Skip to main content

Is your garden safe from pests during the winter? We found out for you

cabbage in garden with frost
Iuliia Karnaushenko/Shutterstock

Winter is a slow time in the garden. Most gardeners, plants, and pests slow down or go dormant through the cold. It is the time of rest and rejuvenation. But some pests continue to do their dirty work while no one is watching. Don’t let bugs and other destructive wildlife damage what you’ve worked hard to cultivate through the year. Read on to learn about these winter pests and take action this fall to prevent problems.

Winter garden pests

Some critters are content to go to sleep for a few months. But these garden pests stay active through the cold.

Leaf eaters

Leaf-damaging pests like aphids, slugs, and caterpillars take advantage of every warm spell to eat garden greens of all kinds. Soil-dwelling slugs come up to feed and return to shelter in the mulch layer or beneath rocks and garden debris. Winter-feeding aphids simply hang out on the undersides of leaves, hoping to avoid notice. Populations can swell tremendously during mild weather. Not only do these leaf eaters damage the foliage by chewing holes in cool weather veggies and other plants, but they also transmit plant diseases.

Voles and moles

These two small, tunneling, mouse-like mammals are common pests in the winter landscape. Voles are herbivores that strip bark from roots and trunks of plants, sometimes causing severe damage or death to the plant. Moles feast on grubs, worms, and insects, but cause extensive collateral damage by dislodging vegetation. Both animals create extensive, unsightly tunnel networks over large areas of the yard and garden. Neither moles nor voles hibernate in winter.

Other wildlife

When natural foods are otherwise scarce, all kinds of wildlife are attracted to residential landscapes. Rodents, rabbits, and deer browse tender woody stems and bark, exposing trees and shrubs to possible disease or insect infestations. If you grow winter vegetables or cool season annuals, these plants offer excellent wildlife food and cover as well.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Winter garden pest prevention

Putting the garden to bed properly at the end of the summer or fall gardening season plays a key role in preventing winter pests.


One of the best ways to prevent insect and disease infestations in the future is by disrupting their life cycles. Focus fall garden cleanup tasks on eliminating overwintering sites for garden pests. Collect and compost the remains of old annual flowers and veggie crops, fallen fruits, and other debris. Any weeds that have sprouted should be removed and disposed of as well. If your fruit trees have “mummies” that did not fully develop or that went bad before harvest, pick those too. Rototill garden beds to expose developing grubs to predators and cold temperatures.

Composting is an excellent way to dispose of debris that could host problematic insects, plant diseases, and weeds. Start a new compost pile this fall and keep it up throughout the cool months. The heat it generates kills the bad stuff as beneficial microbes convert the debris into a healthy soil amendment.

Preventative sprays

Garden pests like scale, mealybugs, and aphids can overwinter in tiny cracks and crevices of tree bark. Treat susceptible trees and shrubs after leaf drop and before the buds open next spring with one or more applications of horticultural oil. This dormant treatment kills overwintering adults, insects, and eggs of many different insect pests, including those that feed on leaves as well as borers.


Pest barriers help prevent damage to tree trunks by browsing mammals. For deer, fencing the garden is the most effective alternative, but may be cost prohibitive. You can minimize deer browse on individual trees by wrapping the crown with chicken wire to a height of seven feet or so. To protect young trees from vole, rabbit, and rodent damage, wrap the trunks with homemade or commercially available trunk wraps about the time the leaves change color in fall. Protection should extend from ground level up to the first branch.

On the other hand, if you use pest barriers like row covers or fruit cages to protect your plants from insects during the growing season, remove them in the fall. Winter is a perfect time to allow birds and other predators access to the smorgasbord of tasty prey. Monitor these areas throughout the winter, and re-cover them in the spring.


Birds offer excellent pest-reducing services by gobbling up grubs, caterpillars, and other leaf eaters. And they’re always searching for their next meal. In winter, bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, and other resident species will gladly forage in your garden. Install nesting boxes, provide a water source, and keep a feeder in the garden to maintain steady interest. Periodically turn over sections of the garden or stir up the mulch and leaf litter to focus their attention.

How to eradicate winter garden pests

Make it a point to take a detailed look through the garden every week or so. Sometimes winter garden pests sneak in despite your best prevention efforts. Remove insect pests by hand, or use an appropriate insecticide for the target pest. Be sure to read, understand, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions based on weather conditions. Use repellents or traps to eliminate mammalian pests.

Preventing and eliminating winter garden pests starts with good garden sanitation. Removing or blocking the resources these animals need during cold weather causes them to go elsewhere and helps to keep your garden looking great. Learn more about the common winter pests in your area and how best to prevent them by connecting with your local Cooperative Extension Service.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Wolfe
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Mark Wolfe is a freelance writer who specializes in garden, landscaping, and home improvement. After two decades in the…
11 plants and flowers that keep bugs away from your vegetable garden for a pest-free harvest
From marigolds to alliums, here are gorgeous, pest-repelling flowers to plant in your garden
A basket of colorful petunias

Aside from looking beautiful, flowers and other plants can bring additional benefits to your vegetable garden. By mixing the following plants in with your tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and other veggies, you’ll have a bit of natural help in preventing pests from infecting your garden. Best of all, these plants offer natural bug prevention that, hopefully, will help limit how much insecticide you'll need to use if insects start to take over a plant. Here are our favorite plants and flowers that help keep bugs away from the vegetable garden.

1. Marigolds
Marigolds are great help for repelling aphids and mosquitoes, as well as small animals such as rabbits. Because they’re on the smaller side, these pretty, golden flowers can easily be mixed throughout your garden without much risk of them getting too big.

Read more
What pests does garlic keep away? What you need to know about this natural pest control
Find out if you should add garlic to your garden toolbox
Garlic bulbs and cloves

Keeping your plants safe from pests is a struggle that every gardener shares, and determining which pest control methods will repel the specific pests plaguing your garden can be tricky. Not every pest control method works for every pest, and not every method is suitable for all garden types.

If you're looking for organic pesticides, your options are even more limited. One method you might not be aware of is garlic. That’s right, garlic doesn’t just keep vampires at bay, but pests as well! What pests does garlic keep away, and how does it work? Here’s what you need to know about using garlic as pest control.
Does garlic work as pest control?
Yes, garlic works as a pest repellant, and it’s typically extremely effective. Garlic repels insects in much the same way it repels some people. That is to say, the smell is unpleasant and so insects avoid it. When garlic is applied to the plants you want to protect, the plant absorbs the scent of the garlic, or, more specifically, the allicin in garlic.

Read more
Can you grow a bird of paradise from a cutting? Here’s what you need to know to grow your dream plant
Tips and tricks for successfully propagating a bird of paradise plant
Bird of paradise plant

Whether they're found in their natural habitats in the wild or as the centerpiece in an indoor garden, bird of paradise are eye-catching and perfect plants for adding some color and tropical flair to your home. This plant is native to South Africa and is well-known for its lush foliage and attractive tropical blooms with vividly colored flowers. The plant gets its name from the stunning flower's resemblance to a colorful bird in flight.

For all its perks, the plant also can be costly to acquire and slow to cultivate from seed. So when you find yourself wanting more than one of these attractive plants, what can you do? Take a cutting and grow a new plant! No matter if you're just starting out with a new cutting from a friend or you're adding to your existing plant's family, you can add more of these plants to your collection easily and at little or no expense.

Read more