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How to Prepare Plants for Winter

By Jenny Harrington ; Updated September 21, 2017
Snow insulates garden beds, but mulch is more dependable as insulation.

Preparing plants for winter ensures they survive the cold weather and freezing temperatures with as little damage as possible. Only perennial plants require winter preparation, as annual vegetables and flowers are replaced in the garden each spring. Not only are cold temperatures a hazard for plants, but dry air and soil upheaval caused by these temperatures can lead to damage of the leaves or roots if the plants are not properly prepared before winter descends upon your region.

Water the plants adequately throughout the fall months so they do not enter winter under drought stress. Water once weekly, supplying 1 inch of water to the bed, which will moisten the soil to about a 6-inch depth, when felt by sticking your finger into the soil. Weekly deep watering encourages the plants to form deep roots, which makes them better able to handle winter temperatures.

Weed the bed completely just before or right after the first fall frost and rake up any leaves laying around the plants. Pull up all weeds by the roots and dispose of them. Remove the weeds and leaves to prevent pests from using this plant material as a winter home.

Cut off the dead stems of most perennial flowers and plants. Prune them off at ground level or 1 to 2 inches above the soil. Prune any shrubs or trees that require fall pruning as well, as old branches are more prone to breakage and disease in the winter. Dispose of or compost all the removed plant matter.

Cover beds with a 2- to 4-inch layer of straw mulch once the ground begins to freeze. Mulch preserves moisture as well as prevents temperature fluctuations in the soil. Maintaining even soil temperature and moisture prevents frost heave and damage to root systems.


Things You Will Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Mulch


  • Winter mulch should be removed from garden beds as soon as new growth appears in spring. It can be replaced with a thinner layer of bark mulch to help prevent weed growth.
  • Tender perennials, such as begonia, do not survive winter temperatures. These plants are dug up and stored inside during the cold months.


  • Unless specifically required for the particular plant, do not fertilize in fall or early winter. This encourages new growth on the plant that won't be able to survive winter weather.
  • Always verify the exact requirements for a plant before pruning. Otherwise you may prune at the wrong time or remove the wrong branches, which can kill or damage a tree or shrub.

About the Author


Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications. Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.