Fall Garden Cleanup

Take care of garden chores in the fall, and you'll be rewarded with a shorter to-do list in spring. This prep work can also help prevent garden insects and diseases, resulting in healthier plants. Use our checklist of fall chores to get your garden ready for winter and next spring.

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Annual Plants

  • Pull annuals that are finished for the season. Add healthy ones to the compost pile and put any diseased plants in the trash.
  • In mild winter climates, fill beds and containers with annuals that thrive in cool weather. Possibilities include Pansy, Viola, Stock, Snapdragon, Nemesia, and Flowering Cabbage or Kale. You might also be able to plant vegetables like spinach, lettuce or carrots.  Learn about Cool-Season Vegetables.

Flowering Perennials

  • If it’s been dry, continue to water perennials. As long as the ground isn't frozen, water even in the coldest zones. This is particularly important for recently planted perennials.
  • Cut-back perennials that are done for the season. Where hard frosts occur, you can wait to cut until after frost. In USDA Zone 5 and colder, cut-back stems to about 3 inches. Don't cut stems of plants, such as Autumn Joy Sedum, Coneflower, Ornamental Grasses, Yarrow and Russian Sage, that will add winter interest to the garden. Some plants also provide winter seed sources for birds.
  • Remove seed heads on perennials that aggressively self-sow. This includes Goldenrod, Joe-Pye Weed, Fall-Flowering Clematis and some ornamental grasses.
  • Mulch. Apply several inches of organic mulch, such as compost, leave mold or ground bark.

 Shrubs and Trees

  • If it’s been dry, continue to water trees and shrubs. As long as the ground isn't frozen, do this even in coldest zones. This is important for recently planted trees and shrubs.
  • Where ice storms are common, remove dead or weakened branches to limit ice damage.
  • Protect young trees and trees with thin bark from sunscald. 
  • Wrap young tree trunks with tree guards (available in nurseries and garden centers) to prevent gnawing by rabbits and voles. Use hardware cloth to protect the base of young shrubs.
  • Remove unpicked fruit that can’t be eaten from fruit trees. Gather any diseased fruit, twigs and leaves from beneath trees and place in the trash.
  • In USDA Zones 5 and colder, protect roses by heaping 8-12 inches of loose soil or compost over the base of plants, making sure to cover the bud union.  

Potted Plants

  • In areas with harsh winters, remove tender plants and add (soil and all) to the compost pile. If you want to re-use the soil, store it in trash bags, cans or plastic bins.  You could also blend it with equal parts fresh potting mix and use it next spring.  Or, layer it on beds as mulch.
  • Terra-cotta pot tip: In areas where snow flies and temperatures stay below freezing for prolonged periods, empty terra-cotta pots and store in a frost-free area. If live in an area where freezing temperatures are prolonged, store empty terra-cotta pots upside down. Keep them elevated off the ground to prevent the rims from freezing to surfaces.
  • In warmer regions, replant containers with cool-season color. Use fresh potting soil or amend what’s there for best results.

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