This printable Fall Gardening Checklist lists important tasks to get done both to protect what you have and get a jump start on spring before winter sets in. It’s a handy way to be sure you get the key stuff done, make time for the fun stuff, and leave the rest.
This is part of my Fall Garden Guide, packed with practical and creative ideas.
Fall Clean Up Tips
For us, fall weather is never the same twice. We may get a deep freeze and snow flurries early on and/or have hot summer-like days well into November.
And, because it’s unpredictable, I have my fall garden tasks organized into 3 categories.
1Must Get Done
- Protecting tender plants (see Overwintering), putting away breakable garden pots, patio furniture, and so on.
- Cover garden beds with mulched fall leaves.
2Nice to Get Done
- Planting spring bulbs, preparing early spring garden beds….
- Sowing flower seeds for blooms next spring and summer
- Planting flowering bulbs and garlic
Shop for Seeds: Botanical Interests Flower Seeds to Sow in Fall (US)
Shop for Bulbs: Eden Brothers (US)
Look for pollinator-friendly options to plant in fall.
3Leave Until Spring
- Cutting back old perennial growth…
The Must-Get-Done category is the least fun but most important: it’s sad to lose tender plants and it is costly to replace winter-damaged patio furniture!
The Nice-to-Get-Done items are earmarked for any beautiful fall day where I can spare the time. These are my favorite days to spend outside.
And, while it’s tempting to really clean things up, it’s important to remember it’s a garden, not a home, and it relies on living—and decaying— things to sustain itself. A garden really comes to life when we relax and let nature live, die, and regenerate.
I also have it on good authority that the world will not end if I don’t plant early-blooming spring bulbs—as lovely as they are— but it will be a real waste if current, established plants perish simply because I failed to provide some cold weather protection.
You get the idea. All efforts are put into real pay-offs and the rest can wait.
The printable version of this list has everything on one handy page. Add your own notes and use it year after year.
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You can download the checklist and I have also listed the tasks below.
Fall Clean Up & Spring Prep Tips
Set Priorities and Let Go of the Rest
1Protect the Stuff Winter can Break or Destroy
Give priority to protecting the plants, water features, tools, outdoor furniture, and garden art.
To me, older, established plants are the most valuable asset in my garden (not just monetarily but aesthetically).
Everything else is easier and less expensive to replace if damaged during the cold season.
- Empty, clean, and store planters.
- Put away cold-sensitive (breakable) garden art.
- Wash and store glass bird feeders.
- Clean, cover, and store outdoor furniture.
- Prepare burlap or plywood wind barriers for plants, shrubs, and roses, and trees susceptible to harsh winds and ice.
- Use rose collars to mulch base of roses.
- Add vinyl sheeting to covered patio. Great way to keep the winter weather out!
- Wash and prepare winter bird feeders, suet cages, and water sources.
- Protect shrubs, young trees, and bulbs from squirrels, rabbits, and deer.
Tools / Mower
- Clean, sharpen, and store tools.
Shed / Storage
- Organize shed for easy access to any supplies needed during the winter (shovels, backup pump for pond, outdoor lights…).
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 eaves troughs / gutters and downspouts. Ensure good water flow.
- Insulate and shut off outdoor faucets.
Tender Roots, Bulbs, and Plants
- Dig up and store tender bulbs including dahlias.
- Bring tropical and other tender plants inside (including non-hardy succulents, potted fig trees, and zonal geraniums).
- Take sweet potato vine cuttings and tomato cuttings and geranium cuttings for indoor growing.
Mulch, leaves, and cover crops protect plants and soil, help retain moisture, and gradually decompose further enriching the soil. Don’t get rid of them!
- Use mulch, leaves, and cover crops to protect and enrich your soil.
- Leaves are also great for the compost bin, providing carbon/browns to balance the greens/nitrogen suppliers.
- 5 ways fall leaves benefit your garden.
Some semi-hardy plants such as potted fig trees may also need special care.
- How to over-winter trees in containers (and other semi-hardy plants).
- How to over-winter geraniums (as houseplants or in storage).
Fall is the time to prune any dead, damaged, or diseased branches you may have missed in the summer. Others (like apple trees) need late-winter care, and the rest can wait until you’re tidying up in the spring.
Let Nature Be
Avoid the temptation to ‘clean up’ dead or decaying perennial growth and seed pods.
These provide essential food and habitat for all of the living things in our gardens including bees, butterflies, birds, other insects, and microbes.
Unless dangerous, diseased, pest-infested, or invasive, leave everything until late spring, and then make room for new growth.
2Grow Fall and Winter Veggies
For most of us, growing vegetables in the fall and winter is not critical, but it’s sure nice.
One of the keys to successful winter food growing is to start the crops late summer or early fall so the roots are well-established before the cool weather sets in.
- Fall vegetable gardening 101
- How to grow vegetables in the winter
- Cold storage 101: food preservation tips
Also consider growing cover crops to protect and enrich bare soil during the winter months.
3Give Your Spring Garden a Jump Start
There are many flower seeds and, of course, spring bulbs that require fall planting.
6+ Weeks Before Frost
- Sow fall veggies and herbs.
- Plant trees and shrubs. Also see When is it too late to plant trees in fall?
- 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 the birds start eating them, it’s time to save them. | How to save heirloom tomato seeds.
- Cut grass. Use mulched leaves and grass clippings 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.
- 20 Flowering Bulbs to Plant in Fall
- 20 Spring-Flowering Bulbs That Feed Pollinators
- 25 Flower Seeds to Sow in Fall
- Plants to Divide and Transplant in Fall
Click here to get the free printable Fall Gardening Checklist.
Phew! That’s lots to do but again, protect your wares and best plants and leave the rest if you run out of time.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