Fall’s officially in full swing, so you can now just sit back and enjoy the cool breezes and let your garden take a long snooze, right?

Blooming annuals

Beautiful annual beds reflect the preparation given to the soil before planting.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan


A canopy of mulch on the soil prevents erosion, helps control weeds and retains soil moisture.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Tilling soil

A good garden fork can help pulverize the soil – adding aeration and drainage during the winter.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan

Soil clod

Large clods should be broken up into small soil particles before winterizing is completed.

Photo Credit: David L. Morgan


You’ve got one more gardening task you should really take on – winterizing your beds so they’ll be in good condition for spring planting. (The bonus: Doing this now – and properly – will help minimize having too many weeds, grubs and other varmints in your face when it warms up again in a few months.)

So here are some final tips for getting your planting beds ready for their winter hibernation:

  • Turn the soil. You can use a rototiller if you wish, but the old-time method is just as good – and the way your grandparents did it – with a sturdy garden fork. Dig down at least 12 inches and break up those clods into tillable soil.
  • Dig up the big roots and refuse from summer’s harvest and discard the waste. Get rid of large hunks of leftover everything! (Smaller organic stuff may be left as compost.)
  • Smooth the surface evenly with a rake. Give your bed the appearance of a brand-new garden ready for planting.
  • Apply mulch to prevent erosion over the winter. Mulch, in addition to being attractive, suppresses weeds and retains moisture in the soil – particularly beneficial over a dry winter.

These four steps will give you an aerated soil, one that holds ample moisture, yet drains well, and doesn’t “sour” during the winter.

Now, some folks prefer a winter planting, like cole crops, onions, other edibles, or even a “cover” crop that holds the soil or restores natural nutrients to the earth – a sort of “green manure.” Annual winter grasses such as rye are sometimes used for this purpose. Just remember that whatever you sow, you reap; many grasses are prolific seeders, so you may have a grass crop for years – whether you want it or not.

White grubs and other soil-borne critters overwinter in well-managed beds, so you might also consider applying an appropriate insecticide now, as these guys will double in size (and appetite!) by spring. Check with your local garden center professional or your local Cooperative Extension office for advice on which product is best for your situation (and as always, follow all label instructions carefully).

Finally, you need to decide whether you want to apply a preemergent herbicide to control winter and spring weeds. If you’re considering spring planting by seed (zinnias, for example) or using an annual that returns loyally (like cosmos), then forget the preemergent. If, however, you plan to use garden species that you don’t want to return from their prolific seeding (such as hybrid marigolds), then perhaps you might consider herbicide treatment. Remember, some preemergent herbicides remain in the soil for several years, so make a wise decision. Again, ask your garden center professional what product is best for you and your gardening needs.

So check off that final “to-do” on your list. Done? Okay – now you can go dormant along with your plants!