What to Do in The Garden This Fall (And What Not To Do)

What to Do in The Garden This Fall (And What Not To Do)


Summer is wrapping up and the cooler nights are beginning to creep in! It’s time to harvest those last tomatoes, collect seeds for next year, enjoy the last Roses, plant some Chrysanthemums, and get ready for the holidays!

Need a quick checklist to make sure you get all your garden chores done and ensure your garden is put to bed in time for winter?

Nature Hills has you covered!

Here’s your Fall Cleanup Checklist!

We’ll explain in more detail below! 

The Fall Chore Checklist Explained

Fall Is Planting & Transplanting Season!

What to do - Plant new trees, shrubs, fall-planted spring-flowering bulbs, or perennials at this time! The cooler nights and days make the topside growth slow down so the plant can focus on root growth only, which is essential for your plant's longevity.

  • Plant trees, shrubs, and perennials
  • Plant spring-flowering bulbs
  • Plant garlic bulbs now
  • Plant bareroot trees and shrubs
  • Divide and transplant perennials

woman planting tree

Plant new installations in the fall and spring. Even when the tops are dormant the roots can grow for weeks below ground especially if mulched. Almost all growers will agree that plants are better off in the ground at any point in the fall than not being planted!

Be sure to water well all fall-planted bulbs, perennials, trees, and shrubs. Keep the soil moist and put down a 3-4 inch layer of mulch so the plants can continue to make new roots even after the tops have gone dormant.

Fall is also a great time to divide and transplant your clumping perennials (about every 3-5 years) to maintain vigor and improve growth. Water in well and mulch them! Hostas, Clematis, Phlox, and many other perennial plants appreciate not being crowded!

What not to do - Don’t forget to water new fall-planted landscaping right up until the ground freezes. Leaving new plants in the ground without mulch or leaf litter over their crowns can lead to them freezing and crowns drying out from the harsh conditions.

Lift Summer-Flowering Tender Bulbs and Tubers

What to do - It is time to dig your spring-planted bulbs once they have seen a mild frost and the tops have begun to turn yellow. Dahlias, Gladiolus, Elephant Ears, Begonias, and other Bulb plants that won’t winter over in cold-climate gardens! Carefully lift the bulbs knocking off the soil and trim off the foliage above the bulb. Keep them in the shade for a couple of days where it is dry and the rest of the soil can easily be removed.

What not to do - Don’t store your bulbs excessively dirty, overly wet or dry, or anywhere too warm/cold. You want them mildly damp, packed in straw/sawdust/sand, and in a cool, dark place to keep them dormant.

Mulch Garden Beds & Plants

What to do - Arborist mulch is like a cozy blanket to get plants ready for the winter. Top off garden beds, trees, and shrubs with 3-4 inches of mulch. Spread compost around garden beds to further insulate and enrich the soil gradually. It also extends the time that new roots will still have a chance to develop later into the season.


If you have clean, issue-free leaves, use these to cover your Rose bushes, tender shrubs, and perennial beds, or add them to your compost bins! Create beneficial insect safe havens by piling clean leaf litter, twigs, and hollow stems in an out-of-the-way area for them and their eggs/larvae/cocoons to overwinter.

What not to do - Don’t let mulch pile up against your tree and shrub trunks, or smother the crowns of perennials and shrubs. Roses on the other hand will benefit greatly if a mound of mulch is applied later in November after the plants have gone dormant. Never use diseased or fungal-affected leaves around your garden!

Prune Tender Perennials

What to do - Only perennials that were affected by leaf disease this past year should be cut down as soon as the frost knocks them back and they have started to turn yellow or brown. Some examples of perennials that should be cut back include all Hosta, Herbaceous Peonies, Daylilies, Catmint, Salvia, Garden Phlox, Bee Balm, and Veronica. You may also want to remove seed heads from reseeding grasses or perennials that spread in your area to prevent spread. 

woman gardening bush fall backyard kneeling

The rest of your perennials should remain up, and uncut over the winter months to catch and sculpt the snow creating winter interest, feeding local songbirds, and offering habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife. If you have to trim these seed-bearing plants back but still want to feed your birds, just bundle the seedheads and create wreaths or hang them in your trees for birds to pluck at!

