While the heat is still pumping outside, it won’t be long before the fall chill sets in here in South Portland. Just as we make winter preparations for ourselves, our homes, and our vehicles, so too should preparations be made to our outdoor spaces for optimal overwintering.

Enjoy that last fresh veggie harvest or the final bright blooms from your favorite autumn flowers, because it’s time to put those gardens to bed.

Practice makes perfect, right?

Preparing garden beds to overwinter might seem like a chore, but through fall preparations, the health of your garden soil will improve, and help you to maximize your output in the coming year! While every garden space is different, here are some general tips you can employ this fall.

1. Prune perennial (long-lived) plants; Remove all ‘spent’ annual plantings and weeds.

Perennial vegetables like herbs, asparagus and rhubarb, as well as flowers like tulips and irises should be pruned each fall. By removing this past year’s foliage through pruning, you are helping your plants to conserve energy throughout the winter, removing the opportunity for disease or other pest issues to spread, and reducing a food source and hiding space for rodents and insects.


Annual vegetable plantings – those we plant each season – like tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as any weeds should be removed from your garden each fall. This removal reduces pest issues and keeps any unwanted plants from germinating in the spring.

2. Garden soil management; soil test if necessary, then soil amendments.

Healthy soil is the foundation for growing anything, and autumn is the perfect time to address soil issues you may have noticed with your plants this past season. If you haven’t had a soil test done in the past two years, now is a good time to learn more about your dirt.

The University of Maine manages a soil test lab which provides results and recommendations pertaining to our Maine soils, but you can also purchase a soil test at most garden centers and hardware stores. If you find that amendments are necessary, like adding compost, organic matter, fertilizer, or other nutrients, late fall is a perfect time to make these additions.

3. Plant fall bulbs, sets, native plant seeds.

Fall is actually the best time to plant some garden staples and native plants. Many of our native plants have evolved to require a dormancy or overwintering period in order to germinate in the spring. By sowing your seeds (and protecting them – detailed in our next tip) your native plants can get off to a great start in the springtime.


The same can be said for some of our favorite garden goods like garlic and onions. They should be planted in the fall roughly six weeks before our first frost. The autumnal equinox, or Saturday, Sept. 23 of this year is a great date to plan to have your alliums (garlic, onions, and the like) in the ground for winter.

4. Mulch your garden area

Mulching your garden area provides a number of benefits, from insulation in the winter months to weed suppression, to helping with moisture management. Mulch also provides a barrier against pests that like to eat our bulbs and seeds. If you have especially disruptive pests, you can lay down chicken wire or other tight mesh to keep your bulbs and seeds from being disturbed.

Here in South Portland, our landscapes require roughly two inches of mulching over the top to protect from our bitterly cold winters. While store-bought organic mulch is a great option, it can be expensive to purchase and difficult to move. Easy to use at-home alternatives to mulch include fall leaf litter (we’re sure to have plenty very soon) and grass clippings.

Our Sustainable City is a recurring column in the Sentry intended to provide residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland. Follow the Sustainability Office on Instagram @soposustainability.

Steve Genovese is an AmeriCorps/Greater Portland Council of Governments Resilience Corps fellow serving in the South Portland Sustainability Office through September 2023. He can be reached at sgenovese@southportland.org.

Comments are not available on this story.