Prep your garden for winter so it’s in top shape come spring

Allen Foster

Prep your garden for winter so it’s in top shape come spring.

As winter sticks her icy fingernails into the soil and frost brings growing season to an end, you may feel a twinge of sadness. A warm and vibrant part of your world has transitioned into a bleak, lifeless landscape. The flowers are gone, the grass is scraggly, and the trees have become skeletal remnants of their former selves.

However, with a little hard work in the weeks preceding this calamity, you can get your garden ready for winter and help spring arrive with more zest, zeal, and vigor than ever before. Indeed, by taking a little time to prepare, the rewards you reap will be bountiful.

Here are some of the most important things you need to do before winter to ensure you have a splendiferous spring awakening.

Perform general cleanup.

Start with the easy stuff: the general housekeeping. Peruse your garden and remove all unwanted debris, such as sticks, dead plants, and trash. Give the area a thorough tidying up.

Nip diseases in the bud.

Inspect plants for signs of infection. If you find any disease, carefully remove that portion of the plant and dispose of it properly. Burning is the best way, but check first if there are restrictions in  your area. (You could bury diseased matter, but that area might stay infected for a few years. Composting is an option, but it doesn't kill everything.)

Remove weeds.

Weeds are reliable; they always return. Before the ground gets too hard, dig down to the root of the problem and rid yourself of those stalwart nuisances right now. In the spring, you'll thank yourself for making this preemptive strike.

Give it a till.

Tilling is important because it helps air, water, and nutrients penetrate the soil to create better growing conditions. However, it doesn't make sense in every garden, especially where perennials are concerned. If tilling is in your future, don't wait until spring; do that dirty work now.

Debug the area.

After tilling, you may uncover some undesirable squatters in your garden: cabbage worms, parsley worms, beetles, slugs, and aphids, to name a few. The fall is a great time to remove them; you can do this manually or with treatment. Diatomaceous earth works and is good in dry soil, but it may cause harm to some beneficial insects.

You should also examine the crowns of your perennials to be sure there are no snails, slugs, or aphid colonies preparing to take up residence for the winter.

Prep your perennials.

Certain perennials can benefit from a fall pruning. For others, either there is no advantage to a quick trim or they provide a greater service (to nature) when left as is. Before you start snipping away, do a little research to find out which is the best strategy for your particular plant.

Feed your soil.

Fertilizer isn't for the plant; it's for the soil. With that in mind, it makes sense that so many professionals stress the importance of fertilizing two to three weeks before the first frost. If you haven't given your garden a fall feeding, maybe it's time to start.

Mulch the area.

Mulching in the fall can help block weed growth, maintain moisture, and insulate the soil. It's less messy to mulch in the fall because it's not typically as muddy, and the temperature will be cooler. Just remember to remove as much of the old mulch as you can before applying that fresh layer.

Plant some bulbs.

Fall is the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Wait until the soil has cooled, but don't plant too close to the first frost. In order for plants to survive the winter, they must root before the cold weather arrives.

Start a compost pile.

Because leaves are so plentiful, fall is the perfect time to start a compost pile. Pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks, and straw can also be added to your collection. Just be careful not to contaminate your pile with any diseased plant parts.

Other important chores

Besides tending to the soil and plants, there are a few other chores you can do at the end of the season to save you from additional work in the spring.

Make repairs: You're likely to be too busy during the growing season to tackle routine maintenance on non-living things, so fall is often a great time to make repairs to fences, gates, sheds, and other structures.

Clean your tools: Before putting those gardening tools away for the final time, make sure they are clean.

Drain standing water: Stray water can cause some hefty damage when it freezes and expands, especially if it's inside your hose. Be sure to drain all hoses before packing them away for the winter.

Bring houseplants in: Don't forget to bring in those houseplants that you moved outside in the spring. Once nighttime temperatures drop below 45°F, it could be too late.

The "downtime" of fall and winter doesn't have to get you down. Preparation is key. The better you care for your garden at the end of the season, the more you'll have to look forward to in the spring.


Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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