Preparing Your Garden for Winter

Putting the Garden to Bed: How to Overwinter Plants



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Check out our tips for preparing your garden for frost and overwintering your plants in order to ensure a beautiful and vibrant spring!

Click on the names of the plants throughout the page to find out more about how to harvest or care for the plants in the fall.

Preparing Your Vegetable Garden for Winter

You can postpone the inevitable (that is, winter) for a while by covering your vegetables with old sheets or bedspreads on cold nights, but the declining light and chilly daytime temperatures will naturally bring plant growth to a halt. Get more tips for protecting your garden from frost, and see your local frost dates by zip code. Also, find out how you can learn to predict frost yourself.

Leave carrots, garlic, horseradish, leeks, parsnips, radishes, and turnips in the garden for harvesting through early winter. Mark the rows with tall stakes so that you can find them in snow, and cover them with a heavy layer of mulch to keep the ground from thawing.

  • Pull up tomato, squash, pea, and bean plants. If they’re disease-free, compost them. If any are diseased, either burn them or discard separately. Pull up and put away the stakes.
  • Before the ground gets too hard, remove all weeds and debris and eliminate overwintering sites for insects and disease. Check our Pest Library for tips on preventing the most common pests in your garden.
  • Gently till the soil to expose any insects who plan to overwinter; this will reduce pest troubles in the spring and your garden site will be ready come spring!
  • Once most of the garden soil is exposed, add a layer of compost, leaves, manure (if you have it), and lime (if you need it). Gently till into the soil.
  • Another option is to sow cover crops such as winter rye to improve your soil and reduce weeks. See our article on Cover Crops for the U.S. and Cover Crops for Canada.
  • If some areas have hopelessly gone to weeds, cover them with black plastic and leave it in place over the winter and into the spring to kill sprouting seeds.


Preparing Herbs for the Winter

  • Sage is a perennial in most areas and does not need special treatment for the winter. Before frost stops its growth, cut a branch or two to dry and use in stuffing at Thanksgiving! (Try our delicious stuffed turkey recipe with sage.)
  • Rosemary is a tender evergreen perennial that should be sheltered outside (Zone 6) or potted up and brought inside (Zone 5 and colder) for the winter.
  • Thyme is fairly indestructible. A perennial, it will go dormant in the fall, then revive by itself in the spring.
  • Parsley, a biennial, will withstand a light frost. In Zone 5 or colder, cover it on cold nights. It has a long taproot and does not transplant well.
  • Chives are hardy perennials. Dig up a clump and pot it, then let the foliage die down and freeze for several weeks. Bring the pot indoors to a sunny, cool spot. Water well and harvest chives throughout the winter.

Preparing Berry Patches for the Winter

  • In early to mid-fall, prune summer-bearing raspberries, leaving six of the strongest brown canes for every 1 foot of your row.
  • Prune fall-bearing raspberries ruthlessly, moving them to the ground after they have borne fruit. New canes will come up in the spring.
  • Plant blackberries in the fall and mound up the soil around the canes to prevent hard frosts from heaving them out of the ground.
  • Cover strawberry beds with straw or hay.


Preparing Perennials and Flowers for the Winter

  • Water your perennials and flowering shrubs in the fall; they will thank you for it this winter.
  • Once the ground has frozen hard, cut perennials back to 3 inches and mulch them with a thick layer of leaves or straw.
  • If you plan to put in a new flower bed next spring, cover that area now with mulch or heavy plastic to discourage emergent growth when the ground warms up in the spring.
  • Before a heavy snowfall, cover pachysandra with a mulch of pine needles several inches deep.
  • Move potted chrysanthemums to a sheltered spot when their flowers fade. Water well and cover with a thick layer of straw to overwinter them.
  • When a frost blackens the leaves of dahlias, gladioli, and cannas, carefully dig them up and let them dry indoors on newspaper for a few days. Then pack in Styrofoam peanuts, dry peat moss, or shredded newspaper and store in a dark, humid spot at 40° to 50°F until spring.

