How to Prepare your Vegetable Garden for Winter (Fall Garden Checklist)

How to Prepare your Vegetable Garden for Winter (Fall Garden Checklist)

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As the days get shorter and the temperatures start to dip, it’s time to start thinking about how to prepare your vegetable garden for the winter. By taking some simple steps now and following our fall garden checklist, you can ensure that your garden is healthy and productive come spring. Some people call this process “putting your vegetable garden to bed,” which is a great metaphor because we all know that a good winter’s rest will replenish your garden to be ready for action in the spring!

To help you keep track you can download our FREE Fall Vegetable Garden Checklist!

Fall Garden Checklist

We’ve presented these fall vegetable garden tasks in the order that you’ll most likely do them, but of course you can do them in an order that makes sense to you.

spinach growing in fall garden

Plant Fall Crops:

Wait – before you start putting your garden away, don’t forget that there are a number of vegetables that you can plant in the fall – both for a late fall harvest, and for spring harvest. These hardy vegetables, such as radish, spinach, and kale, can withstand colder temperatures and extend your harvest season by a few months. Planting them now will give you a fresh crop of veggies to enjoy throughout the late fall. Check out our article on Planting a Fall Garden for more information!

Harvest Final Veggies:

As summer comes to an end, be sure to harvest any remaining vegetables from your garden. This includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and squash. If you have any veggies that are past their prime, don’t throw them out! Instead, compost them so that they can nourish your soil for next year’s plants. If you have vegetables that aren’t quite ready yet, consider covering them with a covered raised bed row cover to help protect them from frost. Have a bunch of green tomatoes? Harvest your green tomatoes and follow these tips for helping them to ripen.

Preserve the Harvest:

If you have more vegetables than you can eat fresh, preserving them is a great way to enjoy them all winter long. Canning and pickling are two popular methods of preservation. However, if you don’t have the time or equipment for canning, simply freezing your veggies is a quick and easy way to keep them fresh. Have you checked out our online course on Preserving the Harvest? We teach you ALL of the methods to provide a year-round food supply for your family!

Plant Garlic:

Fall is also a great time to plant garlic. This beloved crop is relatively low maintenance and can be used in so many delicious recipes. Plus, it’s a great way to ward off vampires! (Just kidding.) Garlic is planted in the fall, and come spring you’ll see the green sprouts pop up as one of your first vegetable garden crops. Our guide to growing garlic has all the info you need to plant this favorite (and easy!) allium crop.

Clean Out Garden Beds:

Once you’ve harvested all of your veggies, it’s time to clean out your garden beds. You’ll want to remove dead plants and weeds so that they don’t take up valuable space or harbor pests over winter. However, to replenish the soil in your garden, consider cutting the stems of your veggies at the soil line and leaving the roots. They’ll decompose over the winter and nourish the soil. You can put most of the weeds and plants you remove from garden beds into your compost pile, but if any of them are badly diseased, consider placing them further away from your garden or in the trash so that the disease does not carry over into the spring.

how to test your garden soil

Amend Garden Soil:

If your soil is looking a little worse for wear after a summer of planting, amending it with organic matter is a great way to give it a much-needed boost. You can test your soil to see what it needs, or simply spread a layer of compost or manure over your garden bed and dig it in about six inches deep. This will help improve drainage and aeration while adding important nutrients back into the soil. Giving the compost the time over the winter to settle in will make your beds ready to go come spring.


Mulching is another great way to nourish your graden beds during the winter months. Spread a layer of mulch (straw, leaves, grass clippings, etc.) over your garden beds before the first frost hits. The material will decompose over the winter, adding nutrients to your soil. Plus, this coverage will help to prevent weed growth before frost hits. Come spring, you can simply turn any mulch products over into your soil using the no-till garden methods. For more info on mulch in garden beds, check out this related article.

cover crops for home garden

Plant Cover Crops:

If you really want to give your garden beds a step ahead this winter, consider planting cover crops. Cover crops are plants that are grown for the purpose of protecting and enriching the soil. They help to prevent erosion, add nutrients, and improve drainage. Plus, they can provide valuable organic matter to your soil when they’re turned over in the spring. Common cover crops include alfalfa, winter wheat, rye, and triticale. Check out our guide to cover crops to learn more!

Put Away Cages, Stakes, and Markers:

If you want your tomato cages, bean stakes, and garden markers to last for many years, now is the time to put them away so that they will not get rusty and damaged over the winter. Store them in a covered corner of your garden, or a shed or garage.

Protect Fruit Trees and Bushes from Pests:

The arrival of winter means that many animals will be looking for that last bit of green in your garden. Be sure to protect fruit trees, bushes, or any remaining vegetables in your garden from pests by covering them with garden fabric or wrapping them with fencing or wire.

Clean Garden Tools:

Be sure to clean all of your garden tools before putting them away for storage. This includes removing all dirt and debris, oiling metal parts, and sharpening blades. This will help to avoid rust and damage over the winter, and will also ensure that any diseases that were transferred to your tools when cleaning out the garden do not over-winter and show up again in spring.

Drain Hoses:

Frozen hoses are no fun! To prevent this from happening, be sure drain all water from hoses before storing them away for winter. The same is true if you have set up irrigation, rain barrels, or other water supply systems for your garden. Make sure that these systems are drained and empty before storing for the winter.

Sunlight helps to kill pathogens on seed starting equipment

Clean & Prepare Seed Starting Equipment:

If you plan on starting your own seeds indoors this winter, now is the time to get your seed starting equipment ready. This includes cleaning pots, trays, and heat mats, as well as sterilizing tools. Do this now while the weather is still warm enough to work outside, and while there might still be enough sun to help sterilize your equipment. For complete directions on cleaning and preparing seed starting equipment, check out this how-to article.

Document in Your Garden Journal:

Don’t forget documenting everything that you’ve done in your garden journal! This will help you keep track of what worked well this year so that you can replicate it next year. It will also help you remember what didn’t work so well so that you can avoid making those same mistakes again. Need a garden journal? Check out our downloadable garden journal that can be used as a fillable PDF right on your computer (or printed if you’re old school).

Taking some time now to prepare your vegetable garden for winter will pay off big time come springtime. By following the simple tips in this fall garden checklist, you can ensure that your garden stays healthy and productive for years to come.

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Carrie Williams Howe
Blogger & Homesteader at The Happy Hive
Carrie Williams Howe is an educational leader by day and an aspiring homesteader by night and weekend. She lives on a small homestead in Vermont with her husband, two children, and a rambunctious border collie. She is a Founder and Editor of Homestead How-To and also blogs about her family's homestead life at The Happy Hive.

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