What needs to be done to prep your garden for cold weather? We’ll talk about everything so you can make a list and check it off as you go. Almost like Santa!
First, though, do you love one of the four seasons better than another?
- Spring and its surprises?
- Summer and so much fun?
- Autumn with its glorious colors?
- Winter and snow sports followed with something warm?
Personally, I love all the different seasons and can’t choose which one I like best.
Well, fall is here with all of its colorful glory. The trees have turned red and gold, the leaves will be falling, and it’s really beautiful! I Iove walking on dry leaves, listening to them crackle under my shoes.
Thinking of a deliciously warm cup of cocoa. And trying not to think of all those leaves that need raking!
But, winter’s coming. Soon, the gardens will be under a blanket of snow and you’ll be thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Fall is the time to prep your garden for cold weather. Better get to work!
Fall Gardening Chores
Gardens need to be cleaned up and prepared to face winter, so they’re ready for spring’s awakening. There are vegetable gardens, perennial gardens, annual gardens, all needing to be cleaned up and ready to end the season.
If you complete your fall gardening chores now, you’ll be ready for spring showers and spring flowers. And, there will be less work for you later in the spring if you do them now.
Clean Up the Gardens
First of all, let’s talk about what you need to do to clean up your garden beds and yard now that cold weather is coming.
Rake and collect all the leaves. Don’t leave them on the lawn, or you might have brown spots in the spring. Put the leaves on the compost pile.
Remove weeds and invasive plants like Himalayan blackberries now, so they don’t reseed and come back next year. Put them on the burn pile.
Pull spent annuals and put them on the burn pile.
Eliminate overwintering sites for insects and disease. The Farmer’s Almanac has a Plant Pests and Diseases Library for tips on preventing and preparing for the most common pests in your garden.
Mow your lawn one last time before it stops growing. If the grass is too long during the winter, you could have brown patches in it come spring.
Define Your Borders
Lawn edges add easy definition to your yard. They provide the finishing touches to gardens, lawns, and pathways, with minimal effort and cost from you.
Creating a crisp border or edge in your landscape to outline gardens or separate lawns from the garden is kind of like adding the bow tie on top of the tuxedo. And it’s so easy to do!
Here are some ideas for garden edges.
Create New Planting Beds
It’s not just time to prep your gardens for cold weather. It’s time to think about next year. Create new planting beds now so that they will be ready to use next spring.
Mow the area with the lawnmower set very low, cover with a thick layer of newspapers. Cover with compost and top with lots of chopped leaves.
The new bed will be ready in the spring and filled with happy worms, waiting for your planting choices.
Annuals are plants that live and bloom only one year, then die. You’ll replant them every year.
Spectacular fillers for your garden, they’ll reward you with vigorous growth and outstanding blooms throughout the summer. Gather seeds from your favorites for next year’s planting.
Favorite annuals include pansies, petunias, snapdragons, coleus, bacopa, and mums. The University of Illinois has a Directory of Annuals that is interesting for research.
Cold weather’s coming, and the annuals will start to die off. You might be able to prolong annuals by covering them at night when frost is expected.
Spreading mulch on root vegetables will help prolong the crop and add fresh organic matter to the soil. You want good soil for your flowers and vegetables next year!
Perennials are plants that live two years or more. Perennials are distinguished as plants with little or no woody growth, different than trees and shrubs.
Windy Gardens has curated a list of the 24 Best Perennials for Your Garden. Favorite perennials include rudbeckia, astilbe, ornamental grasses, asters, coreopsis, and heuchera, others.
Fall is the best time to move or divide perennials. The soil is still workable, the weather is cooler, and the perennials can get their roots settled down before cold winter comes.
One of my favorite websites for perennial knowledge is Perennials.com. They use a rule of thumb for when you can divide perennials:
- If the plant blooms between early spring and late June, early fall division/moving is ideal
- If the plant blooms after late June, early spring division is ideal
Exceptions to the rule for when to divide perennials are:
- Peonies (move/divide in fall only)
- Oriental Poppies (move/divide in August)
- Bearded Iris (move/divide in July through September)
- True Lilies (move/divide in mid to late fall).
Do You Prune or Not? Depends!
Once the ground has frozen hard, you can prune your perennials. Cut them back to 6 to 8 inches above the ground.
These are examples of the plants you want to prune: alchemilla, campanula, coreopsis, delphinium, geranium, Hosta, and veronica. Then spread mulch over them to protect them during the winter.
Leave seed heads on flowers like purple coneflower, Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), echinacea, achillea and buddleia for winter interest and for the birds to forage on. Finches love the seeds!
