The days are shorter, and there’s a decidedly cold nip in the air. Your friends are enjoying hot toddies and planning ugly Christmas sweater parties. On the other hand, there you are—experiencing a bad case of gardening withdrawal. Don’t be down about it. Instead, use your time winterizing your yard and garden with an eye towards spring planting.
In fact, using these shortened fall and winter days wisely actually can help you get a jump start on the springtime. Spend that last outdoor time in the fall ensuring that all your lovely gardening things are safe from the ravages of Old Man Winter.
There’s no shortage of things you can do to putter around your yard in the late fall and early winter. We’ve assembled an awesome checklist of those necessary tasks that don’t need to wait until the arrival of spring. So, slip into your coziest sweater and warm hat, and enjoy the fresh, brisk autumn air while you tackle these winterizing projects.
“O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, British Poet
YOUR GARDEN WINTERIZING CHECKLIST
1. Clear out Your Garden Beds
1a. Discard old plants from your vegetable beds ~
If you grow vegetables, don’t leave the withered stalks in the ground. Doing so will attract viruses and molds to your garden area. This includes blight, which can survive even the cold of winter and affect your tender new plants in the spring. Therefore, proper disposal of diseased plants is crucial to next year’s success.
1b. Clean out your spent annual flowers ~
Just as the vegetable beds need to be cleaned out, so do your flowers. Be sure that you’re only removing annuals and not pulling up your prized perennials!
1c. Remove any Surviving Weeds ~
While you’re clearing away the dead plants, remove any weeds that remain. This is true for both flower and vegetable beds.
If you are in a mild climate, zones 7 through 10, this is particularly important. That’s because if you have a milder winter season, you’ll be besieged by weeds come spring.
2. Plant Pansies for a Pop of Color
If you are fortunate enough to live in zones 7 to 10, you can plant pansies for an unexpected, cheerful pop of purple color. Plant them in November and they’ll thrive until you get a heavier snow (if you get snow!). In some zones, they will flourish until the heat of summer arrives.
But if you’re in a colder climate, you can always grow pansies indoors. To grow
3. Add Compost
Add light compost to the vegetable and flower beds.
Now that you’ve cleared the beds, add a light layer of compost or mulch to your gardens. Why a light layer?
You want to discourage any stubborn late or early spring weeds. However, you don’t want to insulate any bugs or viruses. A good winter freeze will kill them naturally, so you won’t need to battle them in the next growing season.
4. Store Your Bulbs
In the coldest of climates (zones 1 through 8), many gardeners are forced to locate and remove their bulbs to a place that’s cold but won’t receive a hard freeze for the winter. Usually, this is a shed or unheated garage.
Some bulbs to store in the coldest zones:
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This is only a partial list of the most commonly affected bulbs that should be removed to storage in a garage or shed. Check in with your local extension office for specific information for your area.
5. Pot Your Herbs
If your herbs are still viable, pot them! You can keep them outside on milder days, or put them in a sunny window in your kitchen for access to fresh herbs all winter long.
Cold Tolerant Herbs:
- Rosemary – cold tolerant to 30 degrees. This is technically an evergreen, so you might not need to bring it inside in zones 8-10. It’s a famous herb for seasoning Mediterranean cuisine.
- Parsley– cold tolerant to 10 degrees. Add parsley to enhance your favorite winter soups and stews.
- Winter Savory – cold tolerant to 10 degrees. Enjoy the peppery flavor as a seasoning for meats. Or, enjoy it as a digestive aid in an herbal tea.
- Chives – cold tolerant to 40 degrees. Top your winter dishes with the mild onion flavor. It’s a great topper for baked potatoes.
- Lavender – cold tolerant to 10 degrees (dependant on your variety!). Season your foods or drink it in a tea to aid relaxation.
- Mint – cold tolerant to 40 degrees. Use it for herbal tea all winter long as it’s a natural decongestant.
Even though they are cold-hardy, these herbs don’t want to be smothered by a heavy blanket of snow. Having them in pots will ensure you can bring them inside when needed or move them to a sheltered area such as a covered patio.
Fresh herbs really belong anywhere you put them.
~Alex Guarnaschelli, chef
6. Start a Compost Pile
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to start a compost pile. You have lots of lovely brown leaves on hand and you’ll be brewing pots of coffee to keep warm all winter. Why not turn that waste into fertilizer?
Here are some hints to get started on composting.
- Keep it simple: You can start a compost pile on the ground or in a bin. If you choose to compost on the ground, invest in some chicken wire or fencing to deter scavengers such as skunks or raccoons.
