Garden of Eatin' / How-To

A Fall Garden Checklist for Maximizing the Season and Winterizing Your Yard

A fall garden checklist for maximizing the season and winterizing your yard

This post is in partnership with 3-IN-ONE®. All thoughts and words are my own.

Is it just me, or does it feel like fall chores vastly outnumber my spring garden checklist? Maybe it’s because I’ve moved to a climate that actually freezes in winter, so there’s a lot more to do to “batten down the hatches” this time of year.

We’re tidying the greenhouse, piling up the compost, and putting away the majority of our planters, trellises, and tools to give the garden a good rest. It feels nice knowing that things are slowing down after several months of toiling outside, but before that happens, there’s one last push in the garden to get it ready for winter.

By putting in the work now (especially while the weather is still pleasant and mild), you’re laying the foundation for a healthy garden next spring.

Here’s my recommended fall garden checklist for the next month!

Harvest your remaining summer vegetables

Clean Up Your Vegetable Garden and Annual Flower Beds

  • Save seeds from favorite varieties. Seeds from open-pollinated plants can be saved and stored for the following year. Not only is this a great way to keep growing your favorite crops, continue their “bloodline” in your garden, and save a little money, it improves those varieties as they become adapted to your specific climate and growing conditions. Learn how to save seeds and how to save and ferment tomato seeds (the extra step is worth the effort!).
  • Harvest any remaining warm-weather vegetables before the first freeze. If you end up with more than you can use, give them to family or friends or initiate a food swap with other gardeners. You can also preserve your vegetables and continue to enjoy the bounty through the depths of winter when there’s not much going on in the garden. This is my favorite way to make and preserve tomato sauce, but you can also freeze tomatoes or pickle green tomatoes.
  • Gather stakes, trellises, and tomato cages. Discard any support structures that can’t be repaired or reused the following season, and organize and store them in a shed or garage.
  • Clean up detritus in garden beds. Pull up old plants and spent mulch and add them to your compost pile. Work in aged compost to replenish the soil with nutrients. If you won’t be planting in the beds again, add a fresh, thick layer of mulch to prevent erosion over winter.

Cut back and divide clumps of perennials

Take Care of Perennial Plants

  • Dig and store tender bulbs. After the leaves die off but before the first frost, carefully dig up frost-sensitive bulbs like dahlias, caladiums, cannas, and begonias and cut the foliage back to a couple of inches. Shake the dirt loose and lay the bulbs out to dry in a shady, protected, well-ventilated area for a few weeks. Once they’re fully dry, store them in a cardboard box in a shed or garage.
  • Cut back and divide clumps of perennials. If the plants haven’t seemed to work in their current locations, consider transplanting them elsewhere in the garden.
  • Prune trees and shrubs. Most species are dormant from late fall to early spring. Since they need to be cut back anyway, it’s easier and cleaner to prune them in the fall rather than dealing with dead soggy leaves in the spring.
  • Weed the garden beds. Save time (and your back) and wait for a rain so the ground is nice and soft before you start weeding.

Plant fava beans as a cover crop

Get Garden Beds Ready for the Next Cycle

  • Amend the soil. Work in a few inches of compost to refresh your beds for new plantings. Do a soil test, if needed (your local Extension office can assist with this), and add in any nutrients that your soil falls short on.
  • Plant shrubs, evergreens, and other perennials. Doing so in the fall will give their roots enough time to establish before winter sets in.
  • Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Choose a mix of early, mid, and late-blooming bulbs like crocus, tulips, daffodils, and bearded irises to give your garden a dramatic burst of color in the spring.
  • Plant fall vegetable crops. Garlic starts going in the ground in October for most growing regions. In cold climates, you also have time to plant quick-growing leafy greens like spinach, arugula, mizuna, tatsoi, and baby kale for a fall harvest, and you can get a decent crop from radishes, baby beets, and Japanese turnips before it freezes.
  • Plant cover crops. Instead of leaving garden beds fallow, consider planting cover crops. Also called green manure, cover crops (which include legumes like clovers, fava beans, and Austrian winter peas, as well as grasses like winter rye, barley, and oats) enhance soil fertility, reduce soil erosion, improve drainage as well as water-holding capacity, increase biodiversity, and smother weeds. Most cover crops should be sown a month before the first frost, though cold-hardy varieties (like Dutch white clover and hairy vetch) can be sown right up to the first frost.

Transition outdoor houseplants back indoors

Transition Summer Houseplants and Tender Container Plants Back Indoors

  • Trim faded foliage. Remove any dead or diseased leaves and spray the tops and undersides of leaves with water to dislodge any hitchhiking pests and their eggs. Use my homemade insecticidal soap to treat overwintering houseplants as needed.
  • Break up hardened soil. Refresh the soil with soil amendments or new potting soil altogether.
  • Re-pot plants. If your plants have outgrown their pots, transplant them into larger containers before moving them inside.

Clean, store, and oil gardening tools with 3-IN-ONE Multi-Purpose Oil

Organize and Winterize Garden Tools and Equipment

  • Clean, sharpen, and store tools. I like to use 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil on my tools to remove surface rust as well as prevent rust. This household product is a must-have in my garden toolbox because it’s an effective cleaner, lubricant, and protectant. A few drops on your steel blades and other metal tools will dissolve rust and keep the moving parts on your pruners and loppers clean and smooth. Just wipe it on and wipe off the excess. On your shovels, spades, and blades, apply a thin coat of 3-IN-ONE® Multi-Purpose Oil to the metal surfaces to create a barrier against oxidation so your tools stay protected in storage.
  • Empty and store unused pots and planters. You don’t even have to wash them (unless they housed diseased plants).
  • Drain and empty hoses and drip irrigation systems. Shut off the main water supply and remove the faucet assembly at the start of your irrigation system. Have underground watering systems winterized (blown out).

Rake and compost dead leaves

Prepare Your Yard for Winter

  • Assess cold-weather structures. Pull your cold frames, hoop houses, and row covers out of storage and give them a good once-over. You’ll need them for your fall, winter, and early spring vegetable growing.
  • Protect frost-sensitive plants. Keep an eye on nightly lows and shield plants and roots with burlap, frost covers, mulch, or other protective barriers.
  • Rake and compost leaves. Leaf mold (dead leaves that take on a brownish-black, crumbly appearance once they’ve decayed) makes an excellent mulch for garden beds. You can also keep a couple bags of dried leaves around to add to your compost pile as needed to balance the greens (nitrogen) from your kitchen scraps.

Fall leaves

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About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

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