How to Overwinter Geraniums

  • Geraniums (pelargoniums) are South African in origin, and there they have a three-month dormant period during winter’s excessive dryness. They need to be kept well watered before going into dormancy.
  • In the old days, we had cool cellars with dirt floors that were dark and moist. Our mothers shook the dirt off geranium roots and hung them upside down in bundles. In spring, they were cut back and potted up, and performed nicely.
  • If you have a cool place in your house (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit), it is possible to overwinter your geraniums by keeping them in their pots and giving them very little water.
  • In spring, bring them into a warm place and water them heavily. When they start to show buds, repot them and prune heavily.
  • They will do best in plastic or glazed pots with very good drainage. (You can overwinter geraniums as houseplants without letting them go dormant, but they will be deprived of the rest they like.)


Winterizing Roses

  • You may water roses regularly through the fall; no need to fertilize starting 6 weeks before the first frost.
  • Remove any dead or diseased cane.
  • After the first frost, mulch plants with compost or leaves to just above the swollen point where the stem joins the rootstock.
  • In areas where winter temperatures are severe, enclose low-growing roses with a sturdy cylinder of chicken wire or mesh and fill enclosure with chopped leaves, compost, mulch, dry wood chips, or pine needles.
  • Before daily temperatures drop well below freezing, carefully pull down the long canes of climbing and tea roses, lay them flat on the ground, and cover them with pine branches or mulch.

Preparing Trees for Winter

  • Protect small trees or shrubs from extreme cold by surrounding it with a cylinder of snow fencing and packing straw or shredded leaves inside the cylinder.
  • Inspect your trees. Remove any broken limbs, making a clean cut close to the trunk.
  • If you’re planning to buy a live Christmas tree this season, dig the hole where you’ll plant it before the ground freezes. Store the soil you remove in the garage or basement, where it won’t freeze. Place a board over the hole and mark the location so that you can find it if it snows.


Tips for Garden Chores Before Winter

  • Empty all your outdoor containers to keep them from cracking during the winter. Store them upside down.
  • Hang a bucket over a hook in your toolshed or garage and use it to store hose nozzles and sprinkler attachments.
  • On a mild day, run your garden hose up over a railing or over the shed to remove all the water. Then roll it up and put it away.
  • Mow your lawn as late into the fall as the grass grows. Grass left too long when deep snow arrives can develop brown patches in the spring.
  • Don’t leave fallen leaves on the lawn. Rake onto a large sheet or tarp, then drag to your compost pile in thin layers mixed with old hay and other material. Or, rake the leaves into loose piles and run the mower over them to turn them into mulch for perennial and bulb beds. Get more tips on what to do with fall leaves.
  • Cover your compost pile with plastic or a thick layer of straw before snow falls.
  • Drain the fuel tank on your lawn mower or any other power equipment. Consult the owner’s manual for other winter maintenance.
  • Scrub down and put away your tools. Some folks oil their tools with vegetable oil to avoid rust. Find out how to care for your gardening tools.
  • Check out our list of fall garden chores to make sure you have everything done before the winter hits!

We hope these tips are helpful! Please do share your advice or any questions below.

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Add new comment

peach tree

How do i winterize my 3 foot tall peach seedling tree that i started from a seed ? I have it in a container planter right now.

Overwintering Peach Tree

First, reduce watering and fertilizing. Add a thick layer of mulch to the container. Peach trees are cold-hardy and require a dormant period so leave it outside, tucked up against the house or shed for protection from wind and heavy snow.

Peach tree

Thank you so much for the advise, i will take it and use it.


Hi. My perennial plants got infested by slugs last summer. What did I do wrong? Can I revive my plants next spring and how do I keep them from being infested by bugs again?

slugs in the garden

First, be sure to clean up all debris, excessive mulch, bricks, boards, and ground cover which slugs love to hide in.

