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How to prepare your cottage garden for fall

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Autumn is still an important season for the garden, so take advantage of the cooler temperatures to complete your gardening chores, as now is the time to plant and tidy things up. Here’s what you can do (and not do) in the fall to ensure you have a beautiful cottage garden come spring.

Divide and plant

Fall is the best time to divide your spring- and summer-blooming plants (see here for more details) and to transplant shrubs or young trees to new locations. It’s also the ideal time to plant new perennials along with new shrubs and evergreen trees. Just make sure you do all of this at least six weeks before the first hard frost hits so that there’s time for the roots to grow and develop.

Hydrate soil

If there isn’t enough rain, make sure you continue watering perennials, shrubs, and trees—especially evergreens—before the ground freezes, particularly newly planted or divided ones. They shouldn’t head into winter without enough water around their roots.

Weed, rake, and compost

To reduce weeds next year, pull out and discard weeds now before they go to seed. Rake and compost fallen leaves and garden debris to save them as mulch (see next step). After the first frost, clear out dead stems and foliage of annuals and be sure to get rid of diseased parts of plants—don’t compost these!


Shred the leaves in your compost pile and use them as a thick mulch on bare soil, rose bushes, divided and new plantings as well as non-hardy perennials after the ground freezes to keep soil temperatures even and encourage root growth. Cover bulb beds with evergreen boughs.

Resist fertilizing and pruning

Stop fertilizing two months before you expect the first frost, even if your perennials are newly planted or divided, as you want to encourage root formation and not herbaceous growth. Only fertilize young trees and shrubs. Refrain from major pruning; the best times to prune are the dead of winter or early spring.

Build shelters

Protect rose bushes and young trees or shrubs by making coverings and enclosing them with burlap screens, chicken wire, mesh or commercial tree-guard products and packing them with mulch.

Maintain tools

Take some time to clean, oil, and sharpen your tools. Store them in a dry place so they’ll be ready for use again in late winter or early spring.