Winter is coming, and fall is already here. Before you go into hibernation mode — curling up with that pumpkin spice latte in front of yet another generous serving of Netflix — it’s time to make sure your outdoor garden is prepared for the cold weather.
We know, we know. You’re saying, “Huh? I thought I was done gardening for the year.”
Sweet homeowner, not if you want a flourishing garden next spring. The truth is that preparing your garden for winter is important, as it lays the foundation for next spring’s growth. And there are several things you should do to lay that foundation. So where should you begin? Welcome to your list of the seven essential garden tasks for fall.
1. Clean Out Flower and Vegetable Beds
During the spring and summer, fallen leaves, decaying plant material, sticks, and other items slowly accumulate in garden beds, making them untidy. Using a small rake, pull out leaves and other debris from the garden bed. In addition, be sure to check your vegetable gardens and harvest any last crops before the first frost.
2. Save or Purchase Seeds
Did you know that the seeds from many plants can be collected and stored over the winter, giving you a readymade store of seeds to plant come springtime? It’s true. So don’t let those seeds go to waste. Instead, harvest seeds from your plants and save them for spring. Post-collection, dry them. Then, store them in an airtight container or seed storage tin somewhere cool and dry.
If you don’t have any seeds to harvest this fall, it can still be a good time to get your hands on some seeds. After summer ends, many big box retailers offer seed donations and discounted seeds for sale. Take advantage of these free or cheap seeds to help you prepare for your next growing season.
Come spring, however, you’ll want to check your seeds’ viability before planting. To do this, let the seeds sit in water for about 15 minutes. If they sink, they’re still good to use. If they float, they’ll most likely be duds.
3. Dig Up Annuals and Trim Perennials
Don’t forget to dig up your annuals. They’re known for not surviving the cold months, and can be difficult to maintain. We recommend simply pulling them up and adding them to your compost pile.
Perennials, on the other hand, can stick with you through all seasons. To stay healthy, however, many perennials need to be cut back in the fall. Not all perennial plants should be cut back, however. Research your plants to understand the recommended pruning time, as some will only flower with new growth following spring pruning. For perennials that require fall pruning, cut them back to soil level, and collect and dispose of all the clippings.
4. Weed — Yes, AGAIN
You thought you were done weeding for the year? Think again. Weeding is another important fall task. It’s a great time to rid your garden of weeds which can grow quickly and compete with your plants for moisture.
Pull out all visible weeds, taking care to get the entire root. While some weeds are extremely difficult to eradicate, you’ll want to get them out so they don’t have a chance to flower and set seed next spring. Throughout the fall, weed continuously by hand or with a weeding fork to prevent buildup and help keep your plants moist. Lucky for you, most weeds you find will be small enough to deal with quickly. You’ll thank yourself in the spring, when all those unchecked weeds could’ve become a real nuisance.
5. Plant Bulbs for Spring
Hardy, spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths should be planted no later than October. Lily bulbs can be planted between mid-September and mid-October, and peonies are best planted in early fall so their feeder roots have several weeks of growing time before the ground freezes. If you take the time to plant these colorful bulbs in the fall, your efforts will be rewarded in spring with a garden that comes to life looking better than ever.
6. Protect Plants and Tools
If you’re like most homeowners, you’ve probably invested a solid chunk of change in the various plants and gardening tools you’ve accumulated. Maybe you’ve even invested in a garden gnome or two. So it makes sense to invest the time needed to protect all of it. Here’s how to do it:
- Clean. Clean all garden tools with soap and water to remove dirt, plant material, and rust. Empty and clean planters.
- Sharpen. Sharpen pruners and other equipment. A whetstone can be used to sharpen pruning shears. Just be sure to sharpen them at the same angle as the blade.
- Coat. Coat tools in a fine layer of oil (e.g., linseed oil) before putting them away.
- Store. Put all garden tools, planters, and other equipment into safekeeping inside a garage, shed, or storage cabinet for the winter. Put away any cold-sensitive garden art. (It’s your call on whether your gnome friends can withstand winter.)
- Protect. You’ll also need to protect your perennials as winter approaches. You can help defend them by using materials that protect them from the harsh winter weather. To make sure all your plants survive the winter and thrive in the spring, it’s worth researching the plants in your garden to understand their individual needs. For example, certain plants may require a covering of mulch, straw, burlap, screening, or other materials.
7. Use Compost and Mulch
By fertilizing your lawn, you are providing it with the nutrients it needs to encourage plant growth. Fertilizing plants in the fall helps plants to develop strong root systems. That way, when summer rolls around, you’ll have a beautiful lawn to enjoy. Be sure to lay down a couple of inches of compost, followed by a layer of mulch.
Cue the Pumpkin Spice Latte and Netflix
And you’re done! Of course, if pumpkin spice lattes aren’t your cup of coffee or tea, you can do something else to celebrate. Because now you can genuinely sit back and relax, knowing you have a well-maintained winter garden that’s ready to flourish in the spring.