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10 Fall Gardening Tasks to Make Your Garden Sing Next Spring

It’s not time to hang up your rake until the last gardening tasks of the season are complete. Here are ten essential fall tasks to finish before the snow flies to ensure your garden will shine next spring.



  1. Do an honest evaluation of your garden. What worked this year? What wouldn’t you repeat next year? Do yourself a favor and start a list now that you can use when you shop next spring. Fall is also a good time of year to evaluate:
    • Which plants need to be divided
    • Which plants should be moved to a better spot in the garden
    • Where you need more privacy or screening for less-than-ideal views
    • Where you could use more plants with fall color/interest

  2. Remove annuals from containers and landscapes. It was a great run, but by the time fall rolls around, it’s time for the annuals to go and store your pots away for winter. It can be tough to do since long bloomers like Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum® and Salvia Rockin’® Playin’ the Blues® can still look great in the fall, but once frost hits you’ll wish you had pulled them sooner. Healthy annuals can be composted; any diseased plants should be disposed of.

  3. Fall is for planting! Still-warm soil and relatively cool air temperatures promote healthy root growth in plants that return each year. Take advantage of end of season sales on trees and shrubs at local nurseries, and divide or move perennials around the garden in fall. Ideally, give the roots at least six weeks to settle into their new home before the ground freezes. Read more about fall planting in this article.

  4. Plant spring blooming bulbs. Fall is the best time to plant spring flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and a wide variety of others you’ll find at your local garden center this time of year. Pair them with perennials like Shadowland® hostas and ‘Cat’s Meow’ catmint so the bulbs’ foliage will be hidden by the time it goes dormant.

    If squirrels, voles or chipmunks are a problem in your garden, spray the bulbs with an animal repellant before you plant them or cover them with a layer of chicken wire to prevent animals from digging them back up.

  5. Cut select perennials back. Once your perennials have gone dormant, it’s a good idea to clean at least some of their foliage out of garden beds. We typically cut them right down to the ground. This is especially important around plants like hostas that have received slug damage during the growing season. Slugs lay their eggs in the dormant foliage, and removing it in fall will cut down on slug issues the following year. Fall is not the best time to prune shrubs. You'll find more information about that topic here

    DO NOT cut these perennials back in fall:

    • Evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials like pinks (Dianthus), coral bells (Heuchera), foamy bells (Heucherella), foamflower (Tiarella), creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), bugleweed (Ajuga) and red hot poker (Kniphofia)
    • Perennials with woody stems like rose mallow (Hibiscus), Russian sage (Perovskia), lavender (Lavandula), butterfly bush (Buddleia)
    • Perennials with winter interest like False Indigo (Baptisia), coneflowers (Echinacea), Prairie Winds® ornamental grasses, Rock ‘n Grow autumn stonecrop (Sedum), ornamental onion (Allium), Lenten roses (Helleborus)

  6. Dispose of diseased foliage. While most of the plants you cut back in fall can go in your compost pile, you’ll want to avoid putting any plants with diseased foliage there. That’s because most compost piles don’t heat up enough to kill diseases, and you don’t want to risk spreading them back into your garden next year. Gather as much of the diseased foliage as you can, bag and seal it, then dispose of it in the trash.

  7. Bring the outdoors in. Fall is the perfect time to gather cut branches and dried flowers from the garden to use in your indoor decorating projects. Hydrangea flowers, berried branches, ornamental grass plumes, and plants with seed pods can all be brought indoors this time of year. Find all kinds of how-to projects for every season here.

  8. Continue to water the garden. While it might look like your plants are going to sleep, their roots are still actively growing in fall. Evergreen perennials, shrubs and trees, as well as anything you’ve recently planted, will need to be watered until the ground starts to freeze. If you live in an area that receives abundant rain in fall, you might not need to provide much supplemental water. But if rainfall is less reliable, water deeply at least once per week. Learn more about fall watering in this article.

  9. Rake, shred, and mulch with leaves. Nature delivers natural mulch at our feet every fall when deciduous trees drop their leaves. Finely textured leaves from willow trees or honey locusts will easily degrade on their own and don’t need to be raked. But broad leaves from maple, sycamore, oak trees and the like become matted down and take a long time to decompose on their own, potentially smothering your grass and perennials. These kinds of leaves should be raked out of garden beds and mowed on the lawn.

    It may seem counterintuitive, but it's a good idea to spread the shredded leaves back onto your garden beds as mulch in late fall as the ground begins to freeze. Doing so will keep weeds at bay, insulate your plants over the winter months, and enrich the soil as the leaves break down.
  10. Protect sensitive and newly planted perennials and shrubs. If you’re pushing the hardiness zone on a few of your plants, heaping a pile of shredded leaves or evergreen boughs on top of them once they are dormant may help them make it through the winter. This same technique works for plants with cold sensitive buds like some Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars.

