Don’t Fall Down: Prep Your Garden for Winter Now

by Jason Young, Monticello Manager and Curator of Historic Gardens

I love the fall season – open windows, the crisp chill in the morning air, canning produce and watching the flowers bloom until the frost finally wins. And as a horticulturist, I can’t stress enough how important it is to use the next few weeks to prep your garden for winter to guarantee a healthy transition next spring.

A November shot of Monticello’s Vegetable Garden showing some beds prepped for winter and cover crops emerging.

Fall signals the end of the gardening season: it’s time to clean-up before winter settles in. But I also recommend sowing the seeds for next year’s garden now – it’s the perfect time to plant!

At Monticello, we’re blessed with a great assortment of flowering annuals that do all the work for us. Because our varietals are open-pollinated and heirloom they’re laying down the seeds for next year right now, as the days begin to shorten. If you have an area in your garden where you would like low-maintenance spring or summer flowers, consider planting self-sowing annuals. For spring, consider Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea cyanus), Larkspur (Consolida ajacis), Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena), Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), and French Mallow (Malva sylvestris). Summer flowers include Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea), Floss Flower (Ageratum houstonianum), and Cockscomb (Celosia argentea var. cristata).

French Mallow

Interested in trying out Jefferson’s heirloom flowers? Find them and much more by visiting The Shop at Monticello, or online at

Get a few seed packs and spread the seeds on well-prepared garden soil where you want them next year. During the winter they will wait till conditions are just right and then take it from there! You don’t need to worry about sowing in a southern window, hardening off or planting into cold ground. These flowers will return year-after-year and will provide plenty of seeds to share with your gardening friends.


Monticello’s Debbie Donley digging in compost for fall.

Remember that fall is about preparing your beds for next year. And nothing is more important than compost. Feed garden beds – flower or vegetable – with organic compost.

  • Add 2-3 inches of quality compost over the surface of the beds and till with a broad fork or motorized tiller. I save this work till late fall when I’m feeling chilly and need to be warmed from the inside out because it’s a good workout.
  • Always use compost that is “well cooked.” Fresh plant material will bind up nitrogen in your soil as it breaks down, leaving next year’s plants underfed or nutrient deficient.


Believe it or not, this is a topic that divides many gardeners. Some clean everything out and leave nothing but mulch behind, while others leave everything for winter interest and insect homes, because dead debris left in the garden beds provides protection for many beneficial insects that we’ll need next summer. I take the middle road, leaving some beds totally bare while keeping ornamental grasses and other winter interest. For beds located far in the backyard or out of the main view, I leave it all. It’s great to see lady bug larvae next year roaming on plants like tiny alligators and eating aphids.

October Planting

Seasoned gardeners know that fall is prime planting season for most trees, shrubs and perennials. And lots of bulbs are going in the ground as we write.

While Monticello’s official fall shipping season has passed, we will continue to sell our bulbs online through Sunday, October 20th.  Purchase your favorites quickly before they’re gone for the year!

And finally, fall is also a great time to plant cool season vegetables. While many don’t have enough time to grow before frost sets in, some veggies actually prefer these cooler months, including broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, carrots, kale and quite a few others. It’s important to note the planting and growing instructions on the back of the seed packages you select, as some will require sprouting indoors during the warmer months then planting when the weather cools. Need fall seeds? We’ve got a great selection!

Even during the cool season, a gardener’s work is continuous. Remember – as you dig with cold hands and stiffening knees – that you will celebrate the fruits (and vegetables) of your labors come spring, when all is again in full bloom and the world awakens once more.

Happy gardening!