Autumn – is there a time of the year that is more beautiful than these clear autumn days?
While fall brings some lovely moments with it, the reality is that most gardeners will suffer serious gardening fatigue by October.
You might just want to curl up in front of a cozy fire with a cup of cider and a slice of apple pie – but sadly, you still have a few chores to complete before you can hang your trusted pair of gardening gloves.
There are a few important things to check off your to-do list before winter is over. Here are 15 ways to winterize your garden – some of these steps may be optional for you and some should be non-negotiable.
15 ways to winterize your garden
1. Remove and store your plant supports
You will need to pull all of your plants out of the garden, but before you can do so, you should pull out any plant supports they may be leaning on. Wipe them clean, then pile them up for the next year. Keep the ones you need for spring crops like peas in the front so you can easily grab them as you plant. You may also want to keep equipment like row covers and floating covers handy so you can always grab them too.
2. Clean up these sheets
There are a few things you can do with all the fallen leaves in the garden – but whatever you do, don’t wrap them up and toss them on the curb! There are so many ways that you can make good use of these garden leaves. They are high in organics and are great for your oil. So spread them evenly around the garden so they can decompose without rot or shaping.
If there are leaves on your lawn that you are concerned about, run the lawnmower over them a few times – the blades will chop them up and give your lawn a nice dose of nutrients. You can also toss some leaves in your compost heap or add them to your raised beds to provide a useful dash of fertilizer.
3. Save the container
If you are growing plants in containers, you will need to empty and put them in. Throw the dirt in the compost and wash any ceramic, plastic, terracotta, or other hard material containers. This will kill any pathogens that may have been introduced into the soil and make them nice and clean for spring use. Let them dry before stacking and storing them. You can find more tips on gardening in potato bins here.
4. Pull up your raised beds from above
You should also fill up your raised beds with soil or compost scraps. This is a great way to prepare your beds so that they are ready to be planted in the spring, and it will be a lot easier now than in the spring, when everything is muddy.
You need to make sure that the soil in your raised beds is replenished regularly as it will gradually become depleted over time as you harvest the beds and the soil is naturally swept away by wind and rain. Learn how to make homemade garden beds out of cement blocks.
5. Turn off the outdoor water supply
Of course, this doesn’t have to be the first thing you do when preparing your garden for winter, but it should be high on your to-do list. Make sure to empty all hoses and pull all watering taps out of the garden. If you use a rain barrel, this should also be covered and emptied. You don’t want to have to deal with frozen lines or pipes in the dead of winter – trust us!
Before turning off the water, however, it may be worth giving your plants one last long drink. In particular, give new shrubs, trees, and perennials a splash.
Fall is also a wonderful time to apply mulch to the garden. You may want to put some layers (just two or three inches) around your frost-sensitive plants, especially near the roots. You can also apply some mulch to onions planted in the fall, such as garlic.
This will help protect them from freezing, as well as from possible dredgers like squirrels and chipmunks.
Another benefit of mulch? It will help quell some of those early spring weeds! Read our huge guide to mulching here.
7. Bring tender plants inside
If you want to save plants like tender annuals or houseplants, bring them inside. There are many plants that you can grow outdoors in warmer weather – like hibiscus – that should be brought indoors during the winter months and placed in a warm, sunny spot indoors.
8. Clean up the garden shed
… Or in the basement, in the barn or wherever else you keep all your gardening supplies. One of the first or last things you should do each fall should be to throw away anything you no longer need. Remove any old pots or plastic bowls that you no longer need so you have more space for the things you need to stow away over the winter (like lawn furniture, chairs, and grills).
9. Plant your perennials
If you’re looking to grow spring-flowering perennials like tulips or lilies, fall is the best time to plant your bulbs. Go ahead and toss them in the ground now before it freezes – you’ll appreciate the effortless color of spring! Check out this list of 110 perennial flowers for more ideas on planting.
10. Dig onions and tubers
Similarly, there are some plants whose bulbs and tubers should be removed before the frost sets in. Often times, you can lift tubers of plants like dahlias out of the ground before the first frost so you can replant them the following year.
To do this, you need to prune the plant so that only about six inches of stem remain above the ground. Let the tuber stay in the ground for a few days to sprout new eyes, then dig around it to loosen the soil and extract the plant from the soil. Let it dry and store it in a plastic bag with sawdust (and a couple of holes punched in it).
11. Clean and store your tools
Before packing up for the winter, take time to clean and store your tools. Now is also a good time to go through everything and see what is missing, broken, and what needs to be replaced. Check out our list of 35 garden organizers.
12. Get rid of the weeds
You might be tempted to just leave them there – after all, the plants will die, right? – but you really should take some time to dig up weeds in the garden. The problem is, weeds put hardy seeds in the ground and come back next year, making your problems ten times worse in the spring.
13. Compost Summer Yearbooks
Do you have summer yearbooks that you don’t want to bring into your home in the long run? Go ahead and compost them.
14. Protect new plantings
If you’ve planted a new perennial bed this year, you may want to add extra winter cover. You can drape a garden bell over the area or install a cooling frame if you want to continue growing vegetables during the winter months.
Newly planted shrubs, trees, and rose bushes should be covered with fleece jackets or cones to protect these fragile plants from snow and wind. You can also use landscaping fabric or burlap to get the job done.
15. Get the compost cooking
Fall is a great time to really whip up your compost pile! If you haven’t had compost for all spring and summer, you might want to start one now – learn how to make a DIY compost bin. You can use all of those old plant parts, grass waste, and leaves to get started. Let the ingredients sit for at least five months, turning them regularly and making sure they stay sufficiently moist. As soon as spring comes, you should have fresh, rich garden soil for your new plantings! If you are new to composting, learn what you can or cannot compost.
Don’t stop gardening just because winter is here
If you are caught by a surprise frost or a sudden frost, don’t panic – many of these winter preparations can be made even after the weather changes. However, it is a good idea to get them ready before the ground so you can go inside and know that your yard is safe from the colder months.
Don’t think that you have to stop gardening just because the weather has changed. There are all kinds of hardy plants that you can keep throwing throughout winter, especially if you have access to an enclosed area like a greenhouse.
However, if you take these steps to winterize your garden, you’ll have a lot more time to enjoy stress-free conservatories (or maybe not, if you’d rather relax instead!).