Clean Your Room:
Annuals and any dead plant material should be cleaned up to prevent over-wintering pests. They can be put in the compost pile. (Never compost diseased or infested plants.)
Perennials should be mulched with leaves and evergreen branches (boughs from junipers, firs, pines, spruces, or branches from your discarded Christmas tree) after the ground freezes to prevent their roots from heaving out of the ground during the freeze/thaw cycles of winter and early spring.
Check for ‘Bedbugs’:
Turn the soil over in your empty veggie beds with a pitchfork. This will help expose and kill any over-wintering pests that have burrowed in by exposing them to birds and cold temperatures. Fall is a good time to till, because the soil may be too damp in spring.
Provide a Bedtime Snack:
Then, spread 4″-6″ of manure or compost over the bed, or top with organic fertilizer like a balanced 10-10-10. (This is optional. You could wait and turn in compost in the spring.)
Tuck It In:
After a few hard freezes, spread 2″-6″ of shredded leaves, straw, pine needles, or bark mulch over your garden beds. (You can shred leaves by running a lawn mower over them. Using shredded leaves is important, because whole leaves may not decompose and may mat down, preventing the soil from warming up in spring.) Waiting to do this until the ground is frozen will prevent unwanted rodents from burrowing in and nesting.
(If you don’t use all of your leaves, save some containers of them in the garage or shed to use as ‘brown’ layering material in your compost pile next spring and summer. They will keep well as long as they remain dry.)
Put Away Your Dishes
Containers: If the plants inside have died, dump the container in the compost pile and chop up the root ball. Plastic containers can be stored outdoors, but terra cotta or ceramic containers should be cleaned out and stored in a dry location like a shed or garage to prevent them from cracking during the winter.
Tools: Clean dirt and rust off garden tools. Put a light coating of vegetable oil or inexpensive motor oil on them or plunge them into a bucket filled with sand and oil to prevent rust.
Hoses: Drain and disconnect all garden hoses.
Some of us in cold climates go through withdrawal when the garden goes to sleep for a few months. (Holistic remedies involve growing herbs on sunny windowsills and turning your house into a tropical oasis with houseplants.) Others are thankful for the break. For them, winter is the time to kick back and rest from gardening chores for a while. Most of us fall a little into both personality types. Then, by mid-winter we are hungering for something green and we go to bed at night dreaming of sugarplums and next season’s garden. Whichever category you are in, once your garden is tucked in for the winter, you can be thankful that it will sleep peacefully for the next few months…and be there for you in spring when you can greet it again with a crazed smile, a trowel, and a few seed packets in hand.