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17 Garden Jobs to Do Before the First Frost 

Winterizing your garden can be an enjoyable endeavor. Despite the sadness of bidding farewell to the bright colors and lush vegetation of the warmer months, being able to tidy away and prepare for next season is satisfying in itself, plus it allows you to think ahead long-term. 

The first frost date of the season is an excellent indicator of when these tasks should be completed because even a ‘light frost’ (ie. a temperature below 30F) can damage tender plants and flowers.

First things first, get to know your area’s frost dates. Temperatures change across the country, further affected by hillsides and coastlines. Frost dates can also vary from year to year, but you can easily keep track via weather reports and by knowing your area’s growing zone.

Remember that your garden can still experience frost damage even if you’re not yet seeing the frost.

Because your plants grow close to the ground, they’re much more likely to remain in the shade and catch a chill throughout the day. 

frosty grass

Along with the necessary jobs like harvesting the last of your edible plants, just before the first frost is also the perfect time to get the garden ready for next year’s growing season. 

Jobs For The Vegetable Garden

1. Harvest your tender vegetables

Any delicate plants that are still valiantly growing or fruiting should be harvested. These are typically your tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, cucumber, eggplant and winter squash.  

2. Cover or move any tender herbs 

catnip flowers

Your herbs don’t necessarily need to be brought inside at the first frost, but it’s worth giving them a little protection to allow for more outdoor growing time. 

Plenty of hardy herbs can handle the frost – we’re talking chives, mint, thyme, sage, tarragon and oregano – but your more delicate herbs need to either be harvested or brought indoors before the temperatures drop. Make sure you look after your cilantro, basil, dill, parsley and calendula, either moving these container plants indoors or using a cold frame or cloche, so the plants aren’t damaged by the frost. 

Similarly, hardier plants in raised beds or in the ground can be protected with sheets of horticultural fleece. Don’t worry if you haven’t got this, though: even a bed sheet will work for those first few frosty nights.

3. Plant up hardier vegetables

Woman's hands breaking garlic bulbs

Planting hardy winter vegetables like garlic, swiss chard, broad beans, onions and cabbages at least a few weeks before the first frost allows them to bed in adequately before things get even colder. 

Jobs For The Flower Garden

4. Deadhead any fall-flowering plants and flowers 

close up of seed head

Deadheading your flowers allows the plant to stop putting energy into producing seeds. However, because pruning tends to spur on more growth, you should stop deadheading a few weeks before the first frost hits. 

Alternatively, you can always keep the spent heads in situ on their flower stems to lend some added texture to your winter garden. Leaving a few seed heads will also offer a tasty snack to wildlife!

Cut back your perennials, too, pruning off the dead stems. For any dead or dying annuals, you can simply throw these on the compost heap.

5. Collect flower seeds 

lavender seeds

While you’re hard at work deadheading, you can also collect up any flower heads to keep the seeds for next season. Just crumble the flower in your palm and keep hold of the seeds. It’s best to harvest seeds on a dry day to make sure they don’t rot while being stored.

6. Protect delicate potted flowers 

Many of your potted flowers are too delicate to remain outside at the first frost. Your dahlias, fuchsias, geraniums, passion flowers and pelargoniums should either be brought into the warmth indoors, into a greenhouse, or covered with a cold frame to protect them from chillier weather.

An added benefit of bringing them indoors is that you may get some extra blooms.

7. Plant up any winter-friendly flowers 

gloved  hand planting tulips

If you’re looking to keep some color in your garden over the winter, why not plant some hardier flowers before the first frost? The soil is still damp from fall rain but won’t have hardened up from chilly temperatures yet, so now is the perfect time to allow roots to settle in. 

You can add some crocuses, cyclamen, winter aconite, hellebores, skimmia or winter heather to your borders for a lovely seasonal brightness. You can also fill some containers with winter plants or make up a few winter hanging baskets.

