Winter gardening checklist – 10 ways to protect your yard in the colder months

Follow our winter gardening checklist to get your backyard in shape and ready for spring

Garden shed and trees in the snow
(Image credit: Getty Images/Sandra Clegg)

Making a winter gardening checklist is one of the most important late fall jobs for the garden.

We may think there is little to do outside as the weather closes in, but preparing the garden for winter weather is vital for so many reasons.

Not only does it help protect your yard against whatever the winter throws at it, it also means you will be all set for a smooth start when spring finally arrives.

Our 10-step winter garden checklist

Our top 10 tips for a winter garden checklist will help you keep your plants and equipment safe and sound until the warmer weather arrives. 

1. Maintain your hard surfaces

An icy path gritted for safe walking

Use grit or salt to keep paths and patios ice-free and safe to walk on

(Image credit: Alamy/Ashley Cooper Pics)

Patios, paths and decking can become treacherously slippery in winter. The combination of wet, disintegrating leaves, a build-up of moss and algae plus a covering of frost, ice or snow will create a bone-breaking hazard. 

Combat the problem by maintaining them regularly, avoiding the most common patio cleaning mistakes.

Sweep away accumulated leaves and debris, and then brush or power wash the patio, drive and decking with a cleaner such as this one by Simple Green, which is highly rated on Amazon, and is pet, wildlife and waterway safe.

Scatter salt and grit onto frosted surfaces and consider adding non-slip strips to outdoor steps and decking, such as this easy-to-apply Grip Tape available on Amazon, to reduce the risk of slips and falls.

2. Protect outdoor water sources

Protect outside faucets with an insulated cover

Protect outside faucets with an insulated cover

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Ched Robertson Media)

Burst pipes are a winter hazard, so always make sure outside faucets are drained and insulated with a frost-proof cover, such as this double-pack of insulated faucet socks from Amazon.

Drain hoses and winterize sprinkler systems, then store them in a frost-free garage or shed. 

Remember to clear the drains of outside sinks, so that any remaining water doesn’t freeze and crack the piping.

Water features should also be properly insulated or drained to prevent cracking during very cold weather.

3. Winterize the greenhouse

Greenhouse in the snow with fairy lights

Insulate your greenhouse by attaching bubblewrap to the frame

(Image credit: Getty Images/RossHelen)

Don’t forget to winterize the greenhouse. Make sure plants stay healthy and pest free, keep harvesting winter salads and watering and feeding overwintering citrus plants when needed. 

If you can heat your greenhouse, do so, either with an electric warmer with a thermostat, like this popular one by Buyplus available on Amazon, or a simple paraffin such as this one by Kingfisher, also from Amazon

If your greenhouse is unheated, wrap plants in a frost protection blanket, such as this one from Amazon or bubble wrap during severe cold snaps, making sure you remove the covering when the temperature rises as trapped condensation can cause mold and rotting of plant material.

You can insulate your greenhouse by attaching bubble wrap to the frame using greenhouse clips. It is easy to put up and remove. And don’t forget to open doors and windows on mild days, to increase ventilation around your plants, closing them at dusk.

4. Clean and store your tools

sharpening a pair of pruning shears

Clean and sharpen tools before storing them for winter

(Image credit: Future)

If you live in an area where hard winters and sub-zero temperatures are the norm you are unlikely to do much gardening before spring, so make sure your tools are cleaned, sharpened and oiled and then stored safely away.

This is good practice for all gardeners, wherever you live, so take advantage of quieter fall and winter days to give your tools some TLC. 

Good quality tools are expensive, but a sound investment. It is much better to buy once with a greater financial outlay - especially your most essential tools such as spades, pruners and forks - than keep needing to replace poor quality items. 

5. Protect container plants

Use bubblewrap and straw to insulate containers in winter

Use bubblewrap and straw to insulate containers in winter

(Image credit: Future/Ruth Hayes)

If you created a colorful winter container this year, be aware that the plants are at greater risk of being killed by frosts than those in the ground.

This is because while their top growth may be hardy enough to withstand the cold, the roots are vulnerable to freezing in their relatively small containers of compost.

There are several important things you can do to keep your winter planters healthy and long-lasting.

If possible, move containers against a sheltering wall or cluster them together as this creates a microclimate that raises the air temperature slightly, but enough to offer some protection.

Add a layer of straw to the top of the compost and wrap the pots in fleece and bubble wrap. In regions that experience a lot of rain, consider lying pots on their side to avoid waterlogging the compost.

6. Look after your border plants


An organic mulch of bark chippings or well-rotted leaf mould, manure or compost will help plants to survive winter

(Image credit: Larisa Stefanuyk / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)

On the whole, hardy plants in the ground should be able to withstand winter weather better than their potted counterparts.

Many herbaceous perennials die back completely in the fall, and you can ensure their safe return next spring by mulching their root area with well-rotted manure, homemade compost or bark chips to feed and insulate the soil and the plants' subterranean growth.