When you start to plant, one way to deter slugs is to put egg shells around your plants. Slugs’ soft bodies can’t handle egg shells. Another option is to apply Diatomaceous Earth-“DE” which you can find at garden stores. When slugs and snails crawl over the DE dust, it adheres to their bodies, causing desiccation (drying out). See our Slug page for more solutions:

killing of a area in my garden that has weeds and grass

Can I use heavy duty black plastic sheet to kill of all the weeds/grass or must I dig it all up

plastic for weeds

If you are talking about covering ground now to kill weeds/grass for growing this season, you’re about 8 months too late. This should be done in the fall and left through the winter and into the spring. (See above.) You need to clear the weeds/grass; otherwise, the plants you set in will get tangled in their roots etc.—if they ever get started.

Once you have clear ground, leveled, smoothed, and fertilized, you can apply black plastic when the soil is good and moist. It will heat the soil, in preparation for planting, and it can serve as a mulch.

Hope this helps—


Hello, I am looking for advice on several flowering plants I have as well as the fruit garden I've unfortunately let get out of hand :) I was not sure which thread to ask a question on to get the correct advice for the multiple areas I need help with. Can you direct me to the right space/thread/person/department?
Bearded Iris
June Bearing strawberries
Everbearing strawberries
Pineapple sage
I live in zone 6a in Ohio, I have been ill for some time and my routine obsessing in the garden was not possible. I am back on my feet, and hoping to be back at it soon. Please advise who I may be able to seek answers from.


Gardening Advice

Hi Amber, If you look under the GARDENING tab on our Web site, you’ll see the “Growing Guides.” We have free guides for most of the plants that you mention.  I hope this is helpful.


Hello, Amber, Your garden must be delightful in bloom. Welcome back to it!

You should be able to gain a wealth of info on these pages.

For starters: Perhaps you did not notice above: See the six photos of flowers and gardens? By clicking on the appropriate two—Dahlia and Canna—you can get more information on them. And these pages may lead you to more.

As for your other queries, we suggest that you key the plant name into the “search” box at the top of every page. You will often get several article pages to link on.This one comes up in a search for “bearded iris,” for example: However, more options come up in a search for “iris.” As yoyou search and peruse, be sure to take a few minutes to scan the reader questions and answers at the bottom of most plant pages. You will find more information, and often more about “unique” situations that may be similar to your own.

We hope this helps and wish you a wonderful season!

Thank you very much for your

Thank you very much for your replies, I will peruse the different categories, hopefully I will soon be lost in 'dirt'. Super excited!.

weeds and plants

I never put my garden to bed last year. I kind of let it go. It is full of dead plants and dead weeds. To get ready for spring do I rake all of the dead brush out of the garden or do I just till it back in? I don't remember what may have been diseased.

Hi Tina,

Hi Tina,
Pull them out!. It is not worth the risk of spreading the disease. Also, allowing weeds to compost just begets more weeds! If you can identify the keepers versus the weeds I would remove the weeds from the root, and cut the dead leaves from any plantings you wish to keep. What sort of plants are you trying to save? For example I have every type of Lillie you can imagine, they are generally hardy...but it would help to know which you actually have....

Winterizing roses

I have a Dick Clark rose bush. This will be my 1st winter with it. It was a bush but the middle have grown on it's own and is now twice as big as the rest of the bush. It says to cover with a bag for the winter. What kind of bag and where would I get one? Also should I cut the middle of the bush so that it is the same height as the rest of the bush?
Thanks, Dawn

Dick Clark is a grandiflora

Dick Clark is a grandiflora rose. It is not hardy and requires winter protection in the north and much of the midwest. Prune back canes to about 30 inches, just enough to prevent breakage in strong winds. Mound soil around the bottom canes of your rose making the mound about 1 foot high. You can use mulch instead of soil but make the mound higher (about 1 ½ feet). Instead of a bag we suggest that you surround the rose with a cylinder of chicken wire and then fill the space inside the cylinder with leaves or straw. Read more about rose care at


Wolly worms

I just have a question does anyone know the meaning of a wolly worm with both ends very dark & the middle of the body which is quite wide & lighter than the ends of the wolly worm. I have spotted two so far outside & I can't reminder
the saying what kind of winter it will be because of the color of the wolly worm.

