31 Simple Tips for Preparing a Garden for Winter Time

Last Updated on September 15, 2020

Along with the cool air and brilliant fall foliage comes to the realization that it won’t be long before the harsh New England winter hits. Subzero temperatures, frost heaves, snow, or worse no snow, which translates into no water—are the conditions that await your garden. Now, you may be heading somewhere warm for the winter, but even so, you’ll want to close the season by giving your garden every advantage to survive the cold winter months. Learn how with these 31 simple tips for preparing a garden for winter time, which follow.

Preparing a Garden for Winter: Fall planting
Fall is an excellent time to divide existing and plant new perennials, like this Heahter (Calluna vulgaris).

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CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn 31 simple tips for preparing a garden for winter time, including:

Clean Up Tips for The Garden (and Equipment)

Preparing a Garden for Winter: Clean garden tools
Be sure to thoroughly clean your garden tools at the end of the season to prevent spreading disease from year to year.

When you have a clean garden, it deters pests and diseases from taking up residence. Even though the gardening season may be close to an end, these clean up tips will help it remain healthy while dormant.

  1. Carefully remove perennial foliage after it’s died back, making sure not to disturb the roots. Some foliage will pull away easily from the plant with a simple tug, but sometimes it calls for pruning shears.
  2. Label your perennial plants and kitchen herbs to avoid planting over them–or worse, digging them up–in the spring. Labels like these will also help you identify them when their tiny leaves emerge.
  3. Continue weeding your garden beds right up until the ground freezes. This will help limit next year’s weed population. 
  4. Thoroughly clean your hand tools, power tools, and garden accessories of any dirt and debris. Doing so will prolong their life and prevent the spread of disease from year to year. 
  5. Sterilize tomato cages and your pruning shears with a disease killing bleach and water solution. You want to add one part bleach to 9 parts water to make a 10% bleach solution. This will kill germs like fungi, bacteria, or viruses when you spray or dip your tools.

About Mowing and Motors

  1. Drain any remaining gasoline from any power motors that will not be used during winter months. Alternatively, add a gas stabilizer. Make sure to do this for your:
    • Lawn mower
    • Weed wacker
    • Rototiller
    • Any other motorized machines that will be dormant through the winter
  2. If your rider mower doubles as a snowblower, now is a good time to remove the mowing blade and put on the snow attachment.
  3. As lawn growth begins to slow, gradually reduce the mow height to 2-inches, giving your lawn a nice, neat cut for the cool season. 
  4. Mow your wildflower beds only after you notice that the seed heads or pods have formed and the seeds have scattered. This ensures you will have more wildflowers and native plants next year.

Feed Your Compost Pile

  1. Continue to rake the lawn as any leaves fall. Otherwise, they can harbor disease and smother the lawn. 
  2. Reserve dried leaves as a source of leaf mold, which improves garden soil when added in moderation. Or dump them into the mulch pile. For best results, layer brown (dried) and green (live) organic matter like a lasagna.
  3. Remove any debris from the vegetable garden and compost it, so it can age over winter. 
  4. Sow a green manure, such as annual ryegrass or crown vetch to boost the nitrogen content in your garden bed soil. Here’s how in two easy steps.
    1. Step 1. In the Northeastern US, you have until mid-October to plant a green manure.
    2. Step 2. Then, turn it into the garden after it matures but before the ground freezes.
    3. Bonus: Turning the garden when it’s chilly may also expos and evict bugs from the garden.

Related Article: Learn to preserve your kitchen herbs so you can enjoy them over the winter.

All Snug in Their Beds

Once you’re garden is cleaned up, you’ll want to be sure you take steps to prepare it for the colder months ahead. You can do this in the following ways.