- Locate it in a sunny spot: Your compost needs warmth to begin to break down.
- Keep it watered: If you live in a climate with dry winters, give your compost a watering regularly. The moisture is necessary for healthy compost.
- A balanced blend: You want a blend of carbon-rich “brown” materials and nitrogen-rich “green” materials to produce the desired results.
- Brown materials: Dead leaves, newspapers, unbleached coffee filters, small sticks, wood shavings
- Green materials: Vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, fruit peels
- Things to avoid: Oils, fats, animal waste, chicken bones, or meats. These will make your compost smell foul. In addition, you could attract some dangerous animals like coyotes.
- Turn the compost: Every two weeks (weather permitting), turn your compost pile. Use a pitchfork, shovel, or whatever tool you’re comfortable with. If you see big clumps forming as the waste degrades, break it up.
- Use the compost: The compost will be “ready” when obtains the aroma and texture of garden soil. Use it to supplement your soil with vital nutrients as needed.
You will see faster results in the spring, but with all the fall leaves to add to the brown materials, who wants to wait?
7. Rake Your Fall Leaves
Don’t neglect the dreaded job of raking up those fall leaves from your lawn. Dead leaves can be problematic for your yard in a number of ways.
Fallen leaves make for happy compost but unhappy grass.
The dead leaves can cause your lawn to look patchy next spring. Why? Because they completely block the sunlight. Even if your grass is dormant, it will need the sunshine to “wake up” in the spring.
In addition, the leaves will hold moisture in by preventing evaporation from occurring. This can cause slipping danger to your family members. Also, that moisture can cause mildew or fungus to develop that will harm your grass.
Of course, once you’ve raked up those leaves, you can add them to your compost pile. Otherwise, dispose of them properly and safely.
“No king has a throne more beautiful than a bench covered with the autumn leaves!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan, Contemporary Turkish playwright, novelist and thinker
8. Clear Your Gutters
This is a most-hated job. It’s dirty and messy. However, if your gutters don’t run cleanly, you can begin to experience erosion in your foundation plantings and damage to your landscaping.
Non-garden related problems can also persist, such as ice dams that damage your roof and restrict proper attic ventilation.
How to Clear Your Gutters
Carefully climb your ladder, and work one short section at a time. Scoop out leaves, pinecones, and debris with a garden trowel or invest in a gutter scoop. Drop the debris into a bag, which you can tie to the ladder.
Whenever possible, have your spouse or buddy hold the ladder for you.
Don’t overreach while you’re on the ladder. Instead, move from one area to another frequently until you’ve scooped out all the gutter trash. Finish the job by using the garden hose to flush the gutters to ensure they run clear water and eject out the bottom of your downspouts.
If you cannot safely accomplish this job, this is the time of year to call a gutter expert to help you out. Some gutter companies run specials for free or discounted gutter cleaning if you buy your gutters from them, so check around.
9. Drain and Store Your Garden Hoses
While you are winterizing your yard and garden, it’s the perfect time to inspect your garden hoses. Those that are patched with electrical tape? Toss them. The loose fitting that drips constantly? Repair it now.
Make it a point to “cull the herd,” trashing old and worn out hoses and keeping only the ones that are in good repair. Keep a list of what you need to replace and send it off to Santa Claus.
Before you store away the good garden hoses, you must drain all the water out of it. If you skip this and moisture remains, a freeze will cause the water molecules to expand and possibly crack the hose.
To drain the hose, disconnect the hose from the faucet, disconnect your nozzle, and gently push on the hose as you wind it up. Store it inside your shed or garage until the arrival of spring.
You may be able to find sales on garden equipment as retailers clear out their inventory.
10. Inspect and Trim the Trees
The weight of ice and snow on your trees in the winter can cause damage to your home, landscaping, and even take out power lines. Fallen trees can cause dangerous, or even life-threatening, situations, so tree trimming is about more than just looks..
It’s challenging to find statistics on how many deaths are caused by fall trees and limbs, because those stats are lumped together with other fall objects. However, best estimates are that over 100 people are killed by falling trees or tree limbs each year.1)https://www.quora.com/How-many-people-in-the-US-are-killed-by-falling-trees-each-year2)https://www.reiffandbily.com/100-people-killed-trees-every-year-united-states/
Over 100 people are killed by falling trees or tree limbs each year.
To some extent, you can prevent this by inspecting your trees and trimming them (if you know how) or hiring an arborist for assistance.