Seedpods also become amazing fall and winter interest! So if you can keep this showy interest without them self-seeding, go for it! But if you need to trim them, gather the seed pods and dried flowers for your bouquets and dried floral arrangements indoors and out!

While you are going through and trimming perennials - remember to mark where they are, so that in the spring you won’t be scratching your head.

What not to do - Don’t leave up seeds from plants that tend to self-sow and can be messy (like some plumes of ornamental grasses). Also, don’t leave any diseased or insect-attacked dried flower heads or seedpods behind to spread the issue again next year.

Clean and Sanitize Bird Feeders

What to do - Birds are going to rely on your generosity throughout the approaching lean months of the year, so ensure they have a sanitary food station in your yard! Sanitize and put away the Hummingbird feeders (unless they live in your area year-round), and clean bird feeders to support your feathered friends who won’t be migrating. If you have a way to keep a birdbath from freezing all winter, give it a good scrubbing and make sure the heating system is working properly. They won’t be taking baths, but they’ll appreciate a drink!

What not to do - Don’t put away feeders that aren’t clean and emptied. Bacteria and pests will linger and cause problems. Don’t store birdseed without a good lid so rodents won’t find it, raid your bird's food, and spread more disease.

Begin to Acclimate Seasonal Potted Trees and Citrus

citrus tree

What to do - Late summer and early fall is the time to begin acclimating your container citrus and other tropical trees to get ready for a winter indoors. As both temperatures wane (especially at night) and sunlight hours shorten, your plants will need to gradually transition inside. Begin by moving them into a shaded location so they get used to lower light when brought indoors. Clean and inspect the pot's undersides and soil and remove any insects. Transitioning them too fast and you’ll have leaf-drop and stressed-out plants. Don’t forget to reduce how much you water them at this time too! 

What not to do - Don’t fertilize or overwater these plants as the lower temps slow down their growth. Do not abruptly bring them in or wait until it’s gotten too cold before trying to start the transition. Don’t forget to watch the weather and bring your plants in!

Winterize Outdoor Containers

What to do - If you have potted plants with hardy perennials, trees, or shrubs in them, and they aren’t large enough to insulate the roots from a hard freeze, you can either bury these containers in the ground (and dig them up in the spring) or store them in an unheated garage or shed that will keep deciduous plants cold (dormant) and out of the drying winds. Another option for larger planters is to stack bales of hay or pile soil and leaves around them to simulate the insulating ground around them. Some folks even lay deciduous/bareroot plants down on their side and partially bury them.

For seasonal containers and planters, dump old soil in the compost bin and remove the old plants. Clean and dry the pots before putting them into storage out of the elements.

What not to do - Don’t leave dead annuals and seasonal accents to blow around and create a mess. Don’t skip cleaning and sterilizing pottery before storing in a protected area - this keeps them looking great for the long run! The elements and freeze/thaw cycles of the fall, winter, and early spring can cause pottery to split and crack, and plastic pots to degrade.

Winterize Outdoor Ponds/Fountains

What to do - Call out your pond or pool company to get things winterized. For the DIY’er, empty your lines so no water remains, clean and put away skimmer baskets and filtration systems, and clean and store fountains like pottery above if small enough. (You can wrap them in plastic to protect them (once they’re clean and dried) for the winter if they are too large to move.)

Submersible pumps need to be cleaned and stored in a freeze-free area. Remove leaves and debris from the water for larger water features, trim back foliage, and store any pond plants as you would summer-flowering bulbs (like Waterlilies) if they are not rated for your growing zone's winter temperatures.

