How to Prepare Your Garden for Winter

Taking a little effort now will ensure a bountiful growing season next spring. You will want to do a few things to get your beds ready and waiting for planting. After the rush in summer and fall in the kitchen to prepare, can, dry and use everything you’ve grown, it’s hard to think on the winter months and dormant gardens.

As fall is upon you, it makes the walk through the gardens a little melancholy to get the late harvesting done. The dying plants and crispy foliage means it’s time to plan on preparing everything for next year.

For most places October holds the first frost, for us it’s in November usually. Here are some tips on getting your winterizing done and fortifying your garden for next year.

Preparing perennials for winter

After the first frost is the time to work with your perennials. First you will want to cut back any dry stems down to the soil level, leave the stems with seed heads. Cutting the dead stems will neaten your garden and take out any disease spores or insect eggs that may be harboring there.

Mulch your perennials and the shrub beds with chopped leaves or pine needles for protection of the soil and plant roots. It also regulates extreme temperature changes in a winter freeze and thaws.


Trim any foliage showing diseased foliage with your evergreen shrubs and plants and toss it. Rake the mulch around it and toss that too. These shouldn’t be used in the compost heap.

Evergreen trees

We use burlap and cloth as screens to save the broad leaf types of evergreens from a sun that is reflected from the snow and strong windburn.


To prevent vermin and rodents from making nests in your soil and heat bearing compost, you should wait until the ground freezes and then add a 6” layer of your organic materials like winter mulch.

How to Protect Plants for the Winter | This Old House

Preparing bulbs for winter with evergreen bough mulch

You will want to protect your soil from shifting and cracking in winter, is not small plants and bulbs that are shallowly planted may be heaved to the surface and be ruined. Use evergreen boughs to give a strong layer of needed protection.

Preparing younger trees for winter

You will want to save your younger trees from hungry predators wanting that tender bark. There are many commercial gardening products, but we have always had luck with wrapping then in wire netting.

Keeping your roses alive during winter

Your roses are going to take a little bit of attention, more than the other greenery that’s for sure. Roses were always a sense of pride here in the South, so that may be why we do it. On homesteads, they are a luxury for mom.

If you have more severe winters, it may be a more complex job. We have light winters, or it will snow for a week then be warm the next here in Kentucky. They say if you don’t like our weather, wait a week.

When the fall cooler weather starts, that is the time to address winterizing your roses. The hybrid roses will be the most vulnerable to the cold, and will need the preparations the most from them all.

We stop fertilizing in the late summer months, a good rule of thumb is make your last big feeding 2 months before the first frost is expected. Do not prune past this date, and stop your cuttings. Any new growth stimulated by cutting or feeding will be the first to die in the first frost.

When that first frost is expected, remove all the older mulch. You do not want to provide a home for eggs or spores for the winter from fallen infected leaves.

Just before that first frost spread a new layer of warmth giving fresh mulch, use wood chips, and bark that has been shredded or chopped leaves up to the base of the plant. Wait for the ground to freeze before spreading it if you have mice. Those little buggers love that mulch and will build their nests in it. If the summer has been dry, water your roses well.

Mild winters: For our area with mild winters, we mound the mulch about 8-12 inches up the cane and over the plant crown. This gives the roses insulation and maintains even soil temperatures, even in thaws and freezes. This will replace the lack of snow that usually protects the plants during winter.

Freezing winters: If the temperature stays below zero much of the midwinter months, you want to build a mound and add to it after every freeze. It will cover the bush. For this we use tubes and fill it with mulch and leaf litter (I lived in MD before, so this was the way there) see below for a DIY way to do this.

How to mulch to protect grafts and the crown of the plants (roses or any)

Use soil, shredded bark, leaf litter, leaves or wood chips to mound it a foot higher than the base level.

bush crown

photo: how to protect climbing vines for winter (roses or any)

Lay the vines on the ground and cover with your materials to protect them from winter winds and sun. You can wrap them in burlap or fabric for extra support on their trellis, or wrap and bury.

improvised protection

photo: DIY cones for shrubs (roses or any)

Use any material to form a cone, or small tube around the shrub or rose plant; you can use foam or old buckets.

foam tube
burlap sack

2 photos above: DIY cylinders for tree (roses or any)

Stake Your Tree

I added stakes to hold the shape first then took it over.

Use string to tie a protective layer of burlap or fabric around the stakes.

Insulate your rose with leaf litter and mulch.


Use the old and dead plant debris to make a rich organic soil conditioner. Remember that hot active piles will kill the disease pathogens and seeds from weeds. Diseased or inactive passive piles will not, so be sure to toss any questionable plant matter out.