    Additionally, it’s a good idea to mulch newly planted perennials and shrubs that aren’t well-rooted in yet to prevent the rootball from heaving out of the ground during the freeze/thaw cycles of winter. Mulch helps to keep the soil at a more consistent temperature.

Bonus Task #11: Start dreaming about next year’s garden! It’s never too early to start planning for spring. Hope springs eternal in the garden.

23 Readers Rated This: 12345 (2.8)
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 09/10/2018 - 9:39am

Hello! I know that it's too late to fertilize shrubs and trees in Michigan Zone 5, but I have Espoma Iron Tone that I wanted to sprinkle around my trees & shrubs. Is it too late for that now also? Should I wait till Spring? I have a very large shrub/tree border with many different varieties.
Thank you!

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Tue, 10/02/2018 - 2:21pm

When applying any kind of chemical like iron, you should follow the exact package directions. Different formulations have different requirements, so use the product's own recommendation as your guide.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 10:12pm

I have several perennial grasses I would like to winter over. Is it possible to place them inside my unheated garage or will the cold air in the garage still kill them? The breezeway wall is warm as it is heated and I could place the grasses on that wall in the garage. My greenhouse is full of plants and no more room is left. Also, how long should I spray for outdoor bugs on these plants I brought in? I have sprayed them individually as I brought them into the greenhouse. I really appreciate any advice you can give me.

Barb Balgoyen's picture
Barb Balgoyen Wed, 11/08/2017 - 8:43am

Good morning,

Without know where you are located, I will give you the best advise, I can about over-wintering perennial grasses.

It isn't the air so much as the freezing and thawing that goes on during the winter season that is hard on the root systems of all perennials if they are above ground. Some are much more tolerant than others.

The best place for your grasses would be in the ground. You can plant them container and all or remove them from the container and place in the ground. These roots will not be subject to the up and down temperatures. If you add some leaf mulch after they are frozen you will be helping them even further.

Hope this helps, thank you for your inquiry,

Happy planting!

Barbara Balgoyen
Walters Gardens, Inc.
Proud Supplier of Proven Winners® Perennials

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 10:01pm

I learned several new things. Thanks for the information.


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 6:33pm

There is no mention of pruning hydrangea. Is fall a good time to prune or clean up some varieties?

Cindy Meyers's picture
Cindy Meyers Tue, 11/07/2017 - 3:32pm

The following link with help answer questions regarding pruning hydrangea:

Thank you,

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 5:07pm

How far back can I prune my plants?
Chris from Quakertown PA

Cindy Meyers's picture
Cindy Meyers Tue, 11/07/2017 - 3:30pm

Here is a link to a great article that will help you with your hydrangea questions!

Thank you,

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 5:05pm

I can't believe that it has about l4 more tiny peppers that may be ready in a month. I brought the pot inside my home and put it near a sunny window. Should I still fertilize this plant? I am also going to try bringing my Hot Oregano plant in and also my Rosemary. Think they will do ok inside? I have written many times to you and you always give me great I have a problem with my crocus bulbs that are starting to sprout and they were in the basement where it is very cold down there. How can I stop them from growing/sprouting other than the fridge which I have no room ...
Chris in Quakertown PA

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 1:01pm

Usually I never comment on articles, But this one caught me off guard. I had no idea that I should NOT be cutting back my Russian sage, lavender or ornamental onion. Thanks for the tip on the chipmunks too!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 11:13am

I live in central Ohio. I have dwarf Canas and was wondering if I need to dig the bulbs and bring them inside or can I cover them with a lot of mulch to get them through winter. The Canas are growing on the south side against a garage wall. Thanks

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 11/05/2017 - 8:14pm

I live in NE (Z5)- we always dig cannas.... I thought. Recently started to volunteer at a place a few blocks away that had cannas planted against a building, right below a vent. They've been there for years. I suggest you leave a few bulbs in ground with mulch, and see what happens. Might save you a lot of work, though they do multiply quickly and would have to be divided often.

Cindy Meyers's picture
Cindy Meyers Fri, 11/03/2017 - 1:35pm

Great question! Below is a very helpful link.The article is from Missouri Botanical Garden ad will answer your question regarding digging and storing Cannas.

Thank you!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 6:01am

Thank you for the article.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 10:10am

This list was great even though I am a seasoned
Gardener I learned by this article not to cut back coneflowers . I learned something new .
Mice and rabbits are making winter homes in my tall fall Asters.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 11/03/2017 - 9:27am

Thanks for letting me know about what not to cut back and when to mulch.

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