How to Get Your Garden Ready for Winter

A photograph of a staffer cleaning up a landscape.Now that the crisp autumn air has been lowering the temperatures, many people are wondering what needs to be done to prepare planting beds for winter.

It can be confusing to know what plants to prune and which not to prune, what needs to be cleaned out of the beds. Here are answers to those questions and a few other tips about how to maintain your yard landscaping in the fall.

What should I prune back and when should I start?

The time to start any fall pruning is after we have had a couple of hard frosts; this is typically in November and December. This ensures that the plants are dormant and that cutting them back won’t cause any harm.

The plants to cut back at this time are the flowering perennials, like daylilies, salvia, coneflowers, and lythrum. Most of these can be cut all the way down to the ground, as they will come up from new growth in the spring.

You can also cut down ornamental grasses – but we like to wait until spring for those because they still provide some beautiful winter interest!

What plants should I not prune back?

Do not trim back spring or summer flowering shrubs, like hydrangeas, lilacs, and azaleas. These types of shrubs will set their new flower buds shortly after they are done flowering each year. The time to prune these is right after their flowers are spent. If you cut these back in the fall, you will be cutting off the flowers for the next year.

What do I need to clean out of the planting beds?

Once you have cut back all your perennials, you’ll want to get rid of those clippings and rake out any leaves that are still in the beds. This will make your spring cleanup easier, so the leaves aren’t wet and heavy from the winter snow. The last thing you should get rid of is all those pesky weeds! Make sure to get as much of the root system out as possible, to help make sure they don’t come back in the spring.

What should I plant in the fall for spring blooming?

Fall is a great time for planning and planting to get more spring color in your garden!

Some great early-flowering perennials are Baptisia, Creeping Phlox, Irises, Tradescantia, and Peonies. Check out our searchable catalog to search for more spring bloomers. 

Fall planting is great because the cooler temperatures and more frequent rains mean that you don’t need to do much watering. While these plants are going dormant, their root system will still work its way down into the soil to establish itself.

Once spring rolls around, and the temperatures warm up, these plants should wake right up and be ready to bloom!

Tips for a pretty winter bed:

After you have the planting beds all cleaned up, we recommend applying preemergent weed control. This will, again, make your job easier in the spring to help prevent those weeds from coming back. We also recommend applying a slow-release fertilizer. This will strengthen the plants’ root system and help them come back stronger and healthier the next season. Make sure you have the proper tools and keep those tools clean and sharp. A sharp pair of pruners will make a world of difference versus using an old, dull pair.

Should I cover my plants?

We don’t typically recommend covering shrubs and perennials, as long as they are hardy in your zone. Central Illinois is zone 5, 6 and 7. In our experience, covering plants does more damage than good, since they might “burn up” if they are covered.

If you have any plants that are only marginally hardy in your zone, it might be worth piling a bit of extra mulch around those plants after they are cut down. Otherwise, we let Mother Nature take its course and choose plants that are hardy and can make it through the winter.

How can I get help to get my garden landscape ready for the winter?

We’ve got a whole team ready to help! Contact Designer Landscapes for your fall cleanup

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