Tender varieties should be potted up and stored in a frost-free greenhouse or shed, or even a cool room indoors. 

We don’t recommend overwintering them in a warm conservatory as plants need a period of dormancy each winter and if they don’t get this they will soon become exhausted and fail to perform well.

It is worth taking some cuttings of favourite plants now, in case their parents succumb to the cold in winter. Kept in a cool, light room or warm greenhouse they should quickly root and be ready to pot on in spring and add to the yard come summer.

7 Look after trees and shrubs

Young trees and shrubs protected with frost blankets

Protect young and less hardy trees and shrubs with insulating frost blankets

(Image credit: Getty Images/Michelle Ursi)

Most trees and shrubs should be able to withstand the winter, the exceptions being new, young plantings and varieties that are not completely frost-hardy.

Smaller tender trees can be encased in fleece bags, such as these reusable drawstring blankets on Amazon. Remove them in spring when warmer weather arrives.

Tender varieties can be given extra protection by creating a wire cage around their stem or trunk, which is then packed with straw, before being wrapped in fleece or bubble wrap.

Give the root areas of plants a generous mulch with bark chips, or well rotted organic matter (compost or manure).

Although many deciduous trees and shrubs are cut back in fall and winter when they are dormant, never make the pruning mistake of trimming in freezing weather as the raw wounds can be scorched, causing dieback. In severe cases you may even lose the whole branch or plant.

8. Winterize your pond

Garden pond with koi carp

Make sure you keep your pond healthy through the colder months

(Image credit: Getty Images/BasieB)

Soothing, tranquil water gardens are increasingly popular, and if you have a pond in your yard, some last-minute maintenance now will keep it ticking over nicely until spring.

Cut back and remove any dead or dying vegetation so it doesn’t fall into the water and decompose, releasing toxic gases and making the water murky.

If you have fish, stop feeding them as they grow lethargic in colder weather and don’t need as much energy. If you do need to feed them, use a winter food, such as these floating pellets by Microbe-Lift, which are available on Amazon.

Remember to remove any uneaten food so it doesn't rot and contaminate the pond water.

Keep the water pump running as it will continue to move the water, helping prevent freezing solid. If your pond does completely freeze over, don’t attack the ice with a hammer or rock as this will stress anything living and hibernating below.

Instead, hold a saucepan of hot water on the ice until it melts. Another option is to float a soccer ball in the water to prevent a total freeze.

9. Winter-proof your lawn

Footprints on a frosted lawn

Avoid walking on a frosty lawn as you can damage or kill the grass and make room for weeds

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Windawake)

For many gardeners, grass takes up the largest area of the yard, so winterizing a lawn properly is an important task.

In warmer hardiness zones there is still time to feed your lawn with a winter fertilizer, and you can still mow with the blades set at their highest level.

In colder areas already experiencing frosts and snow, stay off the grass as much as possible.

Walking on a frosted lawn can damage or kill the grass, leaving muddy areas that will quickly be colonised by weeds and moss.

Avoid walking on worm casts - the small coils of soil that appear on the lawn surface. Wait until they have dried, then brush them away with a broom or an upturned rake.

If your lawn is prone to waterlogging, wait until conditions are drier and not frosty, then use a garden fork to aerate the compacted soil underneath. This helps to improve ventilation and drainage, keeping grass healthy and ensuring there is less work to do when the lawn starts to grow in spring.

10. Deer-proof your garden

Deer can be more of a problem in the winter months

Deer can be more of a problem in the winter months

(Image credit: Getty Images/Lana 2011)

As winter closes in and food becomes scarce in the wild, deer are more likely to visit gardens in search of an easy snack.

There are several ways of keeping deer away, including hanging wind chimes around your yard (the sound scares them) and using motion-activated sprinklers in if you live in an area that doesn't tend to freeze hard.

You can also use motion-activated lights, though these might be annoying when triggered at night, and deer deterrent liquids, such as eco-friendly Deer Out, which is available on Amazon and also deters moose and elk, are another option.

Deer-proof netting, such as this durable one by Dalen at Amazon is effective, and you could also consider adding deer-resistant plants, such as Russian sage, bee balm, bleeding heart, box and potentilla.


Should I winterize a lawn mower

Yes, it's a really good idea to winterize your lawn mower after you've given your grass it's final mow of the year. This will ensure it is clean and left in good condition to start using once the temperatures rise and the grass begins to grow again. 

Although we recommend cutting back most perennials in the fall, leave those with more structural seed heads standing. They provide food for garden birds but also look beautiful when touched by frosts.

Ruth Hayes
Contributing Editor

Ruth is a regular contributor to Homes and gardens. She is horticulturally trained and has qualifications from the Royal Horticultural Society. Ruth spends her working days writing about and photographing the gardening jobs that our readers should be carrying out each week and month, and tests many new products that arrive on the gardening market.