If you live in a colder four-season climate, there’s lots to get done in the fall garden before the harsh winter weather sets in.
I made this fall gardening checklist for you to print out and adapt for your garden. It covers urgent things like protecting tender plants and breakable garden art as well as all of the nice-to-get done items that give the spring garden a good jumpstart.
For more on how to prioritize garden tasks, see The Most Important Fall Gardening Tasks.
Lists Are Very Handy When Things Get Wild
I live in Ontario, Canada and in this location (it’s a big province so things vary a lot depending on where one lives) we don’t usually fret about frost and winter weather until November. But, as I write this, it’s mid-October and we’re having a few days of early snow showers (a weather term meaning wet globs of stuff falling from the sky).
When the weather warning came, I had not done any winterizing of the garden and knew I had to act fast to prevent some costly damage (either dollar-wise or to sentimental items).
Snow itself is generally not a problem: in fact, it helps protect and insulate plants. But suddenly temperature swings as well as wind and ice can do real harm, both to plants and decor.
Ideally, we ease into season changes, and plants go in and out of dormancy gradually. But nature often has other things in mind.
This forecast of snow showers and squalls (blowing snow) was not good.
I knew I only had one afternoon to prepare, so I had to make my actions count. There’s lots of aesthetic cleaning up that could happen, but much of it can and probably should wait until spring. The wildlife (from the microscopic to the four-legged) rely on the leaves, seeds pods, twigs, and debris for winter habitat and food. I can accept the mess when I know the good it does.
So what really matters?
Checklist to the rescue! I admit I keep lists for everything and it’s times like this they really come in handy. I read it over, identified the urgent tasks (for this situation) and got to work. No stress about what I might be forgetting. I just ploughed through, one item at a time, and got her done. Mind you, there were two downpours along the way and I got cold and drenched, but a little freezing precipitation will not deter a determined Empress. Please!
Fall Gardening Checklist
I obviously cannot write a checklist that suits every climate and garden (I’m an Empress, not a wizard), but, if you are a cold climate gardener with four seasons, this should give you a good starting point. Use it to come up with your essential list.
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Fall Gardening Tasks
These are all of the items on the checklist plus extra details and links to more information in case you need it.
6+ Weeks Before Frost
- Sow fall veggies and cold-loving spring flower seeds.
- Plant trees and shrubs.
- Divide/move late-flowering perennials (coneflowers, hostas, black-eyed Susans). Leave the seed heads for the birds.
- Harvest fruit, nuts, & veggies.
Month Before Frost
- Plant spring bulbs, garlic, rhubarb.
- Use winter-hardy tags to mark plants.
- Collect seeds. | When to collect seeds | How to save heirloom tomato seeds.
- Cut grass. Use mulched leaves to improve soil.
Tender Roots, Bulbs, and Plants
- Dig up & store dahlia, caladium, cannas, gladiolas, elephant ears, and begonia tubers.
- Bring tropical and other tender plants inside (including non-hardy succulents, potted fig trees, and zonal geraniums).
- Take sweet potato vine cuttings.
Shed / Storage
- Organize shed for easy access to any supplies needed during the winter (shovels, backup pump for pond, outdoor lights…).
Tools / Mower
Water Features & Sources
- Empty and store garden hoses, fountains, rain barrels.
- Winterize pond. Clean out debris. Remove tropical plants. Clean and lower pump. Have backup pump and floating water heater ready.
- Clean out eavestrough / gutters and downspouts. Ensure good water flow.
- Insulate and shut off outdoor faucets.
- Prepare burlap or plywood wind barriers for plants, shrubs, roses, and trees susceptible to harsh winds and ice.
- Use rose collars to mulch base of roses.
- Empty, clean, and store planters.
- Put away cold-sensitive (breakable) garden art.
- Wash and store glass bird feeders.
- Clean, cover, and store outdoor furniture.
Dispose (Do not compost)
- Remove and do not compost diseased plants, leaves, and other garden debris.
- Wash and prepare winter bird feeders, suet cages, and water sources.
- Protect shrubs, young trees, and bulbs from squirrels, rabbits, and deer.
Lawn / Mulch / Compost
- Use your leaves! Grind them down with the lawnmower. They are excellent for lawn and garden mulch and leaf mold.
- Cover bare garden beds with mulch and compost, or grow cover crops or green manures.
- Turn and water compost pile. Add browns or greens as needed.
- Set up a winter compost bin.
- Prepare covers/cold frames for fall, winter, and early spring cold-season vegetables.
Make a Pruning Plan
- Determine which trees and shrubs should be pruned in winter (while dormant). Mark them with ribbons if needed.
- Put a reminder in your calendar.
- This guide shows you which pruners work best.
Jot Down Ideas for Next Year
- What worked in the garden this year? What do you want to change?
- Take some final notes and photos for planning during the winter.
Other Fall Tasks (not on the printable)
- Shut off for season and provide protective cover (if your brand recommends this).
- Prepare an emergency supply kit. Items may include blankets, water, snacks, lantern, shovel, basic tool kit, jumper cables, maps, mobile phone, portable chargers, money.
That’s a lot of stuff to take care of! But did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments below.