Garden Blog

How to Prep the Garden for Winter

Fall is a great time to prepare beds and soil for winter and spring crops.

After a long, hot summer filled with gardening chores, some gardeners are tempted to ignore their garden in the fall and just let nature take its course with the dying plant life. Don’t do it! Fall is the ideal time for preparing your garden for winter and getting a head start on spring planting. Follow these garden tips in the fall and get ready to grow an abundance of vegetables and flowers when warm weather returns.

Clear and Till

Don’t let your plants rot in the field! This can spread and cause more disease and pest problems next year as pests lay their eggs and fungal diseases get established in your soil. It’s important to remove and compost all dying vegetation from your garden beds. Pluck vegetable plants and annuals by the root and cut back perennial plants to the appropriate height. 

Once your beds are cleared you may decide to till them. If not, use your rake to rough up the soil. This disturbs any remaining weeds as well as preps the soil for cover crop by creating more surface area for the seeds to latch onto! 

Fall Cover Crop

One of the best ways to improve the quality of your soil this time of year is to plant a cover crop. You have a few different options for the ways you can go about it. Cover crops will either “winter-kill” or they won’t. Crops that winter-kill are frost sensitive and will grow until a frost, or in some cases until the hard frost, and die back at that point. The benefit of this is that you don’t have to “process” (pull, mow, weed whack, etc.) your cover crops and can allow them to decompose over the winter and spring. 

Alternatively, you can plant a cover crop that will not winter-kill and can have living ground cover all winter long. This helps to prevent erosion as a result of winter rain or snow melt and you also end up with quite a bit more organic matter once you process your cover crop in the spring! We recommend using an autumn-appropriate cover mix that will winter-kill or a cover mix that will overwinter well

How to Prepare Garden Soil

Cover cropping plays a large role in preparing the soil for the following season but there’s more to be done. As the season comes to a close, consider your soil fertility for the following year. Where were your heaviest feeders planted? These beds are going to be nutritionally depleted next year. Perhaps these are the places where you’d consider planting a cover crop or adding extra amendments or compost. 

Soil tests can be used to determine what is missing and what is needed in your soil. You can get your soil tested through your local extension agency or you can use an at-home soil test for simple, though quick, results.

Apply Winter Mulch

Where you’re not cover cropping, consider putting a layer of winter mulch. This will help perennial herbs, trees, and shrubs by keeping the soil moist and insulated and also adding organic matter over time as it decomposes. When used over flower bulbs it can help to prevent ‘heaving’ that occurs when temperatures rapidly change in the soil, pushing the bulb out of the ground. Woodchips, leaf mulch, and straw all act as a wonderful mulch over winter. 


Container-grown plants should be brought inside in the winter, even if they’re considered a perennial in your growing zone. This is because containers do not hold heat as well as the ground does. They freeze faster in winter and warm up faster in spring. A plant that is perennial in your zone in the ground may not last through the winter in a pot because its roots get colder than they would in the soil. 

Same as you would harden off your plants slowly in the spring, slowly acclimate plants to being indoors. Bring them in only at night and place them back outside during the day. After a few days, leave them inside all the time! If you live in a warmer region and your afternoons stay particularly warm, your plants may appreciate a little fresh air during the warmer hours.

Saturate the container plants with water one last time before bringing them indoors for good. Water them until the water is running out of the bottom drainage holes to ensure all roots are completely soaked. 

Prepare Garden Tools for Winter

Fall is the ideal time for preparing garden tools for winter also. Give hoes, shears and shovels a good cleaning and sharpening. Repair any loose or broken parts, oil the metal and sand the wood to prevent rust and splinters. Give garden tools a fresh coat of paint if desired, then store them away for winter in a dry location. 

Winter Gardening

Not quite ready to put everything to bed yet? Think about giving winter gardening a try! When it comes to growing this time of year, there are two main factors that will affect their harvest success: day length and temperature. As the days get shorter, plants slow their growth until finally going dormant in the deep winter months - at least for those of us in cooler growing zones. Vegetables and greens can still be harvested, but they won’t rebound or continue to produce until the spring. This means you may consider planting larger amounts than usual to account for the slower speed of growth. Temperatures also will affect your harvest. Some vegetables get sweeter as they’re coated with frost, like carrots or kale, while others such as lettuce are more easily damaged. Utilize row cover and cold frames in your winter gardening to extend your season as long as possible!