How to Prepare for a Frost

How to Prepare for a Frost

Crisp autumn air, hues of reds and oranges blanketing the nursery, hydrangeas drying in the florist. The sights, the sounds, and the smell of fall in Upstate New York abound.

Fall is a time for gardeners to prepare. It's a time to clean up perennial beds, to shear certain shrubs, and to add a protective layer of mulch. As we prepare for our first frost below are some tips to help you to put your garden to bed so that it awakens in the spring more vibrant than ever.

  • Bring in any annuals you want to overwinter inside and compost the ones you don’t want to keep.
  • Now is a great time to plant trees, shrubs, & perennials. Mulch well, and the plants will develop strong roots over the winter. Bonus: no need to water during the winter months!
    • Plants that are hardy in zones 2-3 can be planted even after the frost, they tolerate cold and will develop roots even during freezing temps.
    • Plant any marginally hardy plants now—anything that is zone 4-5 should go in the ground with a good 3-4” layer of mulch (leaves work well!) around the base and beyond the drip line.
  • Mulch gardens with 3-4" of mulch. Shredded leaves work great as mulch; they will shelter the plants in the cold months and decompose into valuable organic matter come spring.
  • Fertilize any spring blooming bulbs that return each year, like daffodils, with Bulb-Tone. This will help ensure lots of blooms in the spring.
  • Dig up tubers and bulbs after first frost-like dahlias and caladiums. This allows the bulbs to shut down fully.
  • Prune back any spent perennials, leaving at least 8" of stems.
    • Leave anything with seedheads--like sunflowersand echinacea, as they provide a valuable food source for the birds as we head into winter.
  • Prune most deciduous trees and hydrangeas until after first frost. Once the leaves drop you’ll be able to see where to make your cuts.

What not to prune in the fall:



Deciduous Holly

Fruits (other than raspberries and blackberries)


Anything that is only marginally hardy to this area--the extra old growth that you leave will act as a blanket in the cold winter months.

  • Fertilize trees, shrubs, & perennials with slow-release fertilizer after first frost. The fertilizer will seep into the ground over the winter and be absorbed by the plants in the spring.