Don’t prune evergreen or alpine perennials like artemisia, dianthus, helianthemum, or heuchera. The best time to prune these is in the spring immediately after blooming.
Ornamental grasses provide tremendous winter interest and rustling noises. Don’t cut back until after the spring bulbs bloom.
Mulch perennials after the first frost. Use 4 to 6 inches of mulch made up of compost, aged manure, pine needles, dried leaves, or shredded bark.
Mulching protects plants from drastic temperature changes and root damage. It helps keep the soil at even temperature and protects roots from soil heaving. And it will help reduce water loss, protect from soil erosion, and inhibit weeds.
Bulbs, When to Plant?
Everyone always has questions about bulbs and when to plant them.
Fall flower bulbs are planted in the fall and bloom in the spring. These include daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, and crocuses.
Tender flower bulbs are also called spring flower bulbs. They are planted in the spring and flower throughout the summer. These include begonias, gladiolus, cannas, dahlias, and calla lilies.
Dig these bulbs up after the first frost when the foliage has died. Brush any extra soil off, let them dry, and store in peat moss or sawdust until next spring.
Lily bulbs are fall-planted. They will need to be dug up, divided, and replanted.
Plant vegetable bulbs like onions, shallots, garlic now for next summer’s harvest.
Need more tips for storing bulbs? Here’s a link to a great resource with tons of bulb info.
Plant New Trees and Shrubs
Fall is one of the best times to plant new trees and shrubs. The cooler weather and increased moisture will help new trees and shrubs get acclimated to their new spots.
Their roots will start growing and become settled before they go dormant for the winter. They will reawaken next spring.
Take Care of Trees and Shrubs
Trees and Shrubs are an investment in your landscaping, and you want to take care of them. Cold weather can damage the roots and branches.
As a precaution, spread mulch around the base of the trees and shrubs in your yard. Keep mulch 1 to 2 inches away from woody stems and tree trunks. Water well, until the ground freezes.
Winterize evergreen plants. Anti-desiccant sprays help plants retain water. You can spray an anti-desiccant on the leaves, but you might need to reapply it in January.
Water roses through the fall. Cut back dead or diseased canes. Once frost has hit, place tall climbing roses on the ground and cover with leaves.
If you expect a harsh winter, enclose rose bushes with a cage and fill it with chopped leaves, compost, mulch, dry wood chips, or pine needles for the winter. Remove in early spring.
Water all of your plants even if they are going dormant while getting ready for cold weather. This will help will protect the plant’s roots from winter damage, and winter drying.
Water until the ground freezes in cold weather climates, water all winter if the weather is dry in warm climates.
Start a Compost Pile
Since you have all of the clean-up debris, use it to start a compost pile!
Compost is a gentle fertilizer that can be used on your flower gardens, veggie gardens and lawns. Use your scraps and yard waste and feed the worms! Your garden will thank you next spring with verdant lush green spaces.
Review the Garden’s Performance
What really worked in your gardens this year? What didn’t?
During the time you prep your garden for cold weather, review every bed now and make notes for next spring’s planting decisions. Take notes.
Rotate your plantings! You don’t want to plant the same kind of crop in the same place every year.
For instance, tomatoes will need a new spot different from last year, to discourage blight, pests, and diseases. Also, soil depletion will happen.
If you wait for next year for the review, you might forget what was planted where.
Gardening tools are the paintbrush of the yard artist. You probably used them every day this year in the gardens. Now it’s fall, cold weather is coming. It’s time to get the tools ready for cold weather storage.
Clean and sharpen pruning and digging tools. After cleaning, coat the digging tools with oil (vegetable-based oil is what some use) and the pruning tools with a tool lubricant.
Clean the wooden handles and rub teak or linseed oil on them. Dispose of the rags to prevent combustion! Store in a dry place for the winter.
Disconnect hoses, drain them, then store them coiled up in a sheltered place so they won’t freeze and crack.
As prep for cold weather, empty all unused pots, seed trays, and cages. Use a garden disinfectant on them to clean them. This will help prevent pests, bacterial, and fungal infections.
Once sanitized, store them for the winter. They’ll be ready and waiting for your spring sowing and planting adventures.
Looking Forward to Winter and Then Spring
You completed your fall prep, and your gardens are all cleaned up and ready for winter. Now that you’ve prepped your garden for cold weather, you can enjoy the holiday seasons and look forward to spring.
Spring is the time when plants start coming up. Late spring frosts can be dangerous to these new babies. Learn how to protect them and they will reward you with years of beautiful color. What a wonderful investment.