Winterizing a raised garden bed is essential to protecting your plants from the cold weather until the next flowering season. Luckily, winterizing your raised garden bed is a relatively easy process that only takes a few simple steps.
Here are 9 easy steps to winterize your raised garden bed:
- Remove the weeds.
- Rake up dead plants and debris.
- Add compost or organic matter.
- Spread 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62 cm) of mulch.
- Amend the soil.
- Plant winter cover crops.
- Remove plant supports and stakes.
- Cover plants with fleece or burlap.
- Take care of perennial plants.
In this detailed guide, I’ll further explain each of these steps so that you can have a beautifully winterized raised garden bed come springtime. Buckle up, and let’s get to it!
1. Remove the Weeds
One of the first things you’ll want to do when winterizing your raised garden bed is to clear out any weeds that might be hanging around. Weeds can compete with your plants for vital nutrients and water, so it’s important to get rid of them before winter sets in. They also harbor pests and diseases that could harm your plants.
There are several ways you can remove weeds from your garden bed:
- Hand pulling: This is the most effective way to remove weeds from your garden bed. You can easily remove the entire weed, roots and all, by simply grabbing it at the base and tugging upwards. Be careful around delicate plants, though, as you don’t want to damage them while pulling out the weeds.
- Hoeing: If you have a lot of weeds, or if the ones you have are particularly tough to pull out, you can use a hoe to dig them up. Use a sharp hoe or hand fork to loosen the soil around the weed, then pull it out. Exercise caution when hoeing around plants to avoid damaging their roots.
- Herbicides: While this is a quicker way to remove weeds, it’s not always the best option as some herbicides can harm your plants. If you choose to use a herbicide, carefully read the label and follow the instructions. Alternatively, you can use an organic herbicide with acetic or citric acid ingredients (source).
While you can use tools when weeding, it’s recommended to avoid tilling your raised garden bed for the sake of your soil’s health. Tilling can disturb the soil’s natural structure, leading to drainage problems and compaction (source).
2. Rake Up Dead Plants and Debris
After removing the weeds, it’s time to rake up any leaves, dead plants, or debris in your garden bed. You want to welcome spring with a clean slate and healthy soil for thriving plants.
Dead plants and debris can harbor pests like slugs, aphids, armyworms, and whiteflies, which can damage your plants. They can also lead to fungal diseases like powdery mildew, black spot, and rust.
You can use a rake, hoe, or your hands to remove dead leaves and debris from your garden bed. Be careful not to damage your plants’ roots while doing this. Sort the debris into two piles: one for trash and one for composting.
Throw away or burn any disease or pest-infested plant material to prevent the pests and diseases from spreading. Add the healthy plant material to your compost pile.
3. Add Compost or Organic Matter
Adding a layer of compost or other organic matter to your raised garden bed is a great way to improve the soil structure, aeration, drainage, and fertility. It also provides a food source for beneficial microbes that help your plants absorb nutrients (source).
You can make your compost at home or buy it from a garden center. If you choose to buy it, make sure to get good quality compost free of pests and diseases. Ensure you also choose the right type of compost for your plants.
You can consult with a gardening expert, your local nursery, or garden center if you’re unsure which type to get.
To add compost or organic matter to your raised garden bed:
- Spread a 1-3 inch (2.54-7.62 cm) layer of compost or organic matter over the surface of your garden bed.
- Use a rake or hoe to turn the compost or organic matter into the top few inches of soil.
- Water the area evenly to help the compost or organic matter break down and mix into the soil.
4. Spread 2-3 Inches (5.08-7.62 cm) of Mulch
Mulching is another excellent way to improve your soil and protect your plants. It helps the soil retain moisture, prevents erosion, suppresses weeds, and moderates soil temperature (source).
There are several types of mulch you can use, including:
When selecting a mulch variety, ensure it’s clean and free of diseases and pests. The last thing you want is to introduce new problems to your garden.
You’ll also want to choose a mulch that’s appropriate for your plants. For example, straw is a good mulch for vegetable gardens, while wood chips are better for flower beds.
To apply mulch:
- Spread a 2-3 inch (5.08-7.62 cm) layer of mulch over the surface of your garden bed.
- Leave a 1-2 inch (2.54-5.08 cm) space around the base of each plant to prevent the mulch from touching the stems or leaves, which can cause rotting.
Over time, as the mulch breaks down and decomposes, it will enrich the soil with nutrients. You can add more mulch as needed to maintain a 2-3 inch (5.08-7.62 cm) layer.
5. Amend the Soil
The practice consists of adding nutrients to the soil to improve its structure, drainage, aeration, and permeability. You may need a soil test to determine which nutrients your soil lacks. It will also provide information regarding the soil’s pH level, as different plants prefer different pH levels (source).
You can do a soil test yourself with a home testing kit or send a soil sample to a gardening lab. Once you know which nutrients your soil lacks, you can add the appropriate amendments following the