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Fall Garden Cleanup Checklist: How To Winterize Your Garden

There are so many things that need to be to done in the fall to winterize your garden. Which is where this fall garden cleanup checklist comes in handy! All the tasks in one place. With a free printable that you can use to check things off as you go.

How To Winterize Your Garden (With a Fall Garden Cleanup Checklist)

Along with the ghosts and gremlins of late October comes the time to put the garden to bed for the winter.

There is a chill in the air, the leaves are turning color and dropping, and the perennials are looking ragged.

It is ideal to winterize your garden around the time of your first frost date.

This will be garden before the ground freezes and before it is too cold to enjoy being in the garden. (The exact date will depend on where you live. You can find the average first frost date for your area HERE).

I like to leave some perennials, like grasses, for winter interest, to be trimmed back in the spring. Ignore the late bloomers such as chrysanthemums, anemone, and toad lily for now. Plan to cut them back after the first frost.

Besides trimming, there are many other fall garden tasks that need doing around the garden and deck to get your garden ready for winter.

Keep reading to find my fall garden cleanup checklist.

1 | Trim Perennials And Bushes

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Peony being trimmed for fall garden maintenance
  1. Cut the peony bushes to within 2 inches from the ground.
  2. Clip the iris leaves to 2-3 inches and remove any brown dead leaves altogether.
  3. I like to trim the Hostas back to 1 -2 inches before they freeze. This prevents having the slimy ugly looking dead sludge around the plant that happens when Hosta leaves freeze.
  4. Trim columbine, Solomon seal, asters, geraniums, phlox and ferns to 2 inches from the ground.
  5. Likewise with echinacea. Because I want it to self seed, I shake the seed heads over the garden before I compost them.
  6. Cut Nepeta to the ground and make the root ball smaller by using a spade to cut off the sides. This helps to contain the size of the plant next year.
  7. Although my clematis vines get trimmed in the spring, I do cut back the sweet autumn clematis to 6 inches now. It has finished blooming and the vines have grown all over the nearby bushes. I do not want it to choke its neighbors. Therefore it gets pruned in the fall and all the trailing vines get removed.
  8. This year I pruned back the hydrangea vine on the side fence. Because it grows so slowly, I do not do this often.
  9. If you know what type of hydrangeas you have, now is the time to prune Pee Gee, Annabelle , and Limelight.
  10. As you work through the beds, pull up and remove all annuals.

2 | Get Rid Of Weeds

  1. Pull out any late season weeds before they go to seed.
  2. If you didn’t put mulch down in the spring, now is a good time to apply a new layer which will help to prevent new weeds from coming up in the spring. And provide some extra protection for tender perennials.

3 | Transplant And Divide Plants

Daylily being divided in the fall ©LianeM - stock.adobe.com
©LianeM – stock.adobe.com
  1. Divide any perennials that have overgrown their space.
  2. This is also a good time to move any plants that you want to put in a new location. They will be able to establish good root growth before freeze up.
  3. Trumpet lilies need to be dug up and replanted every 3-4 years. They will have multiplied in that time so you will have new bulbs to plant. Put some manure or compost in the hole and plant the lily bulb 6 inches deep.

4 | Plant New Plants

Hedge being planted in the fall ©LianeM - stock.adobe.com
©LianeM – stock.adobe.com
  1. Plant new shrubs and perennials. This will give them lots of time to get used to their new home before the spring growing season.
  2. Plant bulbs for spring color! I like to order my fall bulbs in the summer when the catalog nurseries have their discounted prices in effect. The nursery will ship them in time for fall planting in your area. However, if you haven’t ordered any yet, bulbs are readily available for purchase at local nurseries and supermarkets at this time of year. Scatter the bulbs randomly where you want them to grow so that there will be a natural look when they are in bloom. Then plant them in a hole at least 8 inches deep to deter the squirrels from digging them up. Get all of our tips on how to plant bulbs HERE.

5 | Clean Up Annual Planters And Window Boxes

Garden containers waiting to be washed to winterize the garden
  1. Discard all annual plants.
  2. If the container has any perennials in the mix, transplant those into the garden.
  3. Empty and wash all of the ceramic pots. Many people recommend washing the pots with a bleach solution to disinfect them. I make do with a good water hosing.
  4. Discard plants and soil in window boxes and hay racks, except for the ones where you plan to have a winter greenery display (like this one). In that case, keep the soil and boxes in place to hold the cut foliage, which I assemble in November.
  5. Save the coco-fiber liners for next year if they are still in good condition.
  6. Store pots and containers on shelves in the garage. If you do not have indoor storage for them, they can be inverted outside in a sheltered spot.

6 | Winterize Permanent Potted Plants

  1. Wrap permanent containers that hold trees, shrubs or large perennials loosely with chicken wire. Then fill up the inside of the chicken wire with straw mulch. This should be high enough to cover at least a foot above the soil level (and possibly higher if the container has sensitive plants).
  2. Ceramic pots are likely to crumble from freezing and thawing so it is best to empty them and store them inside or turn them upside down. However, if you have trees or shrubs planted in them and need to leave them in place, you can help prevent the containers from breaking by putting them up on feet or blocks of wood (in addition to wrapping them). This prevents water from pooling around the bottom of the pot.

7 | Store Hoses and Timers

Faucet protector being installed over a faucet to winterize the garden ©knelson20 - stock.adobe.com
©knelson20 – stock.adobe.com
  1. Drain, wind up and store all hoses in the shed.
  2. Remove all brass fittings. Drain, leave in open position, and store indoors where they will not freeze.
  3. Take the batteries out of your timers and discard them. Store the timers indoors or in the garage if it is above freezing.
  4. Turn off the outside water supply and install faucet covers* to prevent your faucets from freezing.

8 | Dismantle Water Features

  1. Remove pumps from permanent water features and wash the filters. Drain the pumps and store indoors.
  2. Empty permanent water feature basins and clean.
  3. Empty portable fountains, clean and store in the garage or shed.

9 | Wrap And Store Garden Art

Garden statue wrapped in a tarp to winterize the garden
  1. Wrap heavy statues (that are too difficult to move) in a tarp. This prevents water and ice from causing freeze/thaw damage over the cold winter months.
  2. Collect all portable statues and garden artifacts and store out of the weather in a shed or garage.
  3. Carefully wrap the fragile garden art before storing to prevent damage.

10 | Protect Outdoor Furniture

  1. I store my wooden chairs and tables in the garage. You can also cover them if moving them is not an option.
  2. Also, bring ceramic stools in since freezing and thawing can cause them to break.
  3. I stash my giant basket swing seat inside as well.
  4. Scrub outdoor carpets with an Oxi-clean and soap solution. Then hose it with water until no suds are visible. Once it is dry, roll the carpet up and put it in the garage for the winter.

It is such a relief to have the garden looking neat and tidy and ready for Christmas lights.

Other Fall Gardening Ideas You Might List

Have comments or questions on how to winterize your garden with our fall garden cleanup checklist? Tell us in the section below.

This post was originally published on October 22, 2020 but was updated with new content on November 20, 2021.

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