  1. After the first frost, blanket your perennial bed with a thick cover of mulch. This will insulate plants through the cold months. 
  2. For protection against frost heaves, layer evergreen bows over your perennial beds. 
  3. Snow will provide another layer of insulation as well as a source of water, but a heavy snowfall can damage shrubs and trees. Loosely wrap use another upright evergreen to help them retain their form. You can also suspend a tarp by stakes to alleviate some of the snow’s weight.
  4. Lift summer flowering bulbs, corms, and rhizomes, such as Dahlias and Gladiolas. Unless you live in a warm climate, they will not survive winter in the ground. Here’s what to do after you life them:
    • Step 1. Cut stocks to appropriate approximately 3-inches tall
    • Step 2: Allow them to dry thoroughly
    • Step 3: Dust them with anti-fungal powder.
    • Step 4: Store bulbs in a dry, most free basement or garage until spring.
  5. Hang a few bars of Irish Spring soap from shrubs that deer like to eat, or use a commercial deer repellant. 
  6. Store any garden chemicals where they cannot freeze. 
  7. Drain and store garden hoses, sprinklers, and timers.
  8. Wrap and store garden fencing. 
  9. Empty and store bird feeders which might be damaged if water collects and freezes. (Most plastic or heated bird feeders will withstand freezing conditions.)
  10. Up-end, store, or cover wheelbarrows and garden carts to prevent water from collecting and freezing.

A Nice Drink of Water

Preparing a Garden for Winter: Compost dried organic matter
Layer brown organic matter, like dried leaves with green organic matter (like fresh grass clippings) in the compost pile.

Even though you may not see much growth above ground, plants continue to develop their root systems until the ground freezes before going dormant. This makes them thirsty! So:

  1. Continue to water perennials and shrubs until the ground freezes. Pay special attention to recently planted items which may not have developed a deep root system. 
  2. As temperatures drop, apply an anti-desiccant to broadleaf evergreens (like rhododendrons) to help them preserve water throughout winter. (You’ll notice they’re water stressed when temperatures drop below freezing and the leaves curl.)

Dreaming of Spring

If can be a little sad putting the garden to bed. But there’s plenty to look forward to! Here are some ideas to keep you looking ahead to the new growing season–which will be here before you know it!

  1. As it gets cooler, plant spring-flowering bulbs, like daffodils and tulips, along with some new perennials.
  2. Divide spring and summer-blooming perennials for healthy growth and to multiply your perennials.
  3. If your “Hardy” mums never seem to survive, try planting them in the ground earlier in September to allow the time to establish deeper roots.
  4. Save seeds from perennials and annuals and either store them for a spring sowing, or scatter them where you’d like them to grow next year. This is particularly important if you’re working with biennials such as Canterbury Bells (Campanulla) and foxgloves (Digitalis), which typically bloom five months or more from sowing.
  5. If you plan to have a living Christmas tree during the holidays, dig the hole now before the ground freezes. Here’s how:
    • Step 1. Check with your nursery to determine proper planting depth and dig a hole
    • Step 2. Cover the hole with a board for safety
    • Step 3. Cover the soil removed from the hole with a tarp or store it someplace it won’t freeze so it remains workable.
    • Step 4. Plant and water tree in it’s new home once Christmas is over. It’s important to keep a live Christmas tree indoors for a short time, or better yet, in a cool porch.
  6. With everything finally to bed, reflect upon the successes and disappointments of the season. Make note of crowded perennials that you might want to move or divide in the spring. You may even want to take a few pictures for reference in case you want to change your garden plans during the winter months. And finally, enjoy the downtime while your garden sleeps.
Preparing a Garden for Winter: Plant fall bulbe
Planting fall bulbs gives a gardeners something to look forward to in spring!