At GardensAll we make frequent use of our pole saw for trimming dead limbs that are hard to reach. We’re happy with our Greenworks collection of tools. You can see a review article of our cordless leaf blowers here.
Inspect and Detect
You will want to first do a visual inspection and take good notes before you begin this project. If you can reach the spots that need to be trimmed, you can use a piece of brightly colored electrical tape to mark it off.
Take a close look at each tree to ensure that no limbs are scraping your roof or directly above your home. What looks like an innocuous branch right now can endanger your roof during a heavy storm, snow or ice.
Also, look for signs of rot, pest damage, or weakened branches. These also are vulnerable points during a winter storm and should be removed.
Tree Trimming Safely for Safety and Health
Not only does removing these branches keep your property safe during stormy weather, but it also helps the tree with regrowth in the spring. This is because the tree will not continue to try to nourish the diseased area.
Once you have inspected the trees, it’s time to have those branches removed. However, this is not a DIY project for most of us. Tree trimming is one of the most dangerous careers, so best to let the pros handle this. Even a small limb falling from a height can knock you out and case serious injury.
Call a tree removal expert to protect your own safety and your property! Refer to the notes that you took while inspecting and discuss the project with the tree pro to make sure you’re on the same page when he gives you an estimate and begins the work.
We live in the woods and whenever there’s lots of snow, ice, and heavy storms, it’s common to hear trees and limbs breaking off and falling in the woods.
Storms are nature’s way of clearing and pruning… you just don’t want to be in the way of it.
11. Organize Your Potting Bench
Throughout the warm months, it’s easy to let our potting benches become disorganized during the height of the growing and harvesting season. We get so excited about planting, watering, and nurturing, that we overlook the pesky housekeeping tasks like keeping our areas neat and putting everything away.
12. Clean Your Pots
I bet you have a stack or two of dirty pots from the summer. Empty the dirt and use a dry scrubbing brush to remove excess dirt. Inspect terracotta or clay pots for cracks or chips.
We store our cleaned pots away in an outdoor storage bin. Then in the summer we use it to store the plant trays from our indoor plants that have been moved outdoors. It works really well.
13. Clean and Oil your Gardening Tools
Before the winter, give your gardening tools a good cleaning to remove any soil or fertilizers, which can cause long-term corrosion. Then, treat them to a nice spray of household oil. This will both lubricate any moving parts as well as protect them from corrosion.
If you find hand tools that need to be sharpened or repaired, take the time to do that now. You can purchase replacement handles for rakes, shovels, and trowels. With just a few minutes of care, you will have them standing ready for early spring use.
Also, discard any tools that are cracked, dangerous to use, or unfixable. Think of it as clearing space for new goodies next season. Check out this article for more on tool care and how to clean rusty tools.
Care for your tools and they’ll help you care for your garden.
14. Discard the Stash of Plastic Containers
You know how it goes. You save the plastic containers that your annuals come in. The intention is to recycle them, but you’ve ended up with a boatload of them.
Many are probably split down the side or cracked on the bottom. They aren’t intended for re-use. Despite your good intentions of recycling as a seedling pot, recycle them instead in your recycling bin.
It can take more of your time and effort to clean and store disposable pots than the value you’ll gain by keeping them.
15. Dump Partial Bags of Potting Mix
Do you have partially used bags of potting mix or topsoil? Dump it into your garden or compost pile, where it can provide more benefit than storing it all winter.
It won’t be as viable next spring anyway. You’ll need to purchase a fresh supply, so there’s no need to clutter up your garden shed and storage with messy partial bags.
16. Secure Storage for Feed and Seed
Do you stock birdseed and nuts for your feathered friends and squirrels during the winter? They are fun to watch from the comfort of your warm kitchen window, and many of us do enjoy this.
Just be forewarned, you will end up with birdseed on your deck or porch if these are under your window. Or you’ll have some interesting things sprouting where the seeds fall on the ground.
The other thing to keep in mind is to try to store your birdseed where it will be easily accessible to refill. Come winter time, we have to fill ours every morning because between the birds, squirrels and occasional racoons raiding the feeders at night.
When it’s cold and snowing outside, you’ll want the shortest, most convenient trek from your bin to your bird feeders and back inside.
Storage Containers – Good and Not so Good
If you’re storing the goodies outdoors, be sure to place them in a well-capped container. Otherwise, the squirrels will help themselves to a buffet and leave nothing for the poor birds.
