Fall Clean Up for a Better Spring Garden

— Written By Brenda Larson and last updated by

One of the tricks to successful yard maintenance is a good, thorough Fall Yard Clean up. With the cool brisk days of autumn close, cleaning the yard and garden for next year’s planting will be easier when you have taken your head start in the fall. Basic Yard or Fall Garden Clean up and preparations for winter can be taken care of over the fall gradually by tackling just a few chores every week.

To start your Fall Garden Clean up, begin by removing your dead or dying flowers as you see them, a little at a time. By doing this slowly, it will help to keep your garden neat, tidy, and having a presentable appearance before the frost sets in. As the season begins to change, keep your leaves raked and your trees and shrubs pruned back instead of letting your garden become overgrown and ugly. This also saves you the tremendous effort of a “mass exodus” (that is, a huge clean up job) and keeps your garden looking presentable throughout the fall and into winter.

Doing bits of work here and there also provides you with the opportunity to see where you might want to include plants that provide fall interest or where you might need to divide or transplant a plant from one area to another. Chores like cleaning away dead plant matter will also help your garden’s health by preventing organisms such as fungi, viruses and insect larvae from hibernating in them during the winter months and spoiling your soil for next year’s garden.

Fall Yard Clean up time savers include using efficiency tools for those fallen leaves like a mulching mower or the leaf blower. Noisy yes, but a blower is an amazingly quick and efficient tool that can be used year round to help your yard look good with minimal effort. On the other hand, the mulching mower has the additional bonus of being great for your soil, as it puts the leaves and clippings back into your lawn to slowly compost.

Though October always finds my yard and gardens looking disheveled and a bit worn down, I still treasure every bit of remaining color, texture and interesting foliage. However, by November, I’ll have said my last goodbyes and am ready to let the soil rest for the season.

So without further ado, here are our best Do It Yourself Fall Yard Clean up tips to effectively take care of your Fall Garden Clean up now to get it ready for its winter nap.

Plant Care and Winter Preparation

Fall Yard Clean up Tips for your Landscaping

  • Lift tender bulbs out of the soil, dry in a cool, dark and airy place (an open air carport or a crawlspace under the house or deck is perfect). Store in a breathable container in dry peat moss in a very cool, dark spot being sure that they will stay dry and not get too cold or freeze.
  • Stake young trees to prevent winter wind damage.
  • Install mouse/rabbit guards around trunks of young trees if needed. Install wire mesh guards of hardware cloth or chicken wire for your fruit trees and rose bushes.
  • Winterize roses and tender plants, pruning where necessary.
  • Before the first frost warning, Halloween in our area, dig root veggies out of the ground for the table and for cool storage.
  • When you hear news of the frost warning, pick all tomatoes, peppers, squash and other veggies. Tomatoes can be ripened in sealed heavy-duty paper shopping bags, with a sheet of newspaper between the layers, stored in a cool dark place. Check them every few days to remove ripe ones, and reseal the bag.
  • Collect seeds from marigolds, sunflowers, or other flowering plants that are easy to collect seed heads. Store in a cool, dry place and plant next spring for another brilliant year of flowers.
  • Rake up fallen leaves and debris. Add the fallen leaves to the compost pile or place them in bags for recycling
  • Pull the pumps from your garden pond. Drain and clean for winter storage.
  • Unless your garden pond is deep enough for your fish to winter there safely, remove them to an indoor tank. Bring plants that are not winter- hardy indoors to tubs or pots.
  • Shovel and sift through finished compost in your bins to gain space in the compost box for later additions.
  • Spread manure or compost on the garden. Add lime if needed. You can spade it in next spring.
  • Completely clear the garden of weeds before they drop their seeds and create a problem for next year.
  • Store pesticides in a cool, dry, safe place. Check expiration dates. Note for disposal any that will be over-age by spring.


  • Plant spring bulbs and any lilies before the ground freezes. Ideally, the bulbs should have four to six weeks in the ground before the ground freezes to form a strong & healthy root system – and don’t forget to water after planting.
  • Divide and replant any perennials before the ground freezes.
  • Transplant any summer or fall blooming shrubs before the ground freezes.

Pruning and Fertilizing

  • Prune shrub roses when they go dormant.
  • Cut back perennials.
  • Pull annuals when plants cease blooming or have died from the frost.
  • Don’t prune spring blooming shrubs, such as lilac, forsythia, and big-leaf hydrangeas as pruning them now will remove next spring’s flowers. Also, some perennials, such as coneflowers and sedums keep on giving all winter with attractive seed heads which also feed birds that stay in the area.
  • Fertilize spring bulbs and lilies when planting – bone meal is often added as well.
  • Spread compost or organic matter over garden, HOWEVER don’t fertilize new plantings or other plants in the landscape. Fertilizing now will spur new growth, which won’t have a chance to acclimate before winter arrives, making plants susceptible to damage.
  • Once your garden is all cleaned out, now is a good time to feed your soil, by adding fertilizer, compost, mulch and compost manure and some organic topsoil, then tilling it under and lastly covering it with pine straw or pine bark on top preparing it for next spring. Now that you have cleaned your garden for the winter, it can take a rest and so can you, because before you know it, it will be spring and time to start all over.

Chores and Maintenance

  • Mulch trees and plants. This prevents frost heaving here in Lee County and helps protect the roots.
  • Clean up plant debris from beds and borders (before mulching!)
  • Empty clay, terra cotta or ceramic pots, concrete bird baths and garden ornaments (you can empty the container contents to compost pile after frost kills plants). Then hose down and store indoors for winter to avoid cracking. (Concrete and terra cotta can freeze and crack during winter months.)
  • Take down stakes and trellises to clean and store them for next season.
  • Remove the outdoor hose and sprinklers and shake them out to remove the last drops of water. Neatly coil the hose and hang in the garage or shed.
  • Inspect and clean all gardening tools. Store gardening tools indoors during the winter and be sure to clean and dry your gloves, then place gloves inside a closed container so come springtime there are no surprises inside!

There are lots of reasons to pay attention to the landscape in the fall before the full force of winter hits. The weather is cooler, making outdoor work more comfortable. The soil also is usually more evenly moist and easier to work than in spring. In addition, the prep work done in the fall reduces the amount of problems that could arise in the spring.

While it is a considerable amount of work, a fall garden clean up is essential to maintain a healthy garden year round. Prune things back, cover up what you can and keep the garden and yard tidy, just remember to leave yourself plenty of time for apple picking, the corn maze, enjoying the fall color and all the other delights that autumn brings to Lee County.

Want more pertinent horticulture information delivered directly to your home computer? Subscribe to the new Lee County home horticulture e-mail list. Simply send an e-mail to mj2@lists.ncsu.edu with subscribe leehomehort in the body of the message. You will then be a member of leehomehort@lists.ncsu.edu.   

Brenda Larson is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County

Was the information on this page helpful? Yes check No close
Scannable QR Code to Access Electronic Version