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.
Fall Gardening Quick Links
Wait! Protect Stuff but Don’t ‘Clean Up’
Protect stuff like garden decor and art, and tender perennials, but leave dead and decaying plants, and seed pods right where they are. These are essential food and habitat for all of the life in our gardens. Most birds, bees, butterflies, and other insects and microbes do not migrate to warmer climates. They stay right here throughout the winter. All that ‘messy’ plant stuff keeps them safe for the winter. Let go of the urge to ‘clean up’: it only hurts them and, consequently, the health of your garden. Late spring is the time to cut back old perennial growth and make room for new growth. But there’s plenty of other things to take care as you’ll see.
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 herbs.
- Plant trees and shrubs.
- Divide/move late-spring flowering perennials (coneflowers, hostas, black-eyed Susans). Leave the seed heads for the birds.
- Harvest fruit, nuts, & veggies.
Month Before Frost
- Plant flower seeds for spring, flowering bulbs, and quick-growing veggies plus garlic.
- 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. Also keep bags of leaves to add to your compost pile (see Composting 101): you need lots of carbon/browns to balance your greens/nitrogen suppliers.
Tender Roots, Bulbs, and Plants
Shed / Storage
- Organize shed for easy access to any supplies needed during the winter (shovels, backup pump for pond, outdoor lights…).
Tools / Mower
- Clean, sharpen, and store tools.
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.
- 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.
- Can’t reach? This extendable pruner works very nicely.
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
- 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.
You can download a free checklist for emergency car supplies here.
That’s a lot of stuff to take care of! But did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments below.
If you want to catch the flip side, the Spring Gardening Checklist is here.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