As the weather gets cooler in Chicago, outdoor work shifts to raking leaves, harvesting vegetables, and eventually shoveling snow. It’s also the time to give your garden some TLC by putting it to bed.

Putting a garden to bed refers to the work you do in the fall to make sure your garden is healthy and ready for growth in the spring. Chicago Cares community partner Openlands shares the following valuable information about how to put your garden to bed.

Steps to take for annual flowers and vegetable beds (Annual flowers and most vegetable plants do not return year after year. They are planted each spring):

Draw a map

  • Think about what worked well and what did not work well. Then you know what to plant and where to plant it next year.
  • Move plants around each year so that nutrients stay balanced throughout your garden.

Clean up

  • Since annuals will not live over the winter it is best to pull them out of the ground completely, roots and all.
  • By removing the annual plants you are also removing any bugs and diseased plants as well.


  • Use everything you removed from the garden to build up your compost collection. Add in raked up leaves and kitchen vegetable scraps too.
  • When the spring comes you’ll have compost ready to use.
  • Contact Openlands at 312-427-6250 to get your own compost bin.


  • Use your existing compost or purchase fertilizer and spread it over your garden.
  • In the spring you can mix the fertilizer and compost in with the soil to provide nutrients for your new plants.


Steps to take for perennials (Perennials are plants that return year after year) :

Clean up

  • Remove dead and excess material from the plants.


  • Add compost to the area around the plants


  • You can dig up mature plants and divide them into multiple smaller plants.
  • Then spread them around your garden and replant them or give them to a friend.


  • Plant new perennials and spring flowering bulbs

If you don’t have a garden of your own join Chicago Cares at one of our last few outdoor environmental projects of the season. You’ll help put gardens to bed and make sure the areas are safe and secure for the long winter. Check out Urban Gardens with Openlands this Saturday, or on October 22.

You can also visit Gary Comer Youth Center’s rooftop garden and urban farm, Gingko Organic Gardens, Drake Gardens, Fulton Flower and Vegetable Gardens, Growing Station Garden, Newberry Elementary School’s garden, and Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse. Take advantage of the warm weather, visit our volunteer calendar and search for “Environment” projects now!

Today’s post is by Wendy Neuert, Director of Human Services and Community Service Partnerships