Loved for their easy gardening, versatility, and precise planting, raised beds are an excellent medium to grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers. However, to keep your plants healthy and happy all year long, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to prepare your raised bed for each season.
Here’s how to prepare a raised bed for every season:
- Inspect the bed for damage and make repairs.
- Remove weeds and old plants.
- Get a soil test.
- Mix in compost or organic matter.
- Mulch around plants.
- Set trellises or stakes to support tall plants.
- Add fleece or row covers to protect plants.
With just a little TLC (tender loving care), you can keep your raised bed looking and performing its best all season long. Read on as we go in-depth on each of the above steps.
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1. Inspect the Bed for Damage and Make Repairs
The first step in preparing your raised bed for the new season is to inspect it for any damage. Raised garden beds are often made of wood, and the material can start to rot or crack over time. Metallic beds can rust or break down, while bricks or stones can crumble or shift.
Damaged raised beds can cause several problems for your plants, including:
- Unstable planting surfaces make it challenging to insert plants or roots.
- Weakened sides can cave in, leading to soil loss and plant death.
- Holes or cracks provide an entry point for pests and diseases.
- Uneven surfaces make it difficult to water the bed evenly.
Therefore, before you do anything else, take a close look at your raised bed and make any necessary repairs. If the damage is too extensive, you may need to start from scratch and build a new bed.
Here are a few ways to repair a damaged raised bed depending on the type of bed you have:
Wooden garden beds are the most popular variety but also the most susceptible to damage. To repair a wooden bed:
- Inspect the boards for any rot. If you see any darkening of the wood or soft, spongy spots, it’s time to replace the boards.
- Tighten screws and brackets to prevent further damage.
- Fill in any cracks or holes with wood putty or epoxy.
- Apply a sealant to help protect the wood from further damage.
If the wood is too far gone, you may need to build a new bed.
While metallic garden beds are less common, they offer several advantages, including durability and ease of assembly. However, like any bed, they can still suffer from damage over time. The most common type of damage to metallic beds is rusting. To repair a rusty bed:
- Scrape off loose paint or rust with a sandpaper or wire brush.
- Apply a rust-resistant primer.
- Paint the bed with rust-resistant paint.
- Patch up any holes or cracks with welds.
Brick or Stone Beds
Brick and stone beds offer a durable, classic look, but they’re not immune to damage. The most common type of damage is crumbling mortar, which can cause the bricks or stones to shift and eventually collapse. To repair a brick or stone bed:
- Remove any loose mortar with a wire brush.
- Mix new mortar and apply it to the bed, filling in any gaps or cracks.
- Let the mortar dry for at least 24 hours before using the bed.
2. Remove Weeds and Old Plants
Weeds, old plants, and other debris can quickly take over a raised garden bed if you’re not careful. They make the bed look unkempt and can steal valuable nutrients and water from your plants.
Weeds also harbor pests and diseases which can infect your plants. Therefore, it’s crucial to remove them regularly to ensure robust, healthy plants.
You can use the following approaches to remove weeds and other debris from your raised garden bed:
Pull Them by Hand
This is the most labor-intensive method, but it’s also the most effective. Wear gloves to protect your hands from thorns and other sharp objects.
Grab the weed at the base and pull it out of the ground, being careful not to disturb the roots of your plants. Remove everything, including the roots, to prevent the weed from growing back.
Use a Hoe or Garden Trowel
For larger weeds, you may need to use a hoe or trowel to loosen the soil before pulling them by hand.
If the roots are still intact, they will regrow, so ensure to get as much of the root system as possible. Avoid using excessive force to prevent damaging the roots of your plants.
Broad-spectrum herbicides are a fast, efficient way to kill weeds but use them as a last resort as they can destroy your plants when misused. Spot-treat weeds using a glyphosate-based herbicide, being careful not to get it on your plants (source).
You can also use a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent weed seeds from germinating in the first place.
If possible, follow the no-till (zero-tillage) approach on your raised garden bed when controlling weeds to prevent soil disturbance, erosion, and compaction. This helps preserve the quality of your bed’s soil and the beneficial microbes that live in it (source).
3. Get a Soil Test
Doing regular soil testing is the best way to ensure your plants get all the necessary nutrients. Soil tests help you determine what nutrients your soil lacks and how to amend the issue. They also help you determine the pH level of your soil, which is vital for optimal plant growth.
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You can send soil samples to a professional laboratory or test them yourself using a home soil test kit. Once you have your soil test results, you can amend your soil as needed to ensure optimal plant growth.
Common amendments include:
- Compost: This is a great way to add organic matter to your soil and improve its structure.
- Manure: Manure adds essential nutrients to your soil, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also helps improve the structure of your soil. However, it can also contain weed seeds and pathogens, so be sure to source it from a reputable source.
- Limestone: This is used to raise the pH level of your soil if it’s too acidic. It also contains calcium, which is essential for plant growth (source).
