How to Prepare Your Lawn and Garden for Winter

Rows of flower bulbs sitting in soil ready to be planted.
What You'll Need
Lawn and garden bags or a large sack or bin to collect leaves and plant material
Pruners or small clippers
Gardening gloves
Burlap sacks
Spring bulbs
Aerator (a push aerator or lawn shoes designed to aerate will work)
Winterizing lawn fertilizer
Hay or a winter crop cover, such as winter rye

It may be depressing to think about it, but winter is creeping up. That means it's time to prepare your lawn and garden for the cold season. Taking a few steps to prepare for the first frost and the cold months to follow can lead to a healthier yard and garden, with thriving plant life and pops of greenery and color later. Winterizing can also reduce your workload in the spring, so you can spend more time simply enjoying Mother Nature. Follow these steps to properly prepare your lawn for the winter season.

Step 1 - Rake

This quintessential fall activity is an important task for lawn and garden winter preparation. Removing fallen leaves and other debris from your yard allows sunlight and moisture to reach grass roots and keep them healthy. If you leave piles of leaves on the lawn, it can kill the grass and leave unsightly brown spots.

Step 2 - Don’t Prune

Many people mistakenly assume that hard pruning should be done in the fall. Pruning is actually an activity that promotes plant growth, so there’s no reason to prune when the dormant season is approaching. If you do need to prune, go easy on it, or consult a local greenhouse or garden center first to find out if a particular plant needs to be cut back.

Step 3 - Cut Back Perennials

Now is the time to cut back and clean out perennials. These plants frequently have dead areas, so remove them to improve appearance and reduce unwanted moisture. After the first frost, you can cut back perennials to the soil for a tidier look.

Step 4 - Toss Annuals

You loved them all summer, but now is the time to get rid of your annual plants. These include any annuals you have planted in pots, hanging baskets, or flowerbeds. Unless you plan on bringing them indoors, these plants won’t survive the winter, so clear them out now before they become an eyesore or start harboring diseases.

Step 5 - Mulch

Grab some mulch and use it to cover vulnerable areas like flowerbeds, gardens, and the bases of young trees. The mulch will act as a protectant which insulates the soil and protects the plants within reach. When you’re mulching around trees, be sure to mound it away from the trunk. Shape it like a doughnut instead of a volcano.

Step 6 - Cover Tender Plants

Mulch isn’t the only option for protecting plants. If you have plants that are especially tender, consider covering them with a burlap sack for added protection.

Step 7 - Plant Spring Bulbs

Even though it’s turning cold, you can still look forward to spring by planting a variety of bulbs, such as colorful daffodils and tulips. It’s best to plant bulbs about six weeks before the first hard frost so that they can form roots and properly establish.

Step 8 - Aerate and Winterize the Grass

Aerating your lawn will open up the soil, which will in turn allow more oxygen and water to access the roots. You will have much healthier grass doing this. After aerating, you should also add a high quality winterizing lawn food that will provide root strengthening nutrients during the cold months.

Step 9 - Compost

Composting is not only good for the planet, but it is also good for your garden and flower bed. You can compost just about any organic material. Use the raked leaves, cut perennials, and uprooted annuals you’ve just accumulated, for example. If you have a shredder, put them through it first for more manageable compost. It’s okay if you don’t; just mix it together for use later as soil conditioner.

Step 10 - Tend the Garden

Get your garden ready for winter by pulling up harvested plants and removing debris like weeds, sticks, and rocks. Till the soil and add amendments such as compost, grass clippings, or cut leaves. Cover with hay or plant a crop cover, such as winter rye or crimson clover, to protect the soil and provide more nutrients in preparation for the next planting season.