Preparing the Yard and Gardens for Winter

Fall is a beautiful time of year. Fall is also time to prepare the yard and gardens for winter.


Strawberries should be mulched in fall to prevent winter injury. Cold winter temperatures and repeated freezing and thawing of the soil through the winter months are the main threats to strawberry plants. Temperatures below +20 degrees Fahrenheit may kill flower buds and damage the roots and crowns of unmulched plants. Repeated freezing and thawing of the soil can heave unmulched plants out of the ground and destroy them. 
Allow the strawberry plants to harden or acclimate to cool fall temperatures before mulching the bed. In northern Iowa, strawberry plantings are normally mulched in early November. Gardeners in central and southern Iowa should mulch their strawberries in mid-November and late November, respectively.
Excellent mulching materials include clean, weed-free oat, wheat, or soybean straw. Chopped cornstalks are another possibility. The depth of the mulch should be three to five inches at application.  The material should eventually settle to two to four inches. In windy, exposed areas, straw mulches can be kept in place by placing wire or plastic fencing over the area. The fencing can be held in place with bricks or other heavy objects.
Leaves are not a good winter mulch for strawberries. Leaves can mat together in layers, trapping moisture. A leaf mulch may actually damage plants due to excess moisture trapped under the material. 

Vegetable Garden

Finish harvesting root crops, such as beets and carrots in early fall.  Afterwards, clean and till the garden.  Fall clean-up and tillage provide several benefits.  Many plant pathogens overwinter in the garden on infected plant debris.  Removal and destruction of the diseased plant debris reduces the severity of many diseases.  Removal of the plant debris also eliminates hiding places for some insects and helps reduce insect populations.  Additionally, a fall-tilled garden dries out and warms up more quickly in the spring, permitting earlier planting of cool-season crops. 


Modern, bush-type roses, like hybrid teas, floribundas and grandifloras, require protection during the winter months. The low temperatures and rapid temperature changes in winter can severely injure and sometimes kill unprotected roses. Hilling or mounding soil over the base of each plant is an excellent way to protect bush-type roses.
Begin by removing fallen leaves and other debris from around each plant. Removal of diseased plant debris helps reduce disease problems next season. Next, cover the bottom 10 to 12 inches of the rose canes with soil. Place additional material, such as straw or leaves, over the mound of soil. A small amount of soil placed over the straw or leaves should hold these materials in place. Prepare modern roses for winter after plants have been hardened by exposure to daytime temperatures in the forties and nighttime temperatures in the twenties. Normally, this is early November in northern Iowa, mid-November in central areas, and late November in southern counties.

Trees and Shrubs

Rabbits can severely damage or destroy small trees and shrubs by browsing on them during the winter months.  The most effective way to prevent rabbit damage to trees and shrubs in the home landscape is to place chicken wire fencing or hardware cloth around vulnerable plants. To adequately protect plants, the fencing material needs to be high enough that rabbits won't be able to climb or reach over the fence after a heavy snow. In most cases, a fence that stands 24 to 36 inches tall should be sufficient. To prevent rabbits from crawling underneath the fencing, pin the fencing to the soil with U-shaped anchor pins. Small trees can also be protected by placing white spiral tree guards around their trunks. After a heavy snow, check protected plants to make sure rabbits aren't able to reach or climb over the fencing or tree guards.  If necessary, remove some of the snow to keep rabbits from reaching the trees or shrubs. 

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on October 21, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.