For larger ponds and water features that have fish and other creatures (that are deep enough to not fully freeze in the winter) take steps to allow air exchange when it’s iced over, and your critters have plenty of water that won’t become stagnant and gasses can escape. Pond deicers keep a small area ice-free with special recirculating pumps for winter conditions.

What not to do - Because water expands when frozen and can crack pipes and lines, and sun can degrade plastic and concrete, do not leave water in hoses and lines, or leave anything out in the elements for the winter. You’ll keep them looking and working good as new. Don’t leave litter in the water for the winter because bacteria builds up and grows all winter.

Winterize The Lawn Sprinklers/Hoses/Water Spigots

garden hose

What to do - Like your pond and fountains, call up your sprinkler provider and get your lines shut off and blown out so they won’t split when water freezes. If you are in an area where you don’t need to worry about a hard freeze, now would be a great time to have maintenance done. 

  • Insulate valves and protect spigots.
  • Mark where they are so you don’t damage them when snow-blowing and shoveling
  • Drain your garden hose and insulate the water spigot on the exterior of your home
  • Save energy and turn off your sprinkler system control panel for the winter

Once you’ve completed your very last watering of the garden, remember to turn off the water going to these outdoor spigots too! You should have a shut-off for each, typically in a basement. A particularly harsh freeze can cause pipes in your walls to burst and become an expensive problem!

What not to do - Leaving water in hoses and lines, or not insulating spigots, hoses, and valves/backflow preventers will lead to splitting from water expanding as it freezes. Leaving garden hoses outdoors for the winter greatly shortens their lifespan. Not cleaning out valves and garden hose attachments can lead to them becoming clogged up and damaged too.

Ornamental Grasses in the Fall

ornamental grass

What to do - Don’t prune your Ornamental Grasses and leave the blades intact to keep the crowns protected and drier all winter. Leaving the seed heads and plumes up also provides you with much-needed fall and winter interest, texture & motion!

What not to do - Don’t allow diseased or pest-infested foliage to remain on your grasses for it to overwinter. Remove any messy plumes, like Pampas grasses, before winter so they don’t blow around, and remove any seedheads that tend to self-seed. Don’t prune back cold-season grasses at this time, instead, wait until spring to give them a trim. Cutting grass down in fall can allow water to get into the hollow stems and crown, rotting the plants if it stays too wet.

Prep Your Roses!

What to do - You do NOT want to trim Roses in the fall. Let your Rose bushes go dormant and keep some extra arborist wood chips handy so you can mound each plant with a foot or so of mulch in later November in those colder hardiness zones. Remove all fallen Rose leaves from inside and around the bush. Let them overwinter and then in spring when you uncover them pulling the mulch away, you should trim the ones that bloom on new wood. Remember that Rose Trees and Climbing Roses may need to be wintered differently and you should check out our blog on overwintering Tree Roses and Climbing Roses.

rose bush

Wait until your Rose plants have been exposed to several killing frosts and consistently cold temperatures to help them completely go dormant before covering, and only if winter protection is needed in your Hardiness Zone. Check out our Garden blog for more in-depth information on Wintering Roses Here.

  • Wrap bases with burlap and fill with loose clean leaves
  • Mound shredded hardwood mulch about a foot high directly on the stems of the plants
  • Tie and secure Climbing Rose canes with chicken wire, twine, or something similar


What not to do - Many gardeners cover their Roses too early. In the rush to beat the cold they accidentally trap moisture, green leaves with potential molds, fungi, and diseases within the shrubs to struggle with all winter long. This also wreaks havoc on your plants during the fickle autumn months that waver between freezing and thawing. Avoid using leaves that had fungal issues this year to insulate your Roses with, and don’t allow their crowns to remain filled with old leaf debris.

