Tackle garden chores in the fall, and you'll be rewarded with a shorter to-do list in the spring. This prep work can also help eliminate garden pests and diseases, resulting in healthier plants. Use our checklist to put your fall garden to bed.
Pull annuals that are done for the season. Add healthy ones to the compost pile and throw out any diseased plants with your trash.
If rain is scarce, continue to water perennials. Do this even in coldest zones as long as the ground isn't frozen. This is especially important for newly-planted perennials.
Clip perennials that are done for the growing season. In regions where hard frost occurs, you can wait to cut until after frost. In Zone 5 and colder, prune stems to about 3 inches. This helps protect plant crowns because the stems will catch autumn leaves, which help insulate crowns through winter. Don't cut stems that will add interest to the winter garden such as Autumn Joy Sedum, Coneflower, Ornamental Grasses, Achillea and Russian Sage. Some stems also provide winter seed sources for birds.
Remove seed heads on perennials that readily self-sow. This includes Goldenrod, Joe-Pye Weed and Fall-Flowering Clematis, as well as Butterfly Bush in warmer zones.
Trees & Shrubs
If rain is scarce, continue to water trees and shrubs. Do this even in coldest zones as long as the ground isn't frozen. This is especially important for newly-planted trees and shrubs.
In areas prone to ice storms, remove dead or weakened branches to limit ice damage.
Remove mummified fruit from fruit trees. Gather any diseased fruit, twigs and leaves from beneath trees and dispose of in the trash.
In Zones 5 and colder, protect roses by heaping 8-12 inches of loose soil or compost around the base of plants.
In zones with harsh winters, empty containers that aren't frost-proof and add plants and/or soil to the compost pile. To save soil for re-use, store it in trash bags, cans or plastic bins. To re-use soil in pots next spring, blend it with equal parts fresh potting mix. You can also layer it on flowerbeds or vegetable gardens and let winter freeze-thaw cycles break it down.
Terra-cotta tip: In areas where freezing temperatures stick around and snow flies, empty terra-cotta pots and store in a frost-free area. If your area experiences freezing temperatures that don't linger, store terra-cotta pots upside down. Elevate them on pot feet to prevent the rims from freezing to surfaces.
In warmer zones, replant containers with cool-season color. Replace the top few inches of soil for best results.