This post will teach you three easy ways to winterize your raised garden beds. Whether you have a 4-season garden or not, some beds need to rest for the winter. Winterizing raised garden beds allows the soil to revitalize so the beds will be less hospitable to pests and disease next growing season.
3 Easy Ways to Winterize Raised Garden Beds
Why Winterize Raised Garden Beds?
The primary reason to winterize raised garden beds is to reduce or eliminate the threat of disease and pests the following growing season. Yes, a clean bed is a satisfying site. It holds all the potential of spring. That vision is the immediate reward. Bugs, fungal spores, and other threats to your plants lurk in the mess of a fall garden bed. Eliminating those threats for a better growing season is the real motivation for winterizing.
The image below shows the lifecycle of the Japanese Beetle. Cleaning the garden bed and amending the soil can help eliminate hidden threats like grubs. Read on to learn 3 ways to winterize your raised garden beds to ensure a successful garden the following spring and summer.
Make sure you are ready for winter by reviewing the September, October, and November garden task lists. As always, feel free to contact me with questions. You can also simply leave a comment below and we can all learn together from your questions!
Perennial and Overwintering Crops FREE eBook in the Resource Library!
Perennial and overwintering crops are a great way to extend the season in your kitchen garden. These are crops that either return, year after year, to provide successive harvest, or are planted in the fall for a late-spring harvest. Learn more about perennial and overwintering crops as you winterize your raised garden beds by downloading the eBook from the Seasonal Living Resource Library.
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The first way to winterize raised garden beds: weed and clean.
Weed and clean. It seems that every garden task list I create for this blog has this one item listed again and again. It is essential to keep the garden weed-free and clean. Pull all weeds and trim the grass around your raised beds. Rake up all dead plant matter. Use a hand trowel to break up the top layer of soil. If the soil is deeply impacted, use a broad fork to get deep into the bed and break up the soil.
Clean beds whether they will be dormant during the winter months or growing a winter crop. Weeds around a winter crop can soak up all the moisture during a time of limited rainfall, especially if the bed is inside a hoop house or greenhouse. Here is our market garden prepared for winter. Some beds are resting, others will produce leafy greens and root vegetables.
Here are items that can help you winterize your raised garden beds. These are Amazon affiliate links to items I personally use and recommend.
The second way to winterize raised garden beds: amend and mulch.
Adding high-quality organic compost and mulching the garden bed is our next step in winterizing the garden. Adding these elements to the garden beds allows the freezing and thawing of the winter months to break down the nutrients in the soil, making them more readily available to your seedlings come spring.
You can make your own compost using kitchen scraps and garden waste and add it to your raised beds come winter. I do this, but I never have enough compost for all my raised beds. I use a certified organic compost called Leafgro to supplement my compost needs. It is important to use certified organic materials so that you know what is in your soil. Using poorly sourced supplements like a non-certified horse of cow manures run the risk of having weed seed or agrochemicals in them. Gardening is hard work on its own without unwittingly adding troubles by using less than perfect products.
In the spring, I make my own potting mix, also using Leafgro. In trials, my seedlings grow twice as fast as with any leading market organic mix. This also adds much needed organic matter to the beds. My fall seedlings for winter crops are grown in it as well. Here’s the recipe.
Mulching works to suppress weeds and retain moisture. When you choose organic mulches, they add organic matter to the garden as they decompose. For many, when we think of mulching we think of wood chip, but there are many other types of organic mulches appropriate for the kitchen garden.
Here is a list of my favorites with benefits and drawbacks:
- Hay: great for suppressing weeds and holding in moisture. It can add weed seed to the garden and may be contaminated with pesticides. Hay can build up excess potassium in the garden if used too frequently.
- Straw: also great for suppressing weeds and holding in moisture. Has high carbon and adds a good bit of organic matter back into the garden. Straw is light in color and can help lower soil temperatures in the summer months. In my experience straw has become so full of seed that I can no longer use it as a much. It is a perfect mulch, though, so I keep looking for a cleaner source in my county.
- Tree leaves: fallen leaves from my maple trees is my favorite fall mulch. I mow them over and then stack them high, up to a foot, on my raised beds. Be careful using oak leaves as they can make the soil acidic. Tree leaves are the perfect mulch for the garlic bed if you are planting overwintering crops.
- Chipped wood and bark: This heavy mulch is great for weed suppression. If a bed is particularly weedy, first place a layer of cardboard over the bed, then cover with wood chip mulch. Very effective at eradicating weeds like wiregrass from raised beds. You can use the wood chip to create a mushroom garden, too!
- Sawdust: we used sawdust from our friend’s woodturning business as a mulch between raised beds. It has proven to be the best weed suppressant we’ve ever used. I would not use it on the beds themselves as it can deplete nitrogen as it decomposes. It also mats when it gets wet, making it kind of waterproof.
Living Mulch or Cover Crops
Cover crops are seed mixes planted in the fall that restore basic nutrients and organic matter to the raised garden bed over the winter months. My favorite cover crop is crimson clover. There is a long list of cover crops that serve specific purposes like adding nitrogen or breaking up compacted soil. This is a vast and complicated topic, so I recommend reading this from Johnny’s Seed to learn more.
Simply plant your cover crop in the fall. In late spring you mow and till the plants back into the soil.
The third way to winterize raised garden beds: solarize.
Solarizing garden beds is a method of trapping radiant heat in the soil allowing it to be inhospitable to weed seeds and pests. Using a UV plastic film, you cover a damp and clean garden bed for the winter months. On those bright days, temperatures under the plastic can get above 99 degrees and passively help eradicate entrenched garden problems. Solarization only works if the soil is moist, so on a warm winter day, I will pull back the plastic, add compost and mix with a hoe, hand water and recover the raised bed.
I absolutely love this method not only for winterizing raised garden beds but for establishing new ones. Read this post from Gardening Know How to learn more.
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