How To Put Your Garden In A Box To Bed For Winter

Ask Miss Jean!


Jean Lovell, long-time Resource Central volunteer and former master gardener, tackles your gardening questions!

Submit your question(s) for Miss Jean to:

Q: How should I prepare my Garden In A Box for Winter?

A: In general, putting the garden to bed involves cleaning up messes, cutting back and dividing plants, fall planting, protecting plants, mulching, and preparing for spring. Very little is absolute. 

General Fall To Do List:

Clean up messes. Remove all weeds and dead or dying annuals.
Remove all diseased plants and dispose in the trash (not the compost bin!)
Rake up leaves and use as mulch in garden beds if desired*

Cut back or deadhead. In the fall, much cutting back is cleaning up dead stems and foliage or clipping spent blossoms to prevent re-seeding. But with some perennials, you may want to leave the last blooms of autumn to go to seed, providing winter interest when topped with snow and then enjoying visits from the hungry birds they bring in.

Divide. Dividing keeps fast growing perennials under control and can help reinvigorate those plants that need the boost. Learn more about dividing perennials here.

Plant any bulbs or perennials you may want to bloom in spring.

Water all trees and shrubs deeply at least once before the first snowfall.

Mulch moist soil on a warm day after the first hard freeze. Be careful not to smother smaller plants and leave 2-3″ mulch free around shrubs and trees. When the ground alternatively freezes and thaws in winter, applying a fresh layer of mulch after first freeze keeps the soil temperatures more constant. This reduces the likelihood of plants being heaved out of the ground exposing the roots to the harsh winter air. You can use dried leaves*, straw, or pine boughs which can be removed in early spring when new growth begins to emerge.

*A note on using dried leaves. The leaves of some trees could be harmful to your soil and plants because of the chemical components in the laves, including oak, black walnut, and beech. We recommend learning what types of trees you have in your yard, and looking into the usefulness of their leaves as mulches before using them!

Plants That May Benefit From Fall Maintenance:


Cut back or Deadhead:

• Prostrate Speedwell – after the first killing frost, cut stems down to an inch or two.

• Balloon Flower – remove dead stems after leaves drop. Cut whole plant back to 6” after first frost

• Columbine (all species) – cut stems down to basal foliage but allow some to go to seed!

• Clustered Bellflower – cut stems down to basal foliage

• Palace Purple Coral Bells – cut back to just above ground level in late fall.

• Windflower – once the foliage has died back in fall cut stems down to just above ground level

• Plumbago – cut back to just above ground level in late fall.

• Dwarf Blue Larkspur – once the foliage has died back in fall cut stems down to just above ground level

• Miniature Hollyhock – snip spent flower heads leaving basal foliage.

• Yarrow (all species) – snip spent flower heads leaving basal foliage. Yarrow will spread heartily if allowed to re-seed.


• Blue Native Harebell – spring or fall division okay

• Palace Purple Coral Bells – divide every 3-4 years in fall


• Plumbago – re-mulch in late fall

Leave autumn blooms standing for winter interest, bird food, or self-seeding:

• Coneflowers

• Penstemons

• Autumn Joy Stone Crop

• Black-Eyed Susan

• Double Bubblemint Hyssop

• Grasses (most species)

Many of the plants in this year’s Fall collection of Garden In A Box need no winter preparation:

Blanket Flower, Fringed Sage, Knautia, Oat Grass, European Pasque Flower, Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Evergreen Candytuft, Santa Fe Aster, Blue Grama Grass, Butterfly Weed, Prairie Winecups, Rose Queen Salvia, Silver Brocade Sage, Alpine Aster, Blue Cranesbill, Edelweiss, Corsican Violet, Summer Breeze Whirling Butterflies, Sticky Cranesbill, White Daylily, Crystal River Speedwell, Jacob’s Ladder, Serbian Bellflower, Bronze Carpet Bugle, Prairie Smoke Avens, White Dwarf Sun Daisy, Redleaf Bergenia, Lavenders, and Zing Rose Maiden Pinks.

This could be a good list to keep for future reference for garden planning if you are like me and want to keep maintenance at a minimum!