Put the Gardens to Bed: Fall Tips

Let it Stand…

…for the bugs.

The more you leave the garden ‘as is’, the better it will provide habitat to all the good bugs and wildlife over the winter. Ladybugs love to nest in leaves and around the base of plants during the winter. Let them be, and they’ll eat the aphids next year.

Lightening bugs like to sleep under leafy and woody debris. Leave them be and you’ll have more of these creatures next year.

…for the birds.

Birds will forage on seeds from native plants through the winter. The more left in the garden, the more bugs, and the more food the birds will have through winter. It’s fun to watch birds pick through leaves to find some grub.

…for the plants.

Letting plants stand is better for them too. If you cut plants while they’re still green in the fall, they don’t get to push nutrients down into the roots. Leaving them also provides insulation around the crown of the plant, protecting it from winter. The stems also trap leaves, which serves as more insulation.

The only plants I typically clean up are ones that have had diseases like powdery mildew (peonies, bee balm, phlox), or plants that get mushy over the winter such as hostas.

…for you.

A lot of plants are actually quite pretty with a touch of frost or snow on them. I really enjoy walking around the garden when it’s snowed, it’s really interesting to see plants this way. Think of the garden as a dried bouquet.

It’s really a win-win for everyone. It helps the plants, the wildlife, and you, since you get to be a ‘lazy’ gardener!


Let grasses stand through the winter, they look pretty and provide some great insulation for the garden. They also serve as a wind block with rough winter wind. Just cut them back before new growth begins. Usually late February or early March is a good time.


Leave the leaves to protect the garden over winter. A lot of butterflies and moths attach themselves to leaves for winter hibernation. At the least, mow over the leaves so they can break down into compost. The soil and your plants will appreciate it!

“Leaves are nature’s glitter”

Mulch Bare Soil

If you have any bare soil, give it a layer of mulch. You can use undyed hardwood mulch, pine bark, straw, or even those chopped up leaves. This will prevent erosion and keep the soil temperature more regulated through winter. Go ahead and mulch the vegetable garden, raised beds, and even container pots.

Add Compost

Fall and early winter is the best time to apply compost. The freeze and thaw cycle helps the compost to break down into the soil. Plus, the garden bed will be ready to go in the spring!


Even though temperatures are cooler, you still want to water newly planted plants, trees, shrubs, and especially evergreens. Watering evergreens deeply in the fall prevents browning next year. They can loose moisture in their leaves in winter due to wind, so keep them hydrated. Winters can be dry just like summer! If there is a week without precipitation and the ground is dry, you may consider watering.

Clean Up & Loose Ends

Clean item, put them away, and organize your shed and garage. You’ll appreciate the cleaned and sharpened tools and pots next year. Place items you need in early spring where they’ll be easy to access. Stow items out of winter weather. Clean up extraneous items like trellises in the vegetable garden, plastic pots, etc.

Complete tasks you didn’t get to this year. Think of it as a head start for next year!

Place unplanted plants in protected areas where they’ll still get rainfall. I like to place them against the house, a fence, on a pad of concrete, or against a tree where they’ll get get some thermal insulation and sunlight.

Journal & Read

Make a list of tasks you want to do next spring. There may be some prep work you’re able to do during the winter.

If you plan to work with a professional, it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and give them a call. It’s better to start working with a landscape designer beginning early fall, rather than the spring.

Do a seed inventory so you know what you need to order when new seeds come available. Order early so you don’t miss out!

If there’s a gardening subject you’d like to learn about, the winter is a great time to read about gardening! I have a list of favorite books.