General Garden Jobs: 

8. Tidy up growing areas

This job will, of course, vary from garden to garden, but generally, you can bet that there’s a half-finished list of things to do. Why not capitalize on the cooler weather and clean your empty pots with warm water and dish soap so they don’t harbor bacteria, sweep up the patio or give it a go with the pressure washer, and clear any garden pathways free of fallen leaves? 

9. Mow the lawn 

lawn mower fall

Give the lawn a final mow on a dry day before winter properly sets in, and then fork the ground to provide some aeration and better drainage during the impending rainfall too. You can pull up any weeds if desired.  

Read Next: 7 Bare-Minimum Fall Lawn Tasks (Even If You Don’t Care About Perfect Grass)

10. Tidy up the borders 

If you get the bulk of the season’s weeding done now, it will be less of an effort come springtime. Tidy up your borders by removing any dead or damaged branches and clearing away any weeds. You can also cover the borders with some mulching compost to help prepare the soil for new growth. 

11. Clear fallen leaves 

gloved hands picking up leaves

Lightly raking up the fallen leaves in your garden will help to keep things tidy and avoid areas becoming overgrown, boggy or otherwise problematic, particularly on pathways and walkways. 

You can leave some fallen leaves to work as natural organic mulch as the season progresses, but too thick a layer will actually work against you and suffocate your lawn. That’s why it’s best to either rake them up or collect all your fallen leaves to create leaf mold for eventual use in one or two years’ time. You can make a cage out of wire to keep these leaves in one place or add them into a black bag where they can break down.

Related Reading: How To Make Leaf Mold: Turn Fallen Leaves Into Gardener’s Gold

12. Dig over empty beds

Man using rototiller to till garden

Just before the first frost is a perfect time to dig over the soil in your empty beds. As well as removing any debris or weeds, getting the soil moving before the frost arrives allows for structure improvement over the winter. Adding in some mulch will help prepare the beds for new planting in the spring.

13. Clean out ponds 

small decorative pond

Fall is when the most organic matter will naturally make its way into a pond, but leaving this over winter can lead to an unhealthy environment. Remove leaves regularly to avoid any decomposition and aim to keep the surface at least half clear too. 

14. Bring terracotta pots inside

Though terracotta is a commonly used material for outdoor containers, its porous nature means it absorbs water, which repeatedly freezes and thaws over the winter. As you might expect, this eventually leads to cracking. 

Related Reading: 8 Things You Need to Know Before Using Terracotta Pots

The best option to avoid this is to bring terracotta pots inside. If you don’t have sufficient space for them though, you can also create little makeshift blankets from bubble wrap and straw. Just wrap them up and move them close to a building wall where it will be slightly warmer than out in the open.

15. Store your hoses 

Without proper storage, a garden hose can really be damaged in frosty weather. To make sure you avoid any residual water freezing and splitting the hose material, disconnect your hose from its water spigot and fully drain out the water to ensure the inside of the hose is dry over winter. 

Get rid of any kinks in the hose, too, then coil it up neatly. A wall-mounted rack is the best way to store your hose over winter, but a sealable bin will also work well.

16. Set up bird feeders 

Blue jay eating a peanut

Birds need more help from their human friends in the winter, as there’s less food readily available for them in the wild. Earmark a few sturdy branches to hang your feeders from, and start filling them with fat balls, nuts and berries. 

Providing them with a water source is also a great idea. This might be a ground-level pond, but a raised bird bath or fountain is even better as it helps the birds avoid attacks from predators. Adding a small ball into the water is a great trick to prevent the water from totally freezing over too. 

For more fall bird feeding tips: 7 Fall Bird Feeding Tips for a Busy Backyard

17. Check your garden shed 

Blue bucket filled with sand and oil, garden tools immersed in sand

If the majority of your garden tools are stored outdoors in a standalone shed, then it’s a sensible idea to check for any roof leaks, broken windows, rusted door hinges or wood rot before the first frost arrives. Giving the wood a new coat of exterior wood protector will help keep your tools safe over the winter. 

And while you’re in there, giving your tools themselves a once-over can’t hurt either. Wiping down blades and sharpening where necessary will only be appreciated come springtime! Check out this easy hack to sharpen, clean and store tools for the winter.

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