7 Steps: How To Prepare Your Garden For Fall

Garden of yellow Crysanthemum in blooms.

As the fall weather comes to an end, your vegetables are nearing the end of their lifespan. After all your spring planting and your summer’s harvest, it’s tempting to just shut the garden gate and let nature take its course.

However, it is important that you don’t just leave your garden freely come the cold season. There are certain steps you need to act upon that will allow for your garden to prosper come the following season.

Below, we will show you exactly how to prepare your garden for fall in 7 easy steps. Let’s get to it!

7 Steps On How To Prep Your Garden Come Fall

1) Know When To Expect The First Frost Date

Yellow Chrysanthemum in bloom with multiple buds.

Knowing when to expect the first frost date will help you plan frost protection for your garden.

  • Generate a solid plan

You need to have a good idea of when frost will likely occur. This way, you can take action and generate a plan to winter-proof your garden. Listen to the weather forecast too. It may help you create a solid strategy to protect your plants from the freezing weather.

  • Strategize wisely

Knowing the first date of frost will help you strategize your garden, whether it’s having the time to prepare so that your plants stay warm or whether you want to use the frost to your advantage. Either way, being prepared can help you garden successfully in the winter.

2) Clean Up The Garden

a rake raking red and brown leaves

The end of the season is the ideal time to remove spent vegetables and debris. It is the perfect time to provide your garden with a thorough clean-up.

  • Convert leaves into fertilizer

Raking leaves and mowing them with a grass catcher will cause a mix of nitrogen and carbon. It can be an excellent cover you can use for your vegetable gardens.

You have an option to bury dried leaves too. Burying leaves allows them to decompose under the ground. Let the nutrients from decaying leaves incorporate into the soil before planting your garden in the spring.

Aside from enhancing the fertility of the soil, the mix also helps suppress weeds in the garden.

  • Prep your garden for next season

Some gardeners find a garden clean up before the fall a tiring task, but it doesn’t have to be. Maintaining your garden throughout the harvest season will allow for an easier cleanup.

After the first few freezing nights is ideally the perfect time to prepare your garden for fall. Of course, you can opt to start earlier if you wish to but if you start too early then this could encourage fresh growth too soon. Here are some preparation factors which will allow your plants to thrive longer come the fall.

  • Thin down spring blossoms.

Colorful Holland tulips

Come the cold season, freezing temperatures are a trigger to perennials which will have them go dormant for the winter. Also, as mentioned above cutting back your plants too early could encourage fresh growth, and you don’t want to do that in the fall.

Cutting down spring blossoms and other plants in the fall are helpful if you don’t want them self-seeding the entire garden.

  • Cutback tender stemmed plants

Plants like peonies, spring bulbs, and irises have to be cleaned before the fall. You can also deadhead rudbeckias, columbine, and liatris if you do not want them to spread the seeds out of their ideal growing season.

Tender stemmed plants like peonies, and many others die back naturally in the fall but regrow in spring. Cutting back the dead stems helps prevent insects from thriving in dead plants. It also prevents the spread of diseases and makes the garden look tidy.

However, be careful when removing dead stems so that you do not damage the crown. It is the fleshy part of the plant next to the roots.

Cutting down early spring perennials before your fall garden clean up can give you a month before you have to worry about cleaning up your garden again in spring.

3) Prepare The Soil

Red garden fork stuck in the soil.
Image by: gardeningknowhow.com

You might have heard it a thousand times, a primary key to a healthy garden is healthy and fertile soil. Working in your garden in the days of fall will ensure healthy soil and fast-growing plants come next growing season.

  • Till your soil lightly

Tilling your soil in the fall is beneficial. It allows you to incorporate amendments to the growing media.

Soil preparation in the fall gives a jump start on spring planting.

The combination of light tilling and no-dig gardening is the most effective technique for a productive garden. It is the method of raking the soil surface lightly, but not breaking the ground where microorganisms populate.

It helps preserve little microorganisms living under the soil. These organisms keep working hard to produce nitrogen your plants need.

  • Alleviate compaction
Pressing down the spade on compacted soil using the right foot.
Image by: pennington.com

In addition to preparation, it helps relieve compaction, improve aeration and increases oxygen for your plants’ needs.

Tilling wet soil in the spring makes clods, and it’s hard to break down that crumb state. However, tilling in the fall can break the soil mass apart, leaving the garden a nice soil texture in a state ideal for planting.

Soil density stops water infiltration causing a runoff. Very dense soil allows no air to move through it, resulting in a buildup of elements such as carbon dioxide and other elements toxic to the plant’s roots.

