Skip to Content

Fall Checklist: 10 Must-Do Activities in the Garden

Having a beautiful garden requires a year-round commitment, and as fall approaches, some critical work is in order. 

As the autumn leaves turn, you may feel like sitting back and letting your yard hibernate. But if you ignore essential maintenance or skip your late-year planting, spring won’t be as colorful or productive. 

Today, we want to help set you up for success with ten tips to ensure your next growing season is the best one yet.

Let’s dig in!

A man pruning a tree as part of his fall garden routine.
Be sure to put pruning on your fall garden to-do list

Start This Fall for Your Best Garden Next Spring

For many casual green thumbs, fall marks the end of the garden season. It’s time to reap the rest of your harvest and pull up dying plants. 

But as the weather starts to cool and the sun gets lower in the sky, it’s a shame to waste the weather by sitting inside. Luckily, you can still put in the work to care for your trees and shrubs, as well as enjoy another harvest of fresh produce. 

Keeping your garden going all year will ensure your soil stays loose and healthy. Even if cover crops are the only thing in your plot from fall to spring, you’ll still be doing yourself a favor by keeping nutrients in place and aerating the earth. 

If you’re not sure where to start, have no fear. Here are ten garden tasks to tackle in the fall to keep the train on the tracks this winter. 

#1 Tend to Your Trees and Shrubs

Winters can be tough on trees and shrubs, especially young ones. Whether they’re deciduous or evergreen, giving them plenty of water before the season ends is crucial.

Once the leaves drop, you can prune and shape them so they don’t shoot out tender branches. Fall is the best time to plant new trees and bushes in your garden so they can establish themselves before the growing season. 

Put a hearty layer of mulch around the base to keep the ground warm and protect the root systems. Mulch also helps prevent plants and soil from losing too much moisture to the dry winter air. Just be sure to avoid mounding your ground cover around the plant’s trunk, which could lead to rotting. 

In places where temperatures fluctuate, sun scald and frost cracks are an issue, especially for younger plants. If the trunk doesn’t have shielding on the south-facing side, it may get the tree version of a sunburn. Warm days can cause sap to flow, but when the cold returns, it expands and creates large cracks.

Tree wraps can prevent these issues and protect bark against large animals like deer that may rub against them. 

#2 Clean Out Annuals

Neglecting your annuals and letting them rot in the plot may be the natural way to do things, but it doesn’t look very nice. It also increases your chances of diseases affecting the next season’s crops. It’s better to clear them out at the last harvest.

Although tropical bulbs like caladiums, canna lilies, and dahlias are perennials in their native climate, harsh winters will likely do them in. Get them out of the ground and into a cool, dry place before severe weather hits. 

Consider taking cuttings of your favorites to propagate in the house. Many annuals root quickly in water and provide lively foliage indoors when the weather turns cold. Plus, you’ll have a head start on next year’s plantings. While you’re at it, harvest, label, and properly store seeds from the outgoing crop. 

Most plants you pull can go straight into the compost pile to fuel future plantings. However, keep an eye out for signs of disease. Yellowed or distorted leaves, dark spots, and powdery mildew can spread if you mix them with your dirt. 

Fall is also an excellent opportunity to remove and prevent weeds from taking over your plot. If you just throw mulch on top of them, it’ll just make them stronger. 

Going camping after you get your garden all set? We found 7 Great RV Parks for Fall Camping.

#3 Prepare Your Lawn for Winter

Summertime can wreak havoc on your lawn. Heavy foot traffic, high heat, and insufficient water can leave your grass looking less than inviting. But while you’re prepping your fall garden, you can give your turf a little TLC. 

Give your yard a once-over to remove weeds. When the summer heat begins to die down, these pesky plants get comfortable taking over your precious real estate. 

Although a little bit of leaf litter is good for the soil, a heavy coating of debris can kill your grass. Clean up any excess crunchies, then mow your yard to crush up and distribute what’s left. Raising the blade on your mower is a good idea, as slightly taller grass helps insulate the soil and keep it healthy. 

You’ll also want to aerate your lawn before it gets too cold. Hit high-traffic areas annually and others every two to three years. Doing so will ensure the beneficial organisms under your feet can breathe, and roots will spread out and soak up nutrients. 

Once you’ve taken care of these tasks, it’s time to spread seeds or lay sod. Fortunately, the same conditions that cause weeds to explode will enable your grass to take root.

#4 Start Your Fall Planting

Whether growing ornamentals or winter veggies, you’ll need to get them into the ground at the right time. A Farmer’s Almanac will come in handy and help you determine your ideal planting date. Typically, it’s best to get cold-weather crops in the ground around six weeks before the first frost. 

If you’re growing edibles in your fall garden, research everything you’ll be planting. Knowing general information, like how many days it takes to reach maturity, will go a long way to help you succeed. You can usually find these stats on seed packets or the Internet if the info isn’t readily available.

You may already know planting trees and shrubs in the fall is best. But you’ll also find tons of winter flora that thrive when planted in milder weather. Garlic and hardy bulbs can go in the ground around this time. Others like collards, bok choy, and broccoli can, too. 

