A Checklist for Putting Your Garden to Bed

Fall garden shed Iowa

It’s that time of year when we’re starting to think about putting our gardens to bed for winter. That dreaded four-letter word, snow, isn’t too far around the corner, and the more cleanup we do now, the less we’ll have when that spring sunshine shows up again. Everyone has their theories about what the weather will do in Iowa this winter. Whatever it does, we don’t want to risk the chance of unfinished garden cleanup getting caught under a massive layer of snow from a freak storm. Here’s a checklist of the things we’re working through to tuck our gardens in for wintertime. 

The best time to start checking off these tasks is once we’ve had our first frost in Des Moines. This will finish off any late-blooming annuals, and set perennials into their winter dormancy cycle.

Fall Planting

We tend to think about cleaning up, not planting at this time of year. However, we can do some fall garden planting in Iowa. Tulips, snowdrops, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, and garlic should be planted now. The cold period in the winter is crucial for getting them started in the spring. We’ve got a variety of bulbs for fall planting at our garden center, so come take a look! Make sure you follow the planting instructions on the package or ask our staff for tips. 

Empty Garden Beds

Clear out spent plants now, so there’s less cleanup to deal with in the spring. Collect and store things like tomato cages, trellises, and stakes. Cut down all the foliage from vegetables. You can lay them out and mow over them with a mulching lawnmower, or scoop them directly into yard waste bags. If you mow over them, make sure to set the deck height a little higher than you would for mowing the lawn. The lawnmower will break them up, and then you add them into your composter or directly into the soil. If any of your plants showed signs of disease or pest invasion before the frost, dispose of them in yard waste bags. Do not put diseased plants in your compost—safe is always better than sorry.

fall garden composting Iowa

Tuck in Some Compost

If you’ve got a good stock of compost going, spread it over your garden and work it in with a tiller or by hand. If you’re turning the soil by hand, turn over big chunks with a spade or fork. You don’t need to break them down. Leaving them in large chunks allows air to circulate into the soil, and they’ll break down on their own over the winter.

Trim Back Perennials

Clean up perennials, but don’t mow them down. It’s a good idea to trim back a bit on your perennials, but don’t cut back too much. Cutting back too much and too soon could potentially encourage new growth before winter, which will not end well for the plant.

Rake the Leaves

Rake up your leaves, but don’t throw them out. Fallen leaves are among the best things you can add to improve your soil. You can do the same thing you did with the veggies; you can mow over leaves to break them down, then add them to your compost or work them into your soil.

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Wrap up Shrubs

Wrap up tender shrubs. If you’ve planted new shrubs this year, or you have a few that are more susceptible to winter burn like arborvitae, wrap them up well with burlap.

Add a Layer of Mulch

Mulch perennials, shrubs, and new trees to insulate and protect the roots. A 2-4 inch layer of mulch helps to protect your trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs through the winter. Make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk of trees or shrubs but makes a good thick layer over the root area.

Empty garden bed fall Iowa

Clean Up Raised Beds

Raised gardens shouldn’t need too much protection, but you’ll want to double-check a few things. If they’re elevated off the ground, you’ll want to make sure they’re not a warm cozy shelter for mice to nest. Clean out underneath them, and barricade around them so pests can’t get in. Sometimes desperate rodents will burrow in from underneath. If you’re wondering what to put under raised garden beds, consider laying down a few layers of poultry wire.

Add Edging

If you’ve been wanting to add edging to your landscaping, now is a great time to do it. Whatever you choose—bricks, slate, steel, curbing—you don’t have to worry about disturbing annuals or bulbs. If you’d like to know how to put bricks around a flower bed, have a chat with our landscaping staff. We can help you get it done correctly before the snow flies. 

Take Care of Your Tools

When it’s finally time to head back out to the garden in the spring, it’s a major setback to find your tools wrecked from rust or dull from last year’s use. When you’re finished with your yard cleanup, spend some time on your tools. Wash, sanitize, and dry them thoroughly, sharpen blades where needed, and apply a light coating of oil to tools that could rust. You’ll have a much easier start to spring with well-maintained tools.

Getting your garden prepped for winter now will mean your soil warms more quickly in the spring, and you can get back to gardening sooner. If you have questions, or need any tools or supplies, swing by our garden center for a visit. We can help you get the garden all tucked in and cozy for winter, so you can cozy up inside and start your planning for next year.


The Ted Lare Look

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