I’ve created this fall garden clean-up checklist to help you get your garden in shape for the fall. It’s important to take steps now to prevent insects and other unwanted lurkers from wintering over in the garden.
Fall Garden Clean Up Checklist
There are a few steps to fall garden clean up. Checklists help you prep in an organized way.
Winter Garden Preparations
Winter garden preparations and cleaning up the garden in the fall is one of the most important tasks for the organic gardener, yet many people neglect taking the proper steps to prevent frost damage, damaged plants, and insect infestations. Use the following 10-step checklist to encourage healthy plants and keep your garden accessories looking great year after year. Although it may seem like just another task to add to your busy life this fall, winter garden preparations are an investment. Invest the time, save money and headaches later!
10-Step Fall Garden Clean-Up Checklist
Use this 10-step checklist to help you organize your time in the garden for your fall garden clean-up day. You can tackle all of these tasks in one day, depending on the size of your garden, or break them into manageable steps.
- Remove dead annual flowers and vegetables. Dead plants in the garden are not only unattractive, but they can also harbor diseases. Fallen seeds can sprout into next year’s volunteers or random seedlings. You may want such plants or not. Cleaning up spent plants adds to the health of your garden. Compost healthy plant material but don’t compost frost-killed flowers and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and others unless you want seeds in your compost for next year.
- Cut back perennial flowers. Dead leaves and flower stalks also make good places for insect larvae, viruses and other microorganisms to hide throughout the winter and emerge in the spring. While some insects are beneficial, many are not. Cutting back perennial flowers and plants after the first frost is also beneficial for your garden.
- Mulch. Spread a good layer of the mulch of your choice around your shrubs and perennial flowers. Mulch helps regulate the temperature near the roots of your plants and prevents heaving, or uplifting plants when the ground freezes and thaws. It also helps retain moisture and prevent erosion.
- Turn the compost. It’s a good idea to turn the compost pile now before it freezes solid. That way you’ll have plenty of good, rich compost ready to spread in the spring. Use a garden fork or spade and move the old, crumbly, ready-to-use compost into a separate pile.
- Shred and compost leaves. If you rake up your autumn leaves, don’t bag them for the trash collection – try composting them instead. If you have access to a chipper or shredder, shredding them helps them break down more quickly.
- Prune shrubs that require fall pruning. Not all shrubs need pruning in the fall. Some prefer spring. Check a good plant guide or horticultural resource before hacking away at your favorite plants!
- Move plants you want to save indoors. Remember to repot them and thoroughly inspect them so you don’t bring insects and other critters inside. Geraniums and several other annuals can be saved from year to year by moving them indoors if you give them plenty of light and water.
- Bring pots, especially terra cotta, stone and ceramic pots, inside. Wash all pots thoroughly and allow them to air dry. Then bring them into the shed or garage. Don’t leave them outdoors during the winter. Moisture and subsequent freezing and thawing will crack them.
- Move garden ornaments and patio furniture indoors. If you can’t move garden ornaments such as statuary or heavy concrete benches or planters, consider wrapping them to prevent moisture, snow and ice damage. Bird baths should also be empties, cleaned and stored.
- Clean and store your garden tools. All hand tools should be washed, disinfected in a solution of water and bleach, rinses, dried and stored properly. Gasoline-powered tools should be stored and cleaned according to the manufacturers’ directions. Now’s the time to bring lawn mower and other blades in to be sharpened; demand is low, and your tools will be clean, sharp and ready to use in the spring! And don’t forget to hang up those bird feeders now – or make a bird feeder!
Plan Next Year’s Garden Now
Before you forget your gardening successes and failures, now’s the time to log them in your gardening journal. If you don’t keep a formal gardening journal, just write up your notes and store them where you’ll find them. Write down what worked well and what didn’t, and what plants you hope to acquire and try next year. Now’s the time to jot down a quick garden sketch and note where you planted those spring bulbs, too. Nothing is worse than happily digging in the spring garden to plant a few pansies, only to realize you’ve dug up your prize tulips bulbs!
Take steps now to organize, clean, and prepare your garden for the winter. When spring returns, you’ll be ready to grow a gorgeous organic garden.
Post updated August 26, 2021 with new video, updated content.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.