How will we ever tuck it all in for the offseason, battening down the botanical hatches “in time”? Particularly in the Northern zones, November can turn on us. Let’s take the pressure off by working in priority order, making sure we get the important things done first, in case the weather shuts down the cleanup operation.

safe keeping

OBVIOUSLY, NON-HARDY THINGS must be stashed safely. I got advice for stashing tropicals from Dennis Schrader, a wholesale nurseryman who specializes in them.  (Also in my archives: overwintering rosemary, and storing figs, and a general page of plant-stashing tips.)

Storing the vegetable-garden harvest in the correct spots—no, a winter squash and an onion won’t be happy in the same temperature and humidity!–means longer-lasting enjoyment. Here’s how, in a vegetable-storage chart and story.

are bulbs all planted?

MANY FLOWER BULBS can go in the ground surprisingly late, even up North, but what they can’t do is sit forgotten in your garage all winter. Get those bulbs in (and even purchase more on closeout sales, if you have time for extra digging). My bulb FAQ page.

Garlic is a bulb, too, and I’m hoping yours is already planted (do it today if not!). How to grow garlic.

an ounce of prevention

CLEAN UP with a particular eye to prevention–of pests, weeds, and general chaos in 2014. First hit things that showed signs of disease, weed or insect infestation, as author and longtime friend Ken Druse and I explained in this story and podcast. More tips:

  • WEED WAR! Minimize weed woes for next year. Some weeds are actually easier to thwart in late summer and fall, like these.
  • PEST PROBLEMS? Deer, voles, cabbage worms, squash bugs and other garden pests can be limited with tactics like this. (If you had viburnum leaf beetle, start your rounds of egg-case elimination now. The details.)
  • CLEAR TURF OR WEEDS from around the trunks of fruit trees and ornamentals to reduce winter damage by rodents and rabbits. Hardware cloth collars should be in place year-round, sunk an inch or so into the soil, and standing 18 inches high. Use half-inch mesh or smaller.
  • AND THIS: LAST CALL FOR SOIL SAMPLES. If you had areas where something didn’t fare well, gather a soil sample before the ground freezes and take or send it in for analysis to your local Cooperative Extension service.

easy compost, extra-early soil prep

PILE UP the compost-to-be materials as you cut back and rake faded plants, followingLee Reich’s easy plan (video how-to included). First extract finished compost and topdress your vegetable-garden beds with it, getting a jump on spring soil prep now.

all the while, be thoughtful!

I KNOW I SAID to keep priorities in order, but don’t rush around mindlessly. While I teased the 2012 garden apart, I made my 2013 gardening resolutions, remember? Bring a pad and pen outside with you; this is the time for recording inspiration about what to do differently next year.

Be thoughtful toward the birds, too:  Are you ready for “feeder season”? Put out the welcome mat for the birds, like this.

IF YOU STILL have time, more chores:

trees & shrubs

BET YOU WISH you’d added more woody plants that show off in fall. Plan to do so for next year–many can even be planted this late in autumn, if your nursery or a mail-order source still has stock. Or what about my top conifers for winter, and year-round, beauty?

ALWAYS BE on the lookout for dead, damaged, diseased wood in trees and shrubs andprune them out as discovered. This is especially important before winter arrives with its harsher weather, where weaknesses left in place invite tearing and unnecessary extra damage. Remove suckers and water sprouts, too. A pruning roundup is here.

vegetables, fruit & herbs

DRY BEANS? I’m still working on getting some shelling beans to dry, like this.

IF NEXT YEAR’S GARDEN plans include a patch of strawberries or asparagus, do the tilling and soil preparation now so bare-root plants ordered over the winter can be planted extra early come spring. Mulch existing strawberry plants with a couple of inches of (guess what?) straw. Let asparagus foliage go golden and brown on its own; don’t cut back till later, or even early spring.

PARSLEY AND CHIVES can be potted up and brought indoors for offseason use. A fewgarlic cloves in a pot will yield a supply of chive-like (but spicier) garlic greens all winter for garnish. I prefer to harvest my green herbs and store them in these ways for winter use.

flower garden

PROTECT ROSES FROM WINTER damage in cold zones by mounding up their crowns with a 6- to 12-inch layer of soil before the ground freezes. After all is frozen, add a layer of leaf mulch to further insulate.

CANNAS, DAHLIAS AND OTHER tender bulb-like things including elephant ears need to be dug carefully for indoor storage. There are many methods, but the basics: Once frost blackens the foliage, cut back the tops to 6 inches and dig carefully, then brush or wash off soil and let dry for two weeks or so to cure. Stash in a dry spot like unheated basement or crawl space around 40-50 degrees, in boxes or pots filled with bark chips or peat moss. Details on making other tender things at home.

DON’T DEADHEAD FADED perennials, biennials and annuals if you want self-sowns, or make sure to shake pods around before removing plant carcasses. Nicotiana, poppies, larkspur, clary sage and many others fall into this leave-alone group. So do plants with showy or bird-friendly seedheads, like grasses and coneflowers.

PREPARE NEW beds for future planting by smothering grass or weeds with layers ofrecycled corrugated cardboard or thick layers of newspaper, then put mulch on top.


START A POT OF PAPERWHITES in potting soil or pebbles and water, and stagger forcing of another batch every couple of weeks for a winterlong display.

CONTINUE RESTING AMARYLLIS BULBS in a dry, dark place where they will have no water at all for a couple of months total. I put mine in a little-used closet, and they will come out late this month, since they went in around mid- to late September. Pot up new ones now.


KEEP MOWING TILL THE GRASS stops growing, and make the last cut a short one. Let clippings lie on the lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil, and mow over fallen leaves to shred if not too thick, or rake them off into the compost heap before snow comes.

TAKE THE MOWER IN for service after the final mowing, rather than in the spring rush, then store without gas in the tank. Run it dry. If it’s got too much fuel in it, add stabilizer, from the hardware or auto supply store.

compost heap

LEAVES ARE precious, and make great leaf mold when composted. Maybe start a leaves-only compost pile this year, and use the proceeds as mulch next year? Running over dry leaves (and other dry non-woody material) with the mower to shred will reduce the area needed.

(All chores are based on my Zone 5B Berkshire MA/Hudson Valley NY location; adjust accordingly.)