Trees, Evergreens & Shrubs

What to do - In general, most deciduous trees and shrubs are best left alone in the fall and not pruned until late winter or early spring. In colder hardiness zones, you want the plants to simply go dormant and experience the fluctuation in temperatures that fall and winter may offer in some areas. 

fall tree

  • Water your trees and shrubs well before winter and do not let their roots go into winter dry. Water at least weekly right up until the ground freezes if needed
  • Add a 3-4 inch layer of arborist mulch to the soil surface to insulate the roots and hold in moisture
  • It is always a great idea to rake up or blow out all of the foliage as it drops from the plants
  • For shrubs in areas with heavy snowfall, wrap them loosely with burlap or tie up the branches gently so that the weight of winter snow doesn’t squash them and break them
  • It is best to protect young trunks by wrapping the trunks with hardware cloth or metal screening to protect from deer rubs, rodent, or rabbit damage to the young bark. Or to prevent frost-crack and sun scaled with white trunk protectors
  • Spray trees with deer repellant according to product directions to keep hungry deer at bay for the winter
  • Wrap or spray evergreens with anti-desiccant in areas prone to drying winter winds


What not to do - Don’t let these plants go into winter dry, you’ll greatly stress plants and even lead to their death since winter temperatures lock up moisture access as ice and it is inaccessible to plant roots. Water evergreen and broad-leaf evergreens very well so they don’t go into the winter months dry. Because they have foliage to support, that added moisture until winter helps considerably, especially when combined with mulch and a foliar anti-desiccant spray.

  • Pruning broad-leaf and coniferous evergreens results in open wounds where precious moisture can escape all winter.
  • Fall pruning of evergreen and deciduous, trees, and shrubs in warmer regions encourages new growth to develop and may not be the right time for some plants to push new growth.
  • Avoid pruning many types of bushes and shrubs with seedpods in the fall so you and your wildlife can enjoy the showy fruit and seeds all winter long!


Know what kind of shrub or tree you have and when to prune it - very few shrubs like to be pruned in the fall but some do. See our Pruning Blog to know when to take care of this chore.

Also, avoid fertilizing trees and shrubs after mid-to-late summer. This encourages new growth at a time when growth needs to be maturing (called hardening-off), so it can survive colder temps.

Fall Fruit Tree Care

What to do - Once harvest is over and your leaves have fallen, it's time to clean up around your fruit tree to get it ready for winter. Clean away all fallen fruit and leaves and do not allow any to remain and potentially harbor disease and pests for the next growing season, disposing of them away from your yard. Provide plenty of water until the ground freezes. Apply a 3-4 inch layer of mulch over the roots. Your local County Extension Office can help a lot here!

apple tree

  • Plenty of water until the ground freezes
  • Mulch well/Top off mulch layer
  • Treat for pests - past and present. Stop fall webworm and tent caterpillars now
  • Remove fallen fruit, overripe fruit still on the tree and all leaves from the area
  • Protect the trunks from rodents and deer with hardware cloth
  • Protect the trunk from sunscald with white trunk protectors
  • Shore up stakes to keep trunks of new trees straight against drifting snow and winds

What not to do - Leaving leaf litter and rotting fruit leads to disease issues and pests overwintering to wreak havoc next year. Avoid pruning fruit trees in fall, which can lead to disease or pests getting into the plant's system since their growth has slowed, they will react to attack slower as well.

Also, avoid fertilizing trees and shrubs after mid-late summer. This encourages new growth at a time when growth needs to be maturing (called hardening-off), so it can survive colder temps.

Preparing Your Lawn For Winter

prepping lawn for winter infographic

What to do - Preparing your lawn properly for the fall and winter months is easy. Mow or shred fallen leaves and provide your lawn with a good winterizing fertilizer. Eliminate broadleaved weeds with a good weed-and-feed in September.

For both grass plugs and established lawns simply mow as needed until it stops growing! 

