10 Tips to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

How to Winterize and Protect Your Garden

October 27, 2020
Tips to Prepare Garden for Winter

How do you put your garden to bed for winter? See 10 tips on how to winterize your garden beds—from covering garden soil to protecting trees and shrubs. We list vegetables, herbs, berry patches, perennials, roses, trees, and shrubs so you’re covered!

1. Harvesting and Storing Vegetables

A. Tender vegetables do not tolerate frost and get harvested before frost strikes. This includes tomatoes, zucchini, peas, beans, and pumpkins. Pull out these plants and all crop debris. f any plants are diseased, either burn them or discard them in the trash. Do not leave infected plants on the property nor put in a compost pile.

B. Hardy vegetables will tolerate hard frosts (usually 25° to 28°F) and can be left in the ground. They often taste better after a light frost.

  • Brussels sprouts can stay in the ground. Bury plants up to their tops in hay or leaves in late fall, then pull off the little sprouts as needed through winter.
  • Cooking greens like kale and collards actually become a bit sweeter in the fall and winter when touched by frost. 
  • Broccoli and spinach may also survive through the winter without any protection.
  • Garlic is planted in October or November and overwinters for next year’s summer crop.  

C. Semi-hardy vegetables tolerate light frosts (usually 29° to 32°F). Many of these slightly more sensitive crops benefit greatly from some sort of protection such as a cold-frame or floating row cover; or you can simply harvest them before serious frosts have set in.   

  • Cabbages and Swiss chard can withstand light frosts, but outside leaves may get damaged or tough (just peel them away before using the rest of the greens). 
  • Arugula, leeks, mustard greens, califlower, English peas, and Kohlrabi can die when unprotected during periods of extreme winter cold.  A simple row cover can make all the difference.
  • Root crops (like carrots, turnips, beets, rutabagas, and parsnips) can remain in the garden after a frost and still be removed in good condition later, but get them dug and stored before the ground freezes.
    • Potatoes can also stay in the soil, but it is important that they are not left on the soil surface for any period of time. Dig and remove the potatoes to a dry, warm area out of the sun to begin the process of letting the skin toughen up for storage. Dry in a single layer and turn periodically. This takes about two weeks. Carefully remove visible dirt from the potatoes, but do not wash them: their skins will toughen for longer winter storage.

Note: Make sure any of the vegetables you harvest are cured and stored properly. See our Growing Guides on storage crops (onions, carrots, potatoes, winter squash). Of course, many crops can also be stored by way of canning and pickling. Finally, herbs can be easily dried or frozen in a variety of ways.

→ See our Home Preservation Guides.

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2. Prepare Herbs for Winter

Herbs are a mixed bag when it comes to needing winter protection. Some are very hardy and can easily tolerate a cold season, while others will need some extra help:

  • 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 (Zones 6 and 7) or potted up and brought inside (Zone 5 and colder) for the winter. Read more about overwintering rosemary.
  • 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.
  • Basil is a tender annual that won’t survive winter outside in most regions of North America. Dig up small plants and bring them inside to extend their season.
  • Oregano is a perennial that is somewhat hardy, but will appreciate some winter protection in the form of a layer of straw mulch.

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​​​​Image: Parsley withstands a light frost.

3. Cover Up the Garden Beds

Although many of us end up adding it in the spring, you really want to add compost in late autumn in order to allow the soil to soak up those nutrients over the winter. Add a couple inches of compost or manure on top of your beds any time before the ground freezes. Then add a light layer of straw or mulch to prevent soil eroision, nutrient leaching, and weed development. Read our article on preparing soil for planting to find out what constitutes healthy soil.

Another option is to sow cover crops, such as winter rye, to improve your soil. See our article on Cover Crops to improve the health of your soil.

For vegetable gardens, another option is to simply cover your garden beds with black plastic or a layer of cardboard or even an old carpet, leaving it in place through the winter season and up until you’re ready to plant in spring. This will kill existing weeds and subdue sprouting seeds.

4. Prepare Berry Patches for Winter

Berries tend to be hardy, but do require some fall pruning and care:

  • In early to mid-fall:
    • Prune summer-bearing raspberries, leaving six of the strongest brown canes for every 1 foot of your patch.
    • Prune fall-bearing raspberries ruthlessly, cutting them to the ground after they have borne fruit. New canes will come up in the spring and bear fruit.
  • Plant blackberries in the fall and mound up the soil around the canes to prevent hard frosts from heaving them out of the ground.
  • Many blueberry varieties are hardy, but they will appreciate a thin layer of mulch around their base for added protection.
  • Cover strawberry beds with a layer of straw mulch.

