Preparing your garden for winter is one of the most important ways to insure that it stays healthy, productive, and beautiful. Depending on where you live, some of your plants may need extra protection to survive the cold winds and weather. Your soil might need some attention after working hard all season. Or, you really want to plant peas as early as possible next spring. Whatever your situation, this list should help you get organized.
In flowerbeds, remove all spent blooms and dead leaves. Once your roses have stopped blooming, you can prune them for shape, but do it early in the fall, before it gets so cold that you risk damage to freshly cut stems. Cut back anything that looks scraggly, or might be damaged – or cause damage – if it flails around in high winds. Remove any temporary support structures for annuals once the plants have finished their run.
In vegetable gardens, harvest your bounty, then clear out the spent plants – with the exception of legume stems and leaves, which you can work into the soil to break down and provide nitrogen for whatever you plant there next season. Remove things like stakes and tomato cages.
Pick up any fruit that has fallen from trees, and rake up leaves and needles, all of which can be used as mulch.
Fall is an excellent time to do serious weeding, because the soil isn’t super cold and waterlogged like it can get in the spring, and because you know that whatever weeds you pull will stay gone – or at least slow down – until you can put down some mulch or other barrier. Using a good selective weed killer will help keep them at bay when growing season begins again in spring.
Amend the Soil
Your soil has worked hard all season, and it might need replenishing. Fall is the perfect time to add organic matter to the soil, like compost, aged manure, alfalfa meal, etc. In the spring, most gardeners are so anxious to get out there and plant that they might not want to think about the state of the soil. Dealing with the soil in the fall leaves that much more time for stir crazy gardeners to plant to their heart’s content.
Mulch/Plant Cover Crops
After you’ve done all that work to make sure your garden is weed free, the next step is to apply some sort of mulch, so that they will stay gone – or at least be chastened enough only creep back in an easy-to-pull fashion. Mulch also acts as soil and plant insulation, retaining heat in cold weather, and cooling the soil down in hot weather. While mulching is usually done around plants and/or on bare soil, some plants in colder climates will benefit from being covered completely. For example, strawberries need protection from the heaving of the soil that happens in the winter in certain locations, so they need to be covered lightly with straw to provide them with enough insulation.
Cover crops are living mulches that crowd out weeds, prevent soil erosion, and – when chopped up in the spring – provide bonus “green manure” organic matter for the soil. There are several varieties, like crimson clover and hairy vetch, which should be planted in the fall.
Bring Tender Plants Indoors
Depending on where you live, some plants need to be brought indoors or into a greenhouse for the winter. For example, rosemary can become a shrub in parts of California, but will die in a Massachusetts winter.
See To Your Tools
Once you’ve put the garden to bed for the winter, it’s time to give your tools a bit of love. Clean, sharpen, lubricate, and check their handles. Power tools like cordless mowers and strimmers should have their batteries removed and stored in a cool, dry environment. Most importantly, put them away, so that you can find them again in the spring, when all you want to do is get out of the house and play in the dirt.