  • Mow Bluegrass, mixed Bluegrass, Fescue & Rye Grass at a height of 2 - 2.5 inches
  • The last mowing should be a bit shorter if you have rodents in your area
  • Mow or shred leaves finely instead of raking them up.
  • Apply winterizing fertilizer or a September application of weed-and-feed fertilizer
  • Kill off any perennial weeds like dandelions or Ground Ivy now
  • Catch and rake out the excess thatch bag it and remove it at this time – a great time to do so. Less thatch is less inviting to voles and other vermin that may want to winter in your lawn area

What not to do - Leave unwanted weeds and flowers to go to seed or leave their seedheads up all winter. You’ll compound your weed problem for next year! Don’t leave clumps of grass on the lawn to rot or give fungal issues a place to winter over. Don’t forget to give grass plugs and new grass installations a good watering before a freeze. Lastly, don’t leave your lawn especially long or very short since both can have their own sets of issues during the winter months.

Clean Your Tools & Winterize the Lawn Mower

garden tools

What to do - As each garden chore gets done, sharpen and clean/oil your tools for their much-deserved rest in storage. Organize everything so you can jump right into spring without the chaos of having to look for everything! This will keep your equipment lasting longer and always within easy reach.

After that last mowing, it's also time to get your lawnmower ready to be put up. Sharpen the blade and service the engine now instead of in the spring when everyone else is doing it and small engine service providers are busiest!

What not to do -  Don’t put tools away dirty, this leads to them rusting and degrading quickly. Avoid procrastination and you’ll save money and time in the long run!

Get the Snowblower Serviced & Ready

holiday decor

What to do - Beat the rush to the service providers by having your snowblower ready before the snow flies. Stock up on gas for it and get that bag of ice melt before the last-minute rush when it’s already coming down. 

What not to do - Waiting too long means possibly putting yourself and others at risk. Having everything ready to go before the snow arrives means having clean and safe sidewalks and paths, and a clear driveway now, and not trying to do it all with a foot of unexpected snowfall on the ground. Once the first flakes fall, you can be certain the local shops will be sold out of ice melt and shovels in a hurry!

Put Away Sculptures & Garden Art (and maybe put out holiday decorations!)

holiday decor

What to do - While it’s still nice out during the day, clean and store your garden art and sculptures so the winter temperature swings won’t ruin them. Now is also a great time to get those holiday lights up so you’re not freezing your fingertips off in December or hoping for one of those rare warm days to do it! Dust off and untangle garlands, and have everything else ready to put out when it is closer to the winter festivities!

What not to do - Don’t procrastinate! The more you do while it's warm, the warmer you’ll be later on when temps plummet and there’s ice to contend with! Plus you’ll keep your garden treasures looking their best for years to come!

Take Out All Annual and Vegetable Garden Plants

What to do - Remove all your tomatoes, peppers, and the tops and roots of annual vegetables, annual flowers, and herbs. Harvest what you can and start drying herb bundles, hang stems of green tomatoes upside down in a basement or shed so they can ripen, make braids of onion and peppers, and dig any final root vegetables up now. Clean off any trellis or tomato cages and store them.

What not to do - Let any leaf litter or fallen fruit/veggies remain on the ground to either self-seed or spread disease issues into the next growing season.

Take Notes & Journal

garden journal

What to do - While it is still fresh in your mind - it’s time to jot down your thoughts, successes, and failures this year. Jot them down in your garden journal and make plans of what you’ll change for next year! Document how this year went with as much detail and photos as possible!

What not to do - As mentioned, it's still fresh in your mind now, by spring you’ll be less certain of what did good this year and what didn’t! Plus you’ll be busy with the holidays soon and then in spring you’ll be busy doing, so now is the time to put the garden to bed - both outside and on paper!

Make Fall Easier With Planning!

Sooner than we’re ready for the snow will be flying and cooler temps setting in. While summer is quickly fleeting, it is not time to be resting! Fall is about harvest and getting your landscape ready for the challenging months ahead.

Nature Hills is here to help you enjoy the best landscaping on the block with some preemptive planning and information at your fingertips!

Happy Planting!

shop fall shrubs

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