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5. Prepare Perennials for Winter

  • Water your perennial flowers and flowering shrubs in the fall; they will thank you for it this winter.
  • Many perennials can be left to be cutback in the spring, especially those with bountiful seedheads such as coneflowers or rudbeckia, as the birds will enjoy their seeds through winter. However, there are some perennials which are best cut back to avoid disease, especially bee balm, phlox, and hosta. See which perennials to cut back. When cutting back, wait until the ground has frozen hard and the foliage has died. Leave about 3 inches of stem) 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 weed growth when the ground warms up in the spring. If the new bed is going where a lawn is now, mow the grass in that area down as much as possible before covering.
  • 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 them in styrofoam peanuts, dry peat moss, or shredded newspaper and store in a dark, humid spot at 40° to 50°F (5° to 10°C) until spring.

Chrysanthemum

6. Winterize Roses

  • You may water roses regularly through the fall; refrain from fertilizing starting 6 weeks before the first fall frost.
  • Remove any dead or diseased canes.
  • 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.

7. Prepare Trees and Shrubs for Winter

  • Do not prune trees and shrubs right before winter. Even if they look a little overgrown, wait until next spring. Pruning involves removing tissue and opening wounds that will have no time to heal before the cold arrives. Pruning also stimulates a tree or shrub to attempt to grow, but any new growth produced in the fall is likely to be killed because it has not had any time to harden off or become woodier.
  • If you get early snows in your area, cover small trees and deciduous shrubs with a wooden structure to protect them from heavy snow. Or, circle them with a cylinder of chicken wire fencing and fill in the space between the tree and the fence with straw or shredded leaves. Or, drive stakes into the ground at four corners around the plant and wrap burlap or heavy plastic around the stakes, securing it at the top, center, and bottom with twine.
  • For young fruit trees, it’s often a good idea to wrap the lower trunk of the tree with a pestproof tree wrap, which will prevent mice and voles from gnawing on the tree’s bark during the winter.
  • Tree wrap will also help to prevent winter injury caused by premature thawing. In late winter, the combination of warm, sunny days and still-freezing nights can cause the thin bark of young trees to split. This is especially prevalent in trees with a southern or southwestern exposure. Wrapping their trunks with tree wrap or otherwise shading them from the winter sun can prevent bark injury.
  • 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.

Fall leaves

8. Turn Off the Watering System

If you haven’t already turned off your water, do it! You don’t want the hose or irrigation connected when it frosts or you may have damage. In warmer climates it may be possible to simply disconnect the system from a hose spigot and allow the water to drain out, but in colder climates you will want to either blast all the water out with an air compressor or just bring everything inside for the winter. 

9. Help Your Garden Helpers!

Be proactive! Keep bird feeders topped up. Birds especially appreciate fatty, high-energy foods (such as suet) during cold months. Establish a feeding routine, offer water, and clean feeders and bird baths regularly to maintain good hygiene. See the best type of bird feeder.

Make sure to consider your garden “helpers” while you go through your fall garden checklist! 

10. Do Your General Garden Maintenance

  • Empty all of 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.
  • 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 in sodden layers on the lawn. Rake onto a large sheet or tarp, then drag to a corner of your yard to give pollinators some winter cover. Or, rake the leaves into loose piles and run the mower over them to turn them into mulch for perennial and bulb beds. Or, add those shredded leaves to your compost bin. 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 winter hits!

Now see our video on helpful advice to prepare your garden for winter.

We hope these tips will help your garden survive winter and thrive in spring! Please share your own advice or ask any questions below!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Sage

I don't bother bringing in any sage leaves. I pick dried sage leaves all winter to use for chicken/turkey/duck. Had to replace my 17 yo sage that bit the dust in 2019. My new common sage plant grew nicely this summer.

Preparing a vegetable garden for winter

Our church has a large community garden with a large tree debris pile nearby. I was hoping that we could pull all of the woody debris into the garden area, burn the wood, and then spread the ashes over the garden before tilling the soil. Would this be helpful to do? Also, we've had squash bugs destroy our zucchini and yellow squash plants this summer. Do they overwinter in gardens? Would the tilling and other wintering processes get rid of the squash bugs that might remain? Thank you.

Brief Readings

Skimming the Topic just to keep myself alittle Self-Ed.

Trees

Thank you for the informative read! I never knew I should prepare my trees for winter. I've only very recently learned the importance of overall tree care, and will definitely add your winter tips to the list.

Home made potting soil

I made your home made potting soil for my container garden and I have to say it was the best thing I have done for a successful garden. Better than any soil I have ever purchased. I would like to know what do I need to do this fall when the garden is done to prepare the soil for the next season. Your articles have been very helpful.

Preparing Soil

The Editors's picture

That’s great to hear, Martha!

See above, in the “Preparing Your Vegetable Garden for Winter” section, for some soil-prep tips! Preparing your soil mostly involves removing old plant matter, tilling the soil, and adding in compost. 