Essential Tools & Equipment to Prepare Your Garden For Winter

There are a few things that can make putting the garden to bed a little easier. Here are my recommendations:

  • A Big Folding Sack – This is a very versatile items and it’s very light, too. I use it to toss dried foliage, spent blooms, and fall leaves in. It doesn’t add too much weight, has straps that I can pull along easily, and stores easily.
  • A Plastic Tarp – Perfect for dragging a lot of leaves away, protecting tender shrubs, and so many other uses.
  • Some Burlap – Also great for protecting tender shrubs. You can wrap them or insert some garden stakes to give plants some breathing room.
  • A 5-Gallon Bucket – This comes in handy for cleaning tools with a bleach and water solution. The opening is big enough that I can dip my garden tools and tomato cages right in.
  • A Wire Brush – This is a really helpful tool to scrub off any debris or dirt stuck to my tools. Just a few swishes back and forth, and its off.
  • Garden Gloves – Garden clean up can get really messy, as you might imagine. Plus, I always seem to run into wild raspberry and rose thorns and the dreaded poison ivy roots. Ugh! A sturdy pair of gloves keeps my hands (and manicure) protected.
  • Plant Labels – Great so you don’t forget what you planted or transplanted after cutting them back.
  • Pruning Shears – These bypass clippers are my go-to tool. Great for trimming, deadheading, keeping the garden neat.
  • Gas Stabilizer – This helps keep gasoline from getting all wonky and clogging up your power tools over the winter.
  • Mulch – If you don’t have large areas to cover, you can order it by the bag here. Otherwise, you might want to order it delivered by a local vendor by the yard.
  • Rye Grass – You can order rye grass and a variety of seeds from xxx.
  • Spring Flowering Bulbs – My go to spring flowering bulbs are daffodils in bulk and tulips.
  • Bypass Loppers – Use these to clip evergreen bows at this time of year. The double hinge makes it easy to cut through limbs up to 1.5″.
  • Bulb Planter – A tool to plant bulbs makes fall work easier. You could get an auger for your drill bit, or a manual tool, where you simply twist and pull out a clump of dirt, then drop in the bulb and cover.
  • Anti-Fungal Powder – You’ll use this to dust the bulbs you’ve listed.
  • Anti-Desiccant – This keeps broad-leafed plants from curling from drought over the winter.
  • Seed Saving Envelopes – These pretty packets keep seeds dry and viable for planting. (Learn more about seed saving in this book.)
  • Garden Hose Storage – A big hose can be hard to keep neat. My 100′ hose will fit in something like this decorative storage pot, and will not be unruly. Or, you could get something that mounts on the side of your house or under your deck.
  • A Compost Bin – It’s easy to make a compost bin out of palettes and chicken wire. It’s even easier with a container like this one that you can rotate.

Final Thoughts on Tips for Preparing a Garden for Winter

So, now that you know what to do and have all of the supplies and equipment you need to make your job easier, you’re ready to begin preparing a garden for winter. By following these simple tips for preparing a garden for winter, you’ll have safely put your garden to bed. And while it rests, so can you. Whether at home or traveling for the winter, the last thing you’ll need to worry about will be your garden.

Which of these tips or tools for preparing a garden for winter will you try?

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This article originally appeared in The Country Gazette as “Put the Garden to Bed for a Long Winter’s Nap” by Jackie Gately. It has been updated and modified accordingly.

This article is a collaborative post and may contain affiliate links. As always, all opinions expressed are my own. For more information, please see the following Disclosure.

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Jackie Gately

Jackie Gately is a seasoned travel writer, photographer, and marketing consultant who is passionate about travel. She loves casual-luxury experiences, coastal getaways, cultural attractions, and local, wholesome food and wine pairings. A perfect day ends with her toes in the sand or by chasing the sunset with her camera--ideally both.

4 thoughts on “31 Simple Tips for Preparing a Garden for Winter Time

  • Avatar
    September 12, 2020 at 2:02 pm
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    This is such an informative post on preparing garden for winters, with the right supplies and equipment. Right from pruning to using the right gloves, bulb planters, mulch et al. you have covered it all!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      September 12, 2020 at 2:39 pm
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      I’m glad you found it helpful, Aradhana! Happy Gardening!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    September 12, 2020 at 5:44 am
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    This is the hardest time in some ways because it’s so easy to be lax on the garden clean up tasks you mention, and that makes it all much harder come spring! Good tip about the gas stabiliser, this is something I will look into further.

    Reply

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