Preparing Your Garden for Winter: The Fall Cleanup Checklist

Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Oct 18
6 min read
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picking up raked fall leaves
Chelsea Hafer Written By Chelsea Hafer

As the vibrant colors of autumn leaves grace our landscapes, gardeners across the world are gearing up for an essential seasonal task—preparing their gardens for the impending winter. While it may seem like a bittersweet chore, fall garden cleanup is a crucial step in ensuring a healthy, productive garden in the coming spring. Beyond tidying up, it's an opportunity to nurture your plants, protect your soil, and set the stage for a flourishing garden next year. In this comprehensive fall garden cleanup checklist, we'll guide you through each step to help you ready your garden for winter's embrace. From caring for your lawn and perennials to tending to your vegetable garden and trees, we've got you covered with essential tasks and tips to ensure your garden's success in the seasons to come. So, grab your rake and garden shears, and let's embark on this journey to ensure a bountiful and beautiful garden year after year.

The Fall Cleanup Checklist

Fall garden cleanup is a multifaceted process that involves various essential steps, each designed to protect your plants, soil, and tools, and to ensure a successful and bountiful garden in the seasons to come. Here's a detailed breakdown of the key tasks you should tackle to prep your garden for winter:

1. Remove Spent Plants and Debris: Begin by removing any dead or diseased plants. These should never go into your compost, as they can harbor diseases and pests. Cut back perennial plants to their base unless they are a source of food or shelter for wildlife.

2. Compost and Mulch: Create a compost pile with the plant material you've removed, breaking it into smaller pieces to speed up decomposition. Compost is a valuable resource for enriching your soil. Also, use fallen leaves as mulch, either for your perennial and shrub beds or by leaving some piles in out-of-the-way areas to provide shelter for pollinators and wildlife.

3. Weeding: Finish weeding your garden one last time to prevent weeds from maturing and producing seeds that will return next year. Water the soil if it's dry to make weeding easier.

4. Plan New Garden Beds: Create new planting beds by mowing the area, covering it with newspapers and cardboard, adding compost, and topping it with chopped leaves. This will create a ready-to-plant bed for spring.

5. Protect Fruit Trees: Mow around fruit trees to discourage rodents from nesting there. Install rodent guards around the base of your fruit trees to protect them from gnawing pests.

6. Feed and Improve Soil: Replenish your garden soil with compost, organic matter, worm castings, or other appropriate amendments. This will ensure the microorganisms have time to break down the material before spring planting

7. Crop Rotation: Take note of what you've grown in each bed to plan for proper crop rotation in the coming year. Growing the same family of plants in the same place year after year depletes the soil and promotes pests and diseases.

8. Soil Testing: Have your soil tested to identify nutrient deficiencies or pH imbalances. This will help you apply the right amendments for healthy plant growth.

9. Plant Garlic: October and November are ideal for planting garlic as they require a cold period for propper growth. See our full garlic planting instructions page for a step by step garlic planting guide.

10. Maintain Garden Supports: Remove and clean all plant supports such as tomato cages and trellises. Store them indoors after spraying with a solution of water and bleach to kill disease.

11. Clean and Maintain Tools and Equipment: Prepare your garden tools for winter by cleaning, sharpening, and oiling them. Drain hoses and irrigation lines to prevent freezing damage. Store ceramic and clay pots indoors to avoid cracking. Remove gas from lawn mowers and string trimmers.

By following these steps, you'll ensure your garden is well-prepared for the winter season, setting the stage for a successful spring growing season. With the right care and attention now, your garden will thrive and provide you with beautiful blooms and bountiful harvests in the seasons to come.

Preparing Perennials for a Cold Winter: Essential Tips

Perennials are the backbone of many gardens, providing beauty and structure year after year. As winter approaches, it's crucial to take steps to ensure that these hardworking plants survive the cold months and thrive again in the spring. Here are some essential tips beyond the basic fall cleanup checklist for preparing your perennials for a cold winter:

1. Stop Deadheading in Early Fall: Many perennials benefit from leaving their above-ground growth intact, even after the first frost kills them off. These dead plants can provide important resources for wildlife, including food and shelter. Songbirds, for instance, will feast on the seeds, and native bees may overwinter in the stems and brush.

2. Plant Spring-Blooming Bulbs: Fall is the perfect time to plant spring-blooming bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and crocuses. These early bloomers can provide a burst of color in your garden when the winter starts to recede.

3. Disease and Pest Management: Remove any leaves, stems, or entire plants that exhibited signs of diseases or pest infestations during the growing season. This proactive step reduces the potential for these issues to resurface in the spring.

4. Watering Schedule: Continue to water perennials once a week if the weather is dry. Although perennials go dormant in the fall, their roots are still actively growing until the ground freezes. Adequately hydrated plants are better equipped to withstand the stresses of winter.

As you prepare your garden for the winter ahead, following these essential steps and tips can make all the difference in ensuring the long-term health and vitality of your outdoor space. Properly tending to your perennials, cleaning up the vegetable garden, caring for trees and shrubs, and organizing your gardening gear not only sets the stage for a bountiful spring but also minimizes potential issues, such as pests, diseases, and depleted soil. The effort you invest in your garden now will be rewarded when you witness the renewed beauty of your outdoor oasis as it awakens from its winter slumber. So, roll up your sleeves, embrace the autumn chill, and savor the anticipation of another gardening season just around the corner. With these fall garden cleanup tasks accomplished, you'll be well-prepared to create the garden of your dreams in the months to come. Happy gardening!

Chelsea Hafer, True Leaf Market Writer

Chelsea is a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture and loves getting her hands dirty and watching things grow! She graduated from Georgetown University in 2022 with a degree in Environmental Justice and now resides in Park City, Utah, where she works as a ski instructor. Her love for nature extends to gardening and hiking, and she has gained valuable insights from working on farms in Italy, Hawaii, and Mexico, learning various sustainable agriculture techniques like permaculture and Korean Natural Farming.

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Shanna Hager

Great article!!!


I am leafing a message Thanks for sharing all your knowledge we all need reminders of what to do as each season has its own unique needs ,seems like you have had a lot of on the job experience i love learning new ways to garden that can help me and the planet…… keep up the good work

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