Compaction can cause a multitude of other problems. It encourages the invasion of weeds and activities of disease and infections in the plants.

  • Amend your soil

Amending soil with organic compost won’t provide an instant effect on plants. Adding amendments to your garden is beneficial in various ways, but it takes some time before you see the positive result on the plants.

It can even take many weeks up to a few months before the soil interaction functions at its highest potential.

Spread amendments to the entire area before you till. You’ll need a generous amount of compost and organic manure to feed microorganisms that are keeping the soil well aerated and healthy.

  • Prep the garden while the soil is warm and workable

Preparing your garden soil before the fall while the ground is still warm and workable can make your spring effort much more simplified.

Doing so will not require you to work on your soil until you’re ready to plant your first seedling. And all you need is very light tilling as you plant.

  • Boost the soil fertility
Red worms on the soil.
Image by: dw.com

You can also boost the soil fertility by adding nitrogen and phosphorus you can find from a bone meal or get organic fertilizers at a garden center near you.

Adding phosphorus and potassium can also work on adjusting the soil pH. Deficiency of nitrogen and phosphorus would also mean the plants won’t benefit the optimum potential of the soil.

Soil filled with high organic matter keeps moisture. It naturally breaks apart, providing adequate aeration. These benefits are rarely found in conventional soil.

Microorganisms under the soil are beneficial in a thousand ways. These organic matters tirelessly work night and day to fertilize and aerate the soil by creating tunnels in the most amazing ways.

  • Hassle-free garden for the next season.

Come spring, you’ll find it easier to maintain your garden without the hassle of hauling, spreading of fertilizer or tilling the soil.

You will also notice how your plants will correspond to the preparation you’ve done before the fall.

4) Protect Your Garden From Frost

Frost can cause injuries to plants by causing ice crystals in the plant’s cells. Such circumstances can make water unavailable to plant tissues and obstructs the fluid movements.

  • Know if your plants are hardy, or tender stemmed.

A cluster of pink bougainvillea flowers.

Plants are classified based on the lowest temperatures they can tolerate. Hardy plants can tolerate short-term freezing. Tender plants, on the other hand, are killed by freezing temperatures, no matter how short the period is.

Plants like citrus, avocados, bougainvillea, fuchsias, and succulents are among the tender plants. These plants require protection from freezing weather to survive.

As some plants can’t tolerate winter, it is essential to cut them back to prevent rotting in the garden. Late-blooming plants are also included.

  • Protect succulents from frost

Some succulents like stonecrops are cold-hardy, but most are very sensitive. When temperatures continuously dip below freezing, keep your succulents indoors.

Keeping your succulents on ideal soil is essential, as these plants will probably burst when overwatered or when water freezes on the leaves.

  • Water your trees

Watering your trees sufficiently at the start of the fall helps them survive. When the cold winter hits, trees struggle to absorb water from the frozen ground. Give your tree deep watering, especially evergreen trees.

  • Use a hoop cover
Hoop cover with white PVC frame and white plastic covering.
Image by: iamcountryside.com

If you’re considering using hoop cover to protect your plants from freezing weather, it is wise to consider getting them in place before the fall. Setting the framing up allows you to use them anytime you need help.

Row cover hoops will not only protect your plant from frost and cold. You may also want to use them to get a jump start on spring planting or shelter vegetable plants from pests and insects. Here are the plant covers that I use that work perfectly.

5) Add Mulch

A handful of dyed wooden chip mulch in brown color.
Image by: bigrentz.com

Mulch, such as straw and wood chips,  provides a warmer environment for microorganisms under the ground during the cold season. It insulates the soil and allows these organisms to stay active and help improve the soil.

  • Insulate the garden surface with mulch

Laying thick layers of organic mulch and compost material on the surface of the soil will encourage worm activity. This method will allow earthworms to generate tunnels under the ground. Such channels will provide the proper aeration your plants need.

Mulching will not only help insulate the ground. It also prevents you from disturbing the ongoing activity of beneficial microorganisms in creating an ideal soil your plants can thrive.

In the coldest regions, soil can freeze solid, but in many areas, soil cycles through freezing and thawing the entire winter season.

These freeze-thaw cycles damage plants growing in-ground. However, mulch can help moderate constant temperature fluctuation.

  • Simplify your garden tasks next spring

Adding mulch in the fall can also help simplify your garden tasks next spring. Besides, colder weather can help you tackle tough jobs like mulching which is actually easier to do in the winter believe it or not.

Fall mulching can also give you precious time to see the beauty of your garden before winter weather ends.

