10 ways to prepare your garden and yard for winter

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

— Benjamin Franklin, “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” 1732-1758

I was recently reminded of this famous line from Benjamin Franklin when I saw one of his inventions at the Beekman House in Jacksonville — a stepladder that converts to a chair.

The Benjamin ladder-chair strikes me as the ultimate brainchild of someone who goes around saying things like: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” With this one household article, a person can reach a book on the top shelf and seat an unexpected guest at the dinner table.

In observance of Franklin’s advice to prepare for success, I’ve come up with 10 things I need to do to prepare my garden and yard for winter.

1. Drain water from sprinkler system. Locate and shut off the main valve. Locate and open manual drain valves, or make sure automatic valves are not stuck open or closed. Insulate all above-ground valves. Disconnect the common or “C” wire from automatic controller. This process has several variables, so check out the guide provided by the Medford Water Commission at

2. Protect outdoor plants. Use leaves or straw to mulch garden beds. Have heavyweight row cover and tunnel hoops handy to protect winter vegetable beds from frost, or make cloches for individual plants by cutting out the bottom of plastic jugs.

3. Cut some perennials back. I like to leave several of my perennials standing throughout the winter for garden interest and foraging wildlife. However, I’ve learned that some perennials prone to powdery mildew and rot fare best if they are cut back after a frost. These include bearded iris, blanket flower, catmint, columbine, crocosmia, daylily, foxglove, golden marguerite, hardy begonia, hollyhock, Japanese anemone, lupine, penstemon, peony, phlox, salvia, vervain and yarrow.

4. Spray fruit trees. Use a copper spray on fruit trees before the leaves drop to protect against fungal diseases. Spray in the morning when rain is not expected. Follow the directions for subsequent applications.

5. Plan for rain runoff. I have a dry creek bed in my backyard that catches rainwater in the winter and channels runoff. I need to clean out the debris, and every few years I have to dig out the soil that has eroded from the surrounding berms. It’s also a good time to check for low spots where rain collects and fill in these areas.

6. Empty and clean plant containers. I like to grow some of my vegetables in grow bags, so now is the time to empty the soil out of the bags and wash them. I reuse potting soil unless a diseased plant has grown in it; I’ll freshen up the soil with compost in the spring before planting.

7. Clean and store tools. Use a brush to clean off dirt, follow up with a damp rag, and then dry thoroughly. If any sticky residue remains on the tool, scrape gently with a razor blade or paint scraper, and then clean with mineral spirits or foaming bathroom cleaner. Use a wire brush or fine-grit sandpaper to remove rust. Once the tool is clean, use a soft rag to wipe all metal surfaces with a light application of machine oil. Store tools in a dry place.

8. Cover and insulate compost bin. Empty the bin of all usable compost before winter. Add lots of fall leaves to the interior sides of the bin to stock up on brown material and to help insulate the pile. Create a hole in the top of the pile to pour kitchen scraps for green material. Cover the sides and top of the pile with a canvas cover or tarp.

9. Bring tender plants indoors. Bring in citrus trees and other frost-tender plants. Check for insects and disease, trim off dead or damaged foliage, and freshen soil. Now is a good time to plant in a larger pot if needed. Place plants in a sunny location and provide good air circulation. Keep plants slightly moist but avoid overwatering.

10. Protect water fountain. Drain water from the fountain and tubes and clean. Remove, clean and store the pump. It’s also a good idea to cover the fountain to prevent cracking.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at For more about gardening, visit her blog at

Share This Story