Thank you very much for your

Thank you very much for your advice! It has helped me now and in the past.

For the past 15 years or so

For the past 15 years or so we have benn tilling in chopped leaves/pine straw/composted materail each fall, prior to covering the garden with 10 mil black plastic sheeting. This seems to help the breakdown of material oer the winter, and keep "stuffe" from sprouting. Also aids in preventing winter rain "washout". garden is uncoverd for 2 to 3 weeks prior to spring till.
looking forward to another good season of fresh veggies here in Maryland..

I have an outdoor greenhouse

I have an outdoor greenhouse for my herbs, mint, parsley, rosemary and the like. I bulit a small wooden shelving unit inside to hold them over winter but they're just not getting the sun they need and its getting difficult to keep them watered.
I am wondering what the best way to keep them over winter. They're in pots, plastic mostly, a few tinfoil containers as well. If I put them in the greenhouse, would they survive over the winter? (I'm in southern ALberta Canada.)
If they freeze, will I have to plant new seeds in the spring or will they regrow?
I'm new to gardening and don't know anyone local to talk to. Any suggestions would be great.
Can I put them in the basement over the winter without watering them and will they go dormant until spring?

If your greenhouse is not

If your greenhouse is not heated the annual herbs will die and the perennial herbs (like mint) will go dormant. Rosemary is a perennial but very cold sensitive. Bring the rosemary indoors and place in a sunny window. Parsley will also do well in a sunny window indoors. See our herbs page for more specific information about each herb.

Thank you for the excellent

Thank you for the excellent tips! I am saving this so that I remember all of these!

After seeing all the comments

After seeing all the comments here about severe winters and the precautions you guys need to take every year it makes me very gratefull to live in such a sheltered place.

Well, here we are a year

Well, here we are a year later -- almost ready to put the garden to bed again. So, how did my covered balcony plants fare over the winter? Although Snowzilla and Snowmageddon did not visit my area (Zone 6 and 7) in 2011, we did have some substantial ice and snow days, below zero wind chills and lots of wind this past winter. All through it, my plants were hunkered down inside their paper and plastic fortresses. On sunny days I would lift the paper "lid" (bag flap) and expose the plants to the sun. Then the lids would go down in the evening. Every plant got watered twice a week, rain snow or ice. When I took off the paper leaf bags and the plastic bags in April - Voila! A BUMPER crop of Catnip and lots of plants with new shoots, were waiting under their wraps, raring to go. Even the bulbs made it thru just fine (tulip, and hyacinth). I have alrady stacked the paper lawn and leaf bags and will buy the plastic bags once there is a 2 for 1 sale (transparent bags - 2 1/2' X 3 1/2' approx. -- worked just fine -- with the added bonus of being able to see thru them to check the plants' condition).

Time for me to get the

Time for me to get the laaarge leaf bags (double-reinforced paper) and the huuge black plastic bags and once again cover my trees and plants on my balcony. My balcony faces north-east and the winds can be fierce even in a zone 6 to 7 area, in the Winter - they come whistling past the balcony and the plants are fair-game to any Nor-Easter that blows thru.

Once they lose their leaves (I let their leaves gather at the bottom of each pot to fortify, protect and nourish the soil), my young paw paws, my 6 foot tall Ginkgo, 3 maples, fringe trees and blueberry bushes all get "The Treatment" I open up the lawn and leaf bags, and either place them head first over the tree or cut open the sides of the bag so I can gently wrap them around the tree -- the plastic bags follow,. I leave a space at the bottom for watering and close off the ends of the cut bags with large safety pins (heresy!!) . I even cover their pots - which are large rubbermaid trash cans -- so the pots have some insulation as well (to keep the roots "warm" and protected). The geraniums and tomato plants are indoors, in the sun -- maybe I will have tomatoes growing inside while the snow piles up outside???

I was considering using canvas again this year but the last time I used it, it unraveled and bled all over the place whenever it rained/snowed.

I think my plants will be cozy this winter, on my balcony!!

What do OTHER balcony gardeners in cold-winter climates do for their plants in the winter???

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