6) Preventing Garden Disease

Silver garden fork turning manure in the soil.
Image by: planetnatural.com

Cool-weather is a reminder that fall is fast approaching, encouraging gardeners to prepare plants and gardens from freezing weather.

  • Launch preventive management program

Many gardeners launch preventive management programs in the fall. These include the combination of strategies involving sanitation, seasonal spray applications, and the practice of sterilizing the soil.

  • Lessen the source of future disease

Garden sanitation helps lessen the source of future diseases and infections in the plants. Removing plant debris is one of the actions you can take to decrease pest, disease, and overwintering weed seeds.

  • Let pupae out from hiding
Big pupae in the soil.
Image by: lovethegarden.com

Turning over your soil can also help bring pupae out. These overwintering pests under the ground can destroy your plants in the next planting season when neglected.

Some common fungus diseases like peach leaf curl, brown rot, apple scab, camellia petal blight, and black spots on roses may reappear next season.

  • Eliminate overwintering fungus spores

These fungus spores can hide and survive to overwinter in dead leaves, rotting fruit, and other plant debris, left behind the previous Fall.

  • Prune out infected twigs and branches

Removal of disease and infected plant tissues can also help eliminate the possibility of disease spread. Pruning out infected branches and twigs or handpicked blighted blossoms may help enhance such preventive measures.

Pruning healthy trees is not advisable in the fall unless you have dead and infected branches. Most plants focus on their roots in the colder season, which means making cuts from pruning takes time to heal.

In addition to that, open cuts make your tree susceptible to infectious diseases, which may lead to the spreading of infections to the entire garden.

7) Clean & Sharpen Garden Tools

Gardener removing the grime stuck from a garden spade.
Image by: kitsapsun.com

Most gardeners know they need to keep garden tools clean and sharpened the entire year. However, this task is hard to keep up, especially when you’re gardening in full swing.

Fall is the perfect time to give your garden tools some tender loving care. These include:

  • Start by removing the grime and debris stuck in the garden device. This task is easier when you soak them in soapy water for a few minutes.
  • When rust is present, remove by brushing the tool with steel wool or a plastic brush when the blades have paint. 
  • Sharpen hoes, shovels, and pruners with the tool sharpener you have. You can either use an electric grinder, regular mill file, whetstone, or innovative hand file.
  • Finally, rub oils on the tool’s surfaces to protect the metal from oxygen or seal wooden handles in place. Doing so will help your garden investment last for many years of service.

If you want to know more about sharpening tools then check out the full article: 8 Steps: How To Sharpen Your Garden Tools Correctly.

Summary: Preparing Your Garden For Fall

The success of your garden in the fall depends on the preparation you make. How you prepare the soil and plants is the foundation of your garden’s success. Here’s the summary to help you remember everything we covered.

  • Frost can kill tender stemmed plants, which is why it is essential to know when the first date of frost is. This way, you’ll be able to strategize and prepare the garden before the freezing temperature hits.
  • Before the temperature drops, while the weather is still warm, and the soil is workable, prepare your garden for the next season. You need to remove weeds, dead plants, and lawn debris from your garden.
  • Prepping your garden in the fall also means you have to do these specific tasks:
    • Harvest any remaining crops.
    • Add some compost to soil that needs amendments.
    • Till the plot lightly and toss some mulch to cover.
  • Covering perennials with mulch is beneficial to combat cold. But decreasing hours of light and cold daytime temperature brings plant growth to a halt naturally.
  • Tilling the soil may expose hidden insects who plan to overwinter. Such a technique will lessen pest troubles in the coming spring and summer.
  • It is also excellent in reducing populations of Japanese beetles. These grubs are good at hiding deeply and can overwinter in the soil.
  • Adding a layer of compost to exposed soil can help amend them. You can add dried leaves, aged manure, lime, and other organic matters.
  • Any areas in the garden invaded with weeds have to mulch them with black plastic.
  • Try to leave them in place the entire winter season and up until you’re ready to plant in spring. This method can help kill existing weeds and subdue sprouting seeds.
  • The best action you can take to prevent disease and infections in your garden is to make your plants healthy. Disease prevention and management include site preparation and correct plant selection.
  • Sharp and cleaned garden tools can make a big difference in performance. Well-maintained garden devices are likely to resist rust and last longer.

Happy Gardening!

One of the primary benefits of preparing your garden in the fall is having a better garden in spring and summer. Most of the fall garden chores make the soil healthy and lessen the number of garden tasks you have to perform in spring.

Yes, there are lots of things you can do to prepare your garden for the next planting season. Following the above steps will allow for your garden to prosper come the following gardening season. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask below!

About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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