And if you’re planning on skipping this season, don’t walk away from your plot before tossing out a layer of cover crop seeds. Plants such as red clover, hairy vetch, and winter rye aerate your soil, prevent nutrient leaching, and keep weeds from taking over.

#5 Tidy Up Your Vegetable Garden

All gardens need maintenance to stay productive, and fall is a great time to take care of routine tasks. Clean out your beds, removing dead plants and debris to help keep pests and diseases at bay. Pick up empty pots, tomato cages, and last season’s markers and put them away until needed. 

Watering cans and hoses can burst when leftover water freezes. Emptying them and putting them somewhere dry means they’ll be ready for work when spring rolls around.

Autumn is the time to add a hearty layer of compost to your plot. You don’t even have to till it in. Just let nature take the lead. Winter rains will help the additional nutrients permeate the soil. 

Fall is also the season to make changes to your garden’s structure. If you want to make your plot bigger or establish raised beds, starting in the autumn gives the grass below time to die off, so you’re ready to plant in spring.

Why not take a break from gardening and go for a drive? 7 Best Places to See Fall Leaves in the USA.

#6 Enrich Your Soil

We all enjoy surrounding our homes with lush gardens. But all that greenery takes a toll on the soil below. That’s why supplemental nutrients are essential for healthy plants.

Fall is a great time to add compost, fertilizer, and mulch to your garden plot. This allows the additives to break down and soak into the dirt before the spring season. Autumn plantings will also reap benefits. 

If you don’t already have a compost pile, get one going before winter weather moves in. Doing so will ensure you have some to add to your soil next season. 

In the meantime, you can buy bags of the rich organic matter from garden centers. Some places even have it in bulk that you can purchase by the truckload.

#7 Tend to Your Perennial Garden

If your area has mild winters, you already know you can grow many plants year-round. Performing a bit of routine maintenance will keep your perennials happy and healthy. 

Clear out weeds and put down a layer of mulch to prevent more from moving in. Toss any diseased plants in the trash so they don’t affect their neighbors. Look for insects that may hide on the underside of leaves or the base of stems and deal with them accordingly.

Continue watering your perennials once a week until the first hard freeze. Ensuring they’re hydrated will give them a better chance of surviving any surprise cold snaps. 

Finally, now is the time to plant spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils, allowing them to establish over the winter. These colorful blooms will return year after year with little work on your part. 

#8 Spread Mulch

We’ve discussed mulch but haven’t explained how vital this addition is, especially to your fall garden. 

Whether you use bark chips, pine straw, or hay, mulch insulates the soil, keeping it warmer than the ambient temperature. It also helps prevent evaporation, so your dirt stays nice and moist. If you live in a place with cold winters, mulch could be the deciding factor between healthy perennials and a spring garden full of slimy, dead plants. 

Additionally, mulch breaks down over time to supply your soil with additional nutrients. It’s a multifunctional workhorse you won’t want to overlook. 

Once you’ve planted your fall garden, top it off with a healthy mulch barrier to keep your plants happy until the days start getting longer. 

Border Collie helping in the fall garden.
Get the whole family involved with your fall gardening chores

#9 Clean and Organize Your Garden Tools

Your plants are in the ground, cover crops are working hard to keep the soil healthy, and your job is complete. Or is it? 

Don’t just toss your tools in the shed before ensuring they’re in good condition. If you do, you might find them worse for wear come springtime.

The first step is to knock off any remaining dirt. Scrub off the grime accumulated on the surface with a wire brush, ensuring they’re squeaky clean. Store trowels and weeders in a bucket of sand with a drizzle of mineral oil stirred in. Doing this will prevent rust from forming while they’re not in use. 

Shovels, pruning shears, and loppers can become dull during the busy season. Use a file to sharpen them up to their former glory. You can do the same with mower blades. And coating them with a thin layer of oil will help keep them in shape until you need them again.

To keep heavy machinery running well, drain oil lines in your weed-eater, tiller, and other gas-powered tools before storing them in a cool, dry space. 

#10 Plan Your Garden for Next Year

If you’re anything like us, planning your garden is half the fun. But first, take some time to reflect on the past year’s growth. Make a note of what worked, what didn’t, and any experiments you’d like to toy around with. 

You’ll want to know where you placed each crop previously, as it’s essential to rotate plants into different spots each year. Doing this lowers your risk of diseases and protects your soil from nutrient depletion.

Then grab a pen and paper and sketch out your plot. Draw up a couple of drafts and see what excites you most. Don’t rush the process. Research plants that do well in your area and talk to other gardeners about what works for them. You can also join a group like the Master Gardeners to get insight from seasoned green thumbs. 

For more inspiration, sign up to receive catalog books from reputable seed supply companies. Perusing the pages of lush, verdant ornamentals and juicy, exotic edibles is a great way to get your gears turning for the next season.

Here’s a great resource for your garden planning: The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.

Prep Your Garden This Fall For a Fruitful Spring

It’s easy to assume your work in the garden is over as soon as colorful fall leaves appear. However, a lot must be done to ensure your next season is as productive as your last. 

So before you hang up your work gloves, prime your plot for successful spring growth. And don’t forget to keep your tools in good shape and your mindset ready for a new adventure when the weather begins to warm up!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: