Preparing the Garden for Winter

Oct 30, 2023

You may think that as the crisp autumn air starts to descend upon us there is little work to do in the garden, but now is the perfect time to get your garden ready for its long winter nap. The work you do now can have a significant impact on your garden next spring. Fall is a perfect time to take stock of which of your plants have done well and those that need a little extra help. Getting your garden ready for winter is also a great way to enjoy spending time outside one last time before the cold and snow set in.

The First Step

Remove any annuals. These will not come back next year, and the dead tops not only look unsightly but can be the perfect place for pests to overwinter. You can remove the whole plant, or the tops can be cut off to the ground and composted. No need to worry about the roots as they will decompose quickly adding to organic matter in the soil.

The Next Step

Survey your perennials, shrubs and trees for any disease or damage. Broken branches or areas damaged by pests, or the elements should be removed and can be composted. Remove any diseased areas and make sure you do not put any of these cuttings in your compost pile. Most perennials can be cut back at this time unless you have native plants in your garden. Natives like coneflower, black eyed Susan, goldenrod and liatris have evolved with the beneficial insects in our area and provide homes and food for them in winter. Be kind to the insects that will help your garden next year and wait to cut these back until spring.

Check the Grasses

Ornamental grasses also provide a home for beneficial insects and if they are a sturdy variety that stands erect, they will provide winter interest to your garden. If the grasses are floppy or laying down go ahead and cut these back to a few inches off the ground. Grasses need to be divided every few years or they start to die off in the middle and you end up with ring of grass only growing on the perimeter of the root ball. Dig these up 3-4 weeks before the ground freezes and using a shovel, cut them into 2-4 pieces. Then you can replant all of them, extending your area of grasses, or give a few to a friend. Who doesn’t love free plants?!

Shurbs Too

There are several shrubs that should be pruned back in fall. Generally, roses should be cut back to 18” off the ground unless they are climbers. If we get a lot of snow over the winter it can break off the canes of roses that are not pruned back and this is a perfect opportunity for disease to take hold. Also, roses, like panicle and smooth hydrangeas and butterfly bushes, bloom on new wood, so cutting them back in the fall means more blooms next year. Be sure not to cut back the following shrubs as they bloom on old wood and cutting them back in fall will remove any blooms for the next year: oakleaf or macrophylla hydrangeas, lilacs, forsythia, flowering quince, mock orange, ninebarks, azaleas, or rhododendron and weigelas.

Don't Forget Trees

Trees also need our attention in the fall. Trim off any broken branches before they come down by themselves either from the weight of snow or ice, or from the gusty winter winds. If trees have suckers growing around the base, cut these back to the ground.


Once everything is pruned back it is time to think about feeding your garden. There is nothing like a nice big breakfast after waking from a long night's sleep and your plants feel the same way. Just like us, plants need food to grow to their fullest potential. To give your garden the best start in spring, top dress your beds with compost. Once the ground thaws in spring all those good nutrients will seep into your soil with the spring rain.

Another way to feed your garden is to let nature do it for you, the way it did before we intervened. Instead of bagging up your leaves to be hauled away, mulch up your leaves with your lawn mower and spread them in your beds to allow them to decompose so they feed your garden next year. If you do not like the look of the leaves in your beds, top dress with an inch or two of mulch. This mulch will not only make your garden beds look more polished, but it will act like a warm blanket, protecting the roots of your tender perennials from drying out with the cold winter winds.

If this all sounds like more work than you have time for or are wanting to do this time of year, call in the professionals. Colonial Gardens now offers landscape maintenance services that will put your garden to bed for you. Whether it is pruning, trimming, dividing plants or adding compost or mulch our experienced and professional team is ready and willing to take on any size job. Let us do the hard work for you!


Written By Amy Slaybaugh