy Ling cutting zinnia flowers in her cottage garden with wood picket fence in front of garden shed
close up of new jersey gardens in the fall with fall garden flowers and plants
close up of shade garden in fall with oak leaf hydrangea9 ways to prepare the garden for winter

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:

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!

beige center hall colonials with expansive gardens of curb appeal -9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter
sedum autumn joy in fall cottage garden -9 Ways to Start Preparing the Garden for Winter
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.

Fall garden in the front yard - 9 ways to prepare the garden for winter

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.

dahlias in the front yard fall garden

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.

black lab on front steps of center hall colonial overlooking front yard gardens in fall9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter

There isn’t much that I am moving around in this garden; however, I do need to dig, divide and replant my Siberian Iris.

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.

front porch in fall with pumpkins and cornstalks on beautiful autumn day in the gardenPreparing the Garden for Fall
My garden in fall 2019

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.

close up of pumpkins and gourds on front porch with planters decorated for fall -Preparing the Garden for Winter
Fall Porch 2019

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.

Front yard gardens of center hall colonial with black door in fall in new jersey gardenbricks 'n blooms weekly

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.

YouTube video

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.

sedum autumn joy in fall close up in cottage garden -Preparing the Garden for Winter

But overall the fall garden colors look amazing this season.

I’m really happy with how this garden has progressed through the years.

front yard gardens with cottage garden flowers in fall with black lab on front porch of center hall colonial in new jersey garden9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter
Sedum autumn joy close up -Preparing the Garden for Winter
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!

sedum autumn joy and garden mums in front yard gardens for curb appeal in fall -fall mailbox garden - 9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter

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.

fall garden around mailbox -Preparing the Garden for Winter
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.

close up of Callicarpa purple berries - beautyberry
How gorgeous are these berries on Callicarpa (Beautyberry)?

How gorgeous are these berries on Callicarpa (Beautyberry)?

I think the birds love them as much as I do.

well garden in fall with grasses, garden mums, limelight hydrangea and beautyberry with smoke tree9 ways to prepare the garden for winter

Because I planted SO MANY flowers that I grew from seed in spring, I just tucked a few garden mums and pansies in this garden to fill in the gaps.

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.

Close up of limelight hydrangea flowers in fall -9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter

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.

Close up of limelight hydrangea flower as blooms fade -9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter limelight hydrangea
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.

close up of christmas cactus, dumbcane and spider plant on deck before bringing indoors for the winter-Preparing the Garden for Winter
I brought all of these houseplants indoors over the weekend. The Peace Lily in front was wilting and looked really sad after a super chilly evening. Now that it’s indoors, it is much happier.

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.

Outdoor dining space on deck decorated for fall with fresh flower centerpiece cut from garden and outdoor area rug -how to set a cozy fall harvest table

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.

Shade garden with hostas and hellebores -9 ways to prepare the garden for winter

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.

shade garden with hostas and stinking hellebore -Preparing the Garden for Winter

The cottage garden in front of my shed still looks gorgeous.

My dahlias are all still blooming.

garden shed with beautiful cut flower garden in fall with sedum autumn joy, dahlias and ornamental grass with pumpkins9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter

Even Cafe Au Lait decided to finally bloom.

Better late than never I guess.

close up of cafe au lait dahlia - Dahlias in cottage garden -Planting for fall garden beauty with dahlias

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?

close up of garden shed with cottage garden and windowboxes filled with fall garden flowers9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter

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.

backyard garden with garden shed, arbor and raised beds with vegetables -9 ways to start preparing the garden for winter

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.

Close up of oak leaf hydrangea leaves in fall - 9 ways to prepare the garden for winter
Close up of Oak Leaf Hydrangea leaves as it changes in fall

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3 Comments

    1. you can when it’s small but I wouldn’t do it now. You can add a plant support to prop it up and may want to divide it in fall.