17 Winter Gardening Chores To Prepare For Next Season


Just because Winter is upon us doesn’t mean we can just rest by a cozy fire sipping coco. No, Winter is the perfect time to perform routine gardening tasks to better prepare flowerbeds and veggie gardens for the upcoming Spring. I’m going to list out all backyard maintenance that should be performed in cold climates for the Winter.

winter garden

When it comes to maintaining our backyard in Winter, we can divide our chores into four categories:

  • Garden tasks to improve plant health
  • Aesthetic improvements
  • Tool maintenance
  • Spring planning / preparation

While all of these Winter Gardening Chores can be spread out over the 4-6 months of downtime, it is better to complete some earlier in the season, and some whenever a free moment opens up. But, let’s go through these chores, categorized and in an approximate order.

1 – Spread Compost

Fall and Winter are the perfect time to spread compost on flower beds, vegetable gardens, or even your lawn. The organic matter will trickle down into your soil to reduce compaction and provide fertility to your plants. Also, applying compost before you apply mulch just looks nicer.

2 -Apply Leaf Mulch

Leaf mulch is one of the single best ways to naturally add nutrients and improve your soil. I’ve documented my love of leaf mulch here, here, and here as well as showing how I turned my inorganic turf soil into a solid 5″ of beautiful, black, crumbly soil here.

But seriously, save those Autumn leaves! They can make for a nice mulch to apply to a garden bed or a vegetable garden. And, late Fall and early Winter is when you should be applying them!

3 – Save flower seeds from your pots

All the dead flower material standing tall in your flower beds holds seed. Every year I save lots of flower seeds for Winter Sowing or spring planting. And most are ripening at this time.

4 – Cut Back Perennials

When it comes to cutting back perennials, the traditional way is to clear cut anything herbaceous to ground. I do not support doing this as many bees and other beneficial insects will lay their eggs in the stems, and their larvae will sometimes spend two winters before emerging in the following Spring. I go into detail on the many reasons here.

But in the interest of balancing aesthetics, if you can manage to leave 12″ of stalk standing tall, then it will provide a place for bees and others to overwinter and still look nice.

5 – Reduce Snow on Evergreens

If you live in an area with heavy snows then removing excess heavy snows on evergreen branches is an important chore to prevent them from breaking. Heavy wet snows that pile up on the branches can overload weak structured branches resulting in fallen limbs.

During or immediately after the heavy snow, simply take an old broom and brush the snow off the branches of low evergreens. For larger/taller evergreen plants, try a brush on a telescoping handle, or even a pole saw to knock the excess now away.

Note – if the snow is frozen to the branch, then leave it. Trying to remove frozen snow from an evergreen branch can result in the limb breaking.

6 – Prepare and clean pots for Winter

For decorative flower pots, remove any dead plant material and compost it. Ceramic and clay pots can sit outside in the elements, but for plastic pots it is best to keep those out of the sun during winter. As the UV radiation from the sun will make the plastic brittle.

7 – Clean up and put away furniture

Remove and store furniture cushions from outdoor furniture. For wooden chairs, benches and swings Winter provides an opportune time for applying wood sealer or repainting. For plastic or other material furniture, covering with a tarp can help prolong the life.

Winter tends to be windier than summer, and because of this it is a good idea to take down any bench swings. Keeping them out of the elements will help prolong their life.

8 – Clean & repair bird feeders

Before setting out your birdfeeders you should clean and disinfect them. Replace or repair any loose screws or loose pieces. And it is also a good time to glue or stop any cracks from propagating on the structure.

9 – Birdhouse maintenance

At the end of the nesting season bird houses should be cleaned and disinfected. Also inspect the birdhouse to ensure it is structurally sound and make any repairs. Besides maintenance, Winter is a great time to build some new birdhouses too!

House Wren feeding a caterpillar to a baby that fledged the following day.

10 – Clean shovels, spades, rakes

Large yard shovels and the like should be brushed to remove any dirt. And to prevent rust, a light coat of 3-in-1 oil can be applied.

11 – Sharpen pruning tools

Pruning tools should be sharpened every year (or more frequently depending on use). A sharp pruner will make clean, crisp cuts that don’t require much effort. Simply secure the pruner to a work surface and use a flat file to sharpen.

12 – Start a Winter compost pile

Composting doesn’t have to only be a warm season activity! Starting a compost pile in Winter is a great way to have some fresh compost ready for Spring. Just make sure you make your pile much bigger to provide better insulation. You can read out detailed guide to the four principles of Winter Composting here.

13 – Check seed inventory

Winter is an appropriate time to inspect your seed inventory. Seeds do lose viability every year, and maintain fresh, or fresh enough seed is important. So, discard any seed that you suspect is too old to germinate.

14 – Plan next years flowers / vegetables

A great chore during the cold weather is to begin planning the gardens for next year. Sketch out new flower beds, rearrange your vegetables, and start planning for the upcoming growing season. Remember – taller plants to the North side of the garden!

15 – Order seed

During the last few years, really when the Covid-19 Pandemic started several seed companies began running out of supplies. So, based on what you plan to grow you should order seed ahead of time for various popular vegetables.

16 – Winter sow seeds

And Winter (ahem) is the best time to Winter Sow your native and cold hardy flower seeds! It is a great way to play in the dirt when it is subfreezing outside. Winter sowing is by far the easiest method to sow all of your seeds. You can read our detailed guide and video here.

17 – Repair / build tomato cages & trellis

Tomato cages and trellises will sometimes require a bit of maintenance, and it is better to do this during Winter rather than the active growing season. My rocky soil prevents me from using the traditional conical cages that stick into the ground, so I am left to fashion my own wooden or metal cages. And I repair/maintain these as necessary in Winter.

Read more gardening tips here

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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