Cathy Allen

I have truly enjoyed my garden and my lawn all spring and summer long. Autumn is arriving and now it’s time to get ready to prepare my beautiful friends for their annual sixth-month slumber. Here are some natural tips to successfully put your garden and lawn to bed for the winter:


Preparing your flowerbeds and lawn for their winter’s rest is necessary to ensure healthy plant life that is free of diseases and insects. Removal of annual and herbaceous plant debris from their flowerbeds is key.  Dirty flowerbeds filled with plant debris, weeds and trash attracts insects and disease that uses that debris as hiding places over the winter which creates problems for the spring.

Annuals are normally removed after the killing frost, when the temperatures have fallen below forty degrees.  Perennials can be cut back in the fall.  Perennials such as ornamental grasses should be cut back in spring to give them a boost for summer growth.

After removing the annuals from their flowerbeds, enhance the soil by adding organic compost.  To apply simply till in the compost within the soil.  This reduces compaction of the soil and increases the soil and organic matter drainage.  If you have a mix of annuals and perennials in the same flowerbeds tilling is not required.  The roots from the perennials can get damaged from the till which in turn will promote slow growth in the spring.

The next step is to tuck-in your flowerbeds with mulch.  Mulching is the blanket for your plants over the winter months.  It provides nutrients, a barrier from freezing temperatures and prevents root damage from frozen winter soil.

Mulch the area with natural organic mulch that is free of dyes 2-3 inches on top of your flowerbeds.  Pines needles, straw or woods chips are perfect substitutes for mulch.

Fall is also the perfect time to plant perennials such as: spring bulbs, mums, trees and shrubs.  After planting your perennials add 2-3 inches of mulch on top of the flowerbed.

Finally, water the perennials when the weather in late summer and fall is dry.  The temperatures will drop but your perennials are not asleep or dormant yet.  The fall brings stiff winds and can quickly dry out the soil. Remember to continuously water your perennials before the ground freezes if conditions are dry.


In the autumn, your lawn is also getting ready for its slumber too.  To ensure your lawn has a blissful winter’s rest:

Mow: Your lawn grass will grow slower and you will not have to cut the lawn as much, but you will need to lower the height of your lawn mower blades to about ½ inch.  Anymore lower than an ½ inch can shock your grass.

Clear: Just like your flowerbeds you want to remove any debris from your lawn that can block sunlight and limit the grass from feeding through photosynthesis.

Remove all and any weeds from your lawn.  Some weeds are very aggressive and can take over your lawn in the fall because your grass is less active.

Rake leaves from your lawn thoroughly before the snow arrives.  Over time leaves start to decompose by draining the water out of the soil and away from the grass roots.  Decaying leaves are homes for insects that use them as their breeding grounds.

Aerate and Seed:  After the long spring and summer months your lawn has become compacted, reducing the air pockets that allow nutrients and water to reach the roots of your grass.  To aerate simply, spike your lawn with holes. Once your lawn has been spiked, sprinkle compost over the entire lawn then cover with grass seeds.

Properly putting your garden and lawn to bed in the fall months will ensure that their awakening in spring will be happy, healthy, vibrant and lush.

Cathy Allen is an award-winning Urban Environmentalist, the co-creator of G.R.A.S.S. (Growing Resources After Sowing Seed) as well as Chair of the “Grow-It Eat It” campaign. G.R.A.S.S. is an environmental entrepreneurial nonprofit program based on the fundamentals of gardening, agriculture and ecology. In conjunction with Baltimore City Public Schools, Allen’s campaign has planted over a half-million trees on the lawns of Baltimore City public schools. She can be reached at