We collect from our neighbors or families, bring them home and add to the heap. We have one that is everything, and one that is just plant matter for our raised beds of strawberries. We used an old cage for making leaf piles.

gardenwaste collection bags
compost pen
raised compost beds

photos above: DIY Making your own organic mulch: leaf mold

We have a lot of leaves, so before we move to the garden section I would like to show you how to make your own soil nutrition- leaf mold! We will take a note from Mother Nature and do as she does in her forests, just pile it up and let it become a green juice smoothie drink for your plants! Unlike compost, which can take anything including leaves, leaf mold is made only from layers of leaves.

You get a container, or make one from wire, fencing, anything that will provide walls with holes to circulate air as the oxygen will fuel the decomposing matter. This will smell like it is- like rotten vegetation- so putting it away from living spaces or downwind would be ideal.

Leaf mold has many benefits:

  • Improves the fertility of the soil
  • Improves the soils texture
  • Allows the soil to be easily worked by a plant’s roots
  • Decreases evaporation, so keeps your soil moist for plant roots
  • Feeds your little friend the earth worm
  • Keeps soil from being to compact, allowing worms and good microbes to work
  • It works next summer also, by breaking down in the heat feeding the soil then also
  • It smothers weeds, make a 3-4” deep mulch and it will discourage weed growth

DIY Organic leaf mold parfait catch (This is how I do mine)

Make a tall cylinder of wire:

chicken wire tube

Layer with leaves, when they start shrinking, its working

leaf mold pile

You can use the lawn mower to make leaf litter, smaller pieces, for faster break down

leaves piles to mulch

When spring gets here- viola organic leaf mulch! Add this rich nutrient to your soil.

soil in hand

Tips for winterizing vegetables

-For winter mulch or sow over plant debris to protect the garden soil

-Add more organic matter to your vegetable beds such as manure:

yay poop

-Pull any weeds

-Harvest tomatoes and ripen the green ones indoors

-Sow root crops before the first frost

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Beans

-Harvest crops can stay in the ground during light frosts

This includes:

  • Brussel sprouts
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash

-Beans and peppers should be covered with polyspun garden fabrics during light frosts

Things you can protect your plants with by making a sunscreen and windbreak:

  • Fabric or burlap, just stakes to help snow slide off
  • Overturned pots
  • Plastic jugs with the bottom cut out
  • Heavy duty plastic bags
  • Mounds of leaves (as above)
  • Cloches for tender or fragile plants that need heat (below)
  • A wooden framed with plastic wrapped or stapled.

Cold protection for your garden video:

Cold Protection for Garden Vegetable Plants

DYI Cloche for a micro-environment

If you do not have a greenhouse, but have and want tender plants protected (1st picture below)- they may be hybrids, grafts, buds, plants rated warmer than your area, or any other reason you can use a cloche. A cloche is like a mini-greenhouse. You can buy them, but anything that provides a hard-shelled cover can do.

The best and fancy ones I use are actually the glass parts of cheese servers or cake plates (below middle). You can find them cheap at thrift stores. Or you can make one from a 2 liter. The glass ones will get hotter, so you will want to use pine boughs or leaves to cover ¾’s of it for shade (2nd picture below).

Here are a few DIY examples of our cloches:

tender shoots
cloche glass with leaves protecting it

For larger plants, I have seen many things wrapped around stakes to produce that greenhouse effect while providing shelter to the prized plants- the most inventive being bubble wrap. Here are our succulents after a hail storm under my artist’s plastic drop cloths, and some hail from that day!

succulents protected

Photo above: succulents under drop cloths during a quick storm

aw hail

Putting it to bed

It is very gratifying and swells of pride fall over you when you think of your garden and producing your own food. It is work, but a labor of love knowing the food from your garden is nutritious and lovingly produced. It just tastes so much sweeter for it!

1 thought on “How to Prepare Your Garden for Winter”

  1. Raymond Dean White

    Excellent article. I live in NW AZ so my winters are also mild. It’s January 4, 2018, and highs will be around 67 F, lows in the high 30’s. Because of our poor soil (caliche) I garden in raised beds. In the winter time I grow greens like lettuce, spinach and kale and root crops such as carrots, beets and turnips in those beds. I use plastic covered PVC hoop houses to protect the crops from hard freezes. (It can get down into the low teens on occasion). I put gallon milk jugs filled with water inside my low hoop houses. They absorb daytime heat and release it at night–keeping temps in the hoop house survivable for my crops.

    My point being, hoop houses will greatly extend growing seasons in most climates.

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