Glad's

A Tornado came and destroyed or Glad's. Some have a few flowers but most have just foliage no flowers. I pull them all up with roots but I would like to know what to do next. I am in High Point North Carolina. Can I replant or do I need to cut them back about 2" and plant root only or can I plant the ones with foliage in hopes they might bloom this season? Thanks for your help. Love your site!

gladiolus

The Editors's picture

So sorry about the tornado! We hope that everyone is OK! As to the glads, you might want to put them back in the soil, since they are showing signs of growth. Keep the foliage as is, uncut, unless they are showing signs of disease. Over the summer, the foliage will help the plant make food for itself in preparation for winter. Even though a corm might not flower this year, it might recover enough to spend energy on flowers the following year. For more information about growing glads, you might be interested in this page:

https://www.almanac.com/plant/gladiolus

High Point, NC, in in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7b.
Hope this helps!

How to prepare soil for planting fruit trees

I live in the foothills of the Sierras in Northern California (Yuba County). I believe the elevation is about 2,000 ft. Also I believe we are in climate zone 7? I need to know how to prepare soil over the winter, (I already dug a deep hole in the summer) for planting a new bare root (dwarf I think) Nectarine tree in February, being purchased from a local nursery. What nutrients will need to be added to the soil before planting it for the first time? The soil is very orange. I dont know what the soil contains high levels of? What other tips do you have for the procedure?

Preparing Soil

The Editors's picture

Your best course of action would be to contact your local Cooperative Extension Service, who may be able to test a soil sample from your garden and tell you exactly what you’re missing. They should also be able to tell you more about growing fruit trees in your area. For more information, see our page on Preparing Soil for Planting.

Winter Mulching

Can I use shredded paper instead of wood mulch as a substitution to keep the plants warm in winter? Or will it saturate the soil too much?

shredded paper?

The Editors's picture

In general, it’s a fine idea. Just remember that papers biodegrade at different “speeds.” That is, the time required to decompose varies. You also might want to consider the ink; some, such as wrapping paper use metalic inks, residue of which might remain if you do not remove the paper in the spring.

Mums

In Colorado can I Norplant my mums in the ground now? I recently moved from Oklahoma andplanted my mums in the ground in October and they bloomed every year.

when to plant mums in Colorado

The Editors's picture

Hello, Linda. This is a perfect time to plant mums! Get them in the ground by mid- to late-October.

Tree and shrub dormancy and watering

I have been told by a local Nursery, that I should decrease watering my trees/ shrubs in late summer/ fall, to get them to go dormant. They say that I should not water normally at this time of year ( it is now late August, in New York State). Is this true?

Watering Trees and Shrubs in Fall

The Editors's picture

This is an oft-repeated piece of advice, but in reality, refraining from watering trees and shrubs in the fall can actually do more harm than good. Trees don’t usually need any help to go dormant, especially if they’re native to the area or to a similar climate. Generally, it’s recommended to water your trees and shrubs during dry spells up until the ground freezes. A lack of water can trigger a drought response from the tree, which can make it less hardy overall. If you really want to give your trees and shrubs their best chance at surviving winter, you should add a 2–3 inch layer of mulch around their bases (leaving several inches around the trunk or stems clear). This will provide insulation and trap an adequate amount of moisture.

Black Plastic cover

I'm a new homeowner and have just moved to Atlanta Georgia. I can see black plastic covering many places in my front yard. There are pine straws above the black plastic. Should I remove them now? What should I do as the next steps now that spring is upon us.
Thank you for the great article.

black plastic

The Editors's picture

Hi Marvin, Yes, the black plastic does need to be removed. It was probably there to reduce water loss and suppress weeds? Black plastic does not break down and should never be disked or tilled into the soil. When used for gardening, black plastic can be removed any time after cropping so now should be fine.

Rudbeckia and coneflower

Hi. Can I dig brown eyed Susan and purple cornflower in the fall but wait to plant in them in the spring? If so, how do I over winter them? Thanks. :)

Overwintering Perennials

The Editors's picture

Ideally they would be left in the ground and transplanted in the spring but if, for some reason, they must be dug now, then plan to pot them up. Dig them out of the ground, taking care to get a good portion of the roots. Put them into containers large enough that the roots aren’t too tightly bound. Use the soil that they were in to fill the pots (rather than potting soil) leaving room for an inch of mulch, add mulch, and water well. They should be left outside, where they will go dormant. Tuck them up against the house or a shed to provide a little wind protection. Before the snow starts flying, monitor them for water, they should be kept barely moist.

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

The Editors's picture

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.

Slugs

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

The Editors's picture

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: http://www.almanac.com/pest/slugs

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

The Editors's picture

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—

Advice

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?
Dahlia's
Canna's
Bearded Iris
Clematis
June Bearing strawberries
Everbearing strawberries
Buleberries
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.

Amber

Gardening Advice

The Editors's picture

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.

ornamentals

The Editors's picture

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: http://www.almanac.com/plant/irises. 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!

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