Skip to main content


Your garden’s future success depends upon the care it gets now. Gardening is always about “next year” and the late fall/early winter is the best time to accomplish many of the most important gardening tasks. Before another long winter settles in, it’s helpful to look over this year’s garden, success to continue, and disappointments to avoid repeating. The Fall gardening practice can be divided into two general categories:

  • Preparation for Spring by planting and transplanting trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs; as well as fertilizing, mulching, preparing soil, and creating new beds
  • Preparation for Winter by harvesting, cleaning up, cutting-back, staking, tying, putting away tools, and generally “winterizing.”

Fall and early winter is the time of year when plants naturally prepare for the harsh weather to come. Similar to animals, it takes time to put away tools and store food for the long cold winter months. The important triggers are day length, temperature, and soil moisture. While day-length and temperatures are out of our control, assistance can be given to prepare plants for winter by reducing their stress.

As deciduous trees and shrubs close up shop topside for the winter, nutrients will get stored in the twigs, branches, trunks, and roots. As roots flood with nutrients they begin their major season expansion through the soil in earnest.

Fall and early winter is the best time of year for planting. Many deciduous trees and shrubs will do as much as 80% of their annual root growth during the fall. In sunny locations, soils are usually still accumulating warmth until the end of November. This is when the autumnal thermal overturn occurs and soil warmth plays an immensely important role in promoting root growth.

Here are some general care tips to aid in Spring Preparation:

  1. Cut back on watering, which allows the plants an easier transition once snow covers the ground. Maintaining moist soil will ensure healthy root growth.
  2. Prepare soil that has never been worked. Dig up old roots & stems and rake smooth to prepare for seeding. Always use lots of mulch and/or mature compost to allow healthy decay during the winter.
  3. Avoid quick releasing chemical and high nitrogen fertilizers. Organic fertilizers and applications will slowly break down with the biological activity in the soil. Millions of beneficial living organisms and food help roots systems multiply and protect plants from potential pathogens.
  4. Plant and transplant trees and shrubs while the soil is workable.
  5. Plant bulbs and perennials now so they bloom with the seasons and expand throughout the summer. “We are always planting for next year and the many years to come.”
  6. Spread wildflower seed before the first snow, after the first 6 inches of snow, and throughout the winter.

Although planting is important during this period, putting the garden to bed is very important. Here are a few fool-proof winter preparation tips to keep in mind:

  1. Begin harvesting, cleaning-up, and cutting back limbs. Pruning deadwood and low-hanging weak branches that may break in the snow will jump start spring growth.
  2. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Winter mulch (vs. Fall mulch) is essential for even the hardiest plants by offering roots and other soil inhabitants protection from the sun, wind, and desiccation as well as rapid temperature swings prone to Tahoe. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to allow plants to go dormant and apply winter mulch.
  3. Spray foliage with anti-transpirant spray to reduce water loss and prevent leaf scorching.
  4. Protect tree trunks from south and southwestern sun exposure that can lead to sunscald and frost cracks. Young and deciduous trees with undeveloped barks are most susceptible. Wraps made out of corrugated plastic, cloth, or paper work well.
  5. Stake trees require extra support during heavy snowloads by positioning a sturdy stake outside the root ball to the southwest (also helps protect against sun scald).
  6. Tie trees that are brittle and more vulnerable by using heavy duty brown, clear, or green tree tape. Start at the lowest branch and wrap the tree tightening itself while pulling the branches in close.


Gardening in general is not some profound endeavor. There are a myriad of variables impacting each garden – trial and error is just part of the process. Ultimately, the consequences are low and the pay-off is endless enjoyment, beautiful colors, and increased property value. Follow some of these tips and before you know it you’ll have a beautiful and rich garden displaying an array of colors.

Eric Larusson is a North Tahoe fixture, having lived in the area since the late 1970s. Eric is the owner/operator of the Villager Nursery in Truckee, an unbelievable botanist, arborist, instructor, and delightful human being. Most years Eric teaches various gardening classes at the Sierra College – Truckee Campus. Eric can be reached in person at The Villager Botanical Nursery at 10678 Donner Pass Road. His site has an extensive Reference Section and Eric is happy to discuss all things garden at or 530.587.0771.