- Sulfur: If your soil is too alkaline, add sulfur to lower the pH level.
- Fertilizer: Fertilizers are a quick way to add nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to your soil. However, they can also be harmful if misused, so be sure to follow the directions.
4. Mix in Compost or Organic Matter
Adding compost or organic matter to your soil is an excellent way to improve its structure and nutrient content. Compost adds essential nutrients to your soil, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
It also helps improve the structure of your soil by increasing the amount of organic matter. This makes it easier for roots to penetrate the soil and absorb nutrients. You can make your compost or purchase it from a garden center.
Do your best to avoid using disease or pest-infested plant material when making your compost, as this can introduce problems to your garden. Yard waste containing herbicides or pesticides should also be avoided as they can kill the microbial activity in your compost.
To add compost to your soil:
- Spread 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62 cm) of compost or organic matter over the surface of your garden bed’s topsoil layer.
- Use a garden fork or tiller to mix it into the top 6-8 inches (15.24-20.32 cm) of soil.
- Water the area thoroughly to help the compost settle into the soil.
- Repeat this process every year or as needed. This will help keep your soil healthy and productive.
5. Mulch Around Plants
Mulching your garden bed helps to suppress weeds, retain moisture, and protect your plants from extreme temperatures. It also adds nutrients and organic matter to your soil as it breaks down over time.
Organic mulches are the best choice for raised garden beds as they improve the quality of your soil when they decompose. Some excellent organic mulches to use in your garden bed include (source):
- Wood and bark chips
- Pine needles
- Grass clippings
- Shredded leaves
- Rice hulls
You can also use inorganic mulches such as landscape fabric, gravel, or plastic. However, these will not improve the quality of your soil. Landscape fabric breaks down over time and needs to be replaced. Gravel and plastic can be reused indefinitely so long as they’re not damaged.
Applying a layer of mulch is relatively simple:
- Spread 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62 cm) of mulch around your plants, leaving a 1-2 inch (2.54-5.08 cm) gap around the base of each plant to prevent rot.
- Water the area thoroughly to help the mulch settle into place.
- Replenish your mulch every year or as needed to maintain an adequate depth.
Replace the mulch when pests and diseases affect your raised garden. Mulches provide an ideal environment for these issues to thrive.
Read our guide to compost vs mulch and the proper uses for each.
6. Set Trellises or Stakes To Support Tall Plants
If you plan to grow tall plants in your raised garden bed, you must provide support. Tall plants can fall over and damage other plants in your garden if they are not supported. They may also produce less fruit or flowers if not adequately supported.
Trellises and stakes are good options for supporting tall plants.
- Trellises: They are vertical structures made from plastic, wood, or metal and provide support for climbing plants. Supporting plants with a trellis system makes them easier to care for and harvest and deters pests and diseases (source).
- Stakes: Stakes are long, thin pieces of wood or metal driven into the ground. They can be used to support individual plants or groups of plants. When using stakes to support plants, drive them into the ground at least 12 inches (30 cm), so they are secure. Tie the plants to the stakes using soft ties or strips of cloth.
You can purchase trellises and stakes at a garden center or make your own. You can also use recycled materials such as old pieces of fencing or lattice. Installing trellises and stakes is a simple process and follows the same approach:
- Plan where you want to place your trellis or stake.
- Dig a hole for your trellis or stake. The hole should be at least 12 inches (30 cm) deep to provide adequate support.
- Place the trellis or stake in the hole and fill it with soil, tamping it down around the base to secure it.
- Tie the plant to the trellis or stake using soft ties or strips of cloth. Avoid tying the plant too tightly as this can damage it.
- Stake taller plants every few feet (1 meter) to provide additional support.
7. Add Fleece or Row Covers To Protect Plants
Winter months can be tough on plants, especially if you live in an area with a harsh winter climate. Frost and snow can damage or kill plants, and strong winds can dry them out. To protect your plants during winter, you can cover them with fleece or row covers.
Fleece is a lightweight fabric placed over plants to protect them from frost and wind damage. It’s made from synthetic fibers such as polyester or polypropylene and is breathable, so it won’t overheat your plants. Fleece is also available in different weights, so you can choose the right one for your plants.
Row covers are made from various materials, such as polyester, cotton, or nylon. They are placed over plants and held down with stakes or rocks to protect them from frost and pests. You can purchase row covers online or at your local garden center.
To use fleece or row covers:
- Measure the area you want to cover and cut the fabric to size.
- Place the fabric over the plants and secure it with stakes or rocks.
- Ensure the fabric is not touching the plants, as this can damage them.
- Remove the fabric when the weather warms up or when you need to access the plants.
Preparing your raised garden bed for every season is the key to a healthy, bountiful garden. Inspecting the bed for damage, repairing it as needed, and adding fresh mulch will keep it in good condition.
Set trellises or stakes to support tall plants, and add fleece or row covers to protect plants from frost and pests. By taking these simple steps, you can ensure that your raised garden bed is ready for whatever the season brings.
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