Containers of pet and bird seed can also attract unwelcome wildlife. We had a racoon visiting our screened porch through our pet door. So seal these well in secure storage bins.
We like these 22-55 lb bins on castors with an easy access locking lid. It makes it easy to fill, access and move around for cleaning.
These kinds of bins also protect against unwanted rodents, from mice to squirrels. We’ve used the kind that stack, but they didn’t lock.
We’ve also used the kind that attaches to the wall with a dispenser. However, it doesn’t work so well for seed, as pieces can escape more easily, especially if pieces get stuck in the trap and prevent it from closing all the way. So you end up losing some in a mess on the floor.
“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
17. Prepare Water Features for the Cold
If your garden has water fountains, it’s also time to get those ready for the cold.
Remove the pumps from your fountains. If you fail to remove and drain the pumps, they can freeze and crack. This is an oversight that new fountain owners make. It can add up to expensive replacement.
Failure to remove pumps can cause irreversible damage.
Pump Prep and Storage
After you remove the pump, drain all water from the clear lines. Store the lines and pump in a large zip-top bag and clearly label it. This will hold everything for the fountain together and also serve as a self-reminder of what these parts are for.
Drain all water from the basin of the fountain, as well. Freezing water molecules can also cause this to expand and crack.
The fountain itself is most likely a heavy concrete statuary piece. If yours is light enough, remove it to the safety of a shed or garage. However, they can most often remain in place due to the weight.
It’s best to cover the entire statue with a tarp to ensure that no moisture enters the basin that you just drained and to protect it from chipping when it’s pelted with ice.
“That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American Author and Poet
How to Winterize Your Lawn Mower
Another sometimes overlooked chore is preparing your gas-powered equipment for the long months ahead. Your most costly of these is likely your gas-powered lawn mower. This is especially true if you have a riding mower.
How to Protect Your Gas Mower:
- Clear grass clippings from the mower deck. If you leave the clippings, the moisture and any fertilizer or lawn chemicals will eat away at the blades. A heavy-duty scrub brush should brush away the mess. Wear gloves to protect your hands.
- Treat the gas. You have two options to treat the gasoline to prevent problems such as clogs in the fuel lines.
- Run the engine until the gas is completely gone.
- Top off the gasoline and add a fuel additive that stabilizes it for the winter. Then, run the mower a few moments to work the fuel through to the carburetor.
- Remove the spark plugs. This used to be necessary but is less commonly recommended now due to newer spark plug technology. However, this is a safety function before performing step 4.
- Sharpen the blades. This will make your lawn mower ready to use once the cold breaks. Never attempt to sharpen or change the blades until the spark plug is removed to ensure that the engine has zero chance of firing. Carefully use a bench grinder or large metal file to hone the edges and replace.
- Blade replacement. If the blades have already been sharpened several times, invest in replacement blades and reinstall them before spring.
Fall maintenance of your lawn mower will ensure its longevity.
When you take the time in the late autumn to store your mower properly, you’ll avoid expensive repairs. Take the time now to save time, money and hassle later, so come spring, you’re ready to rock and roll!
Winterize your mower and drain the gas! Failure to properly winterize your lawn mower can ruin it.
The Bottom Line?
Treat these last hours of chores in the late autumn not as drudgery but as a treat. It won’t be long before you’re cooped up in the house for endless weeks, gazing longingly out your window and wishing to feel the kiss of the sunshine on your skin, and the feel of the earth between your fingers.
Not only will this give you those precious moments of cherished outdoor time, but it will also have you spring-ready.
For when you hear that first sweet chirp of a robin or feel that earliest cleansing sprinkle of spring of rain… when you see the purple crocuses appear, you’ll be itching to get back to your happy place again.
I once had a Sparrow alight upon my shoulder,
but for a moment while hoeing in a village garden.
I felt that I was more distinguished by that one circumstance
Than I could have been by any epaulet I could have worn.
~ Henry David Thoreau
Make haste to the garden in spring, with happy tools at the ready. There, you’ll be able to crumble the still cool earth between your fingers and dream of all the lovely things you’ll grow in the new season.
“Flowers are happy things.”
~P.G. Wodehouse, British Author
Hi! My name is Deborah Tayloe. I’m a full-time freelance writer and blogger. I blog about my favorite things: gardening, cooking, and DIY. I live in a very rural area called Bertie County, North Carolina. Here, I have plenty of open space to pursue my gardening habit. I’m a regular contributor to GardensAll and publish my own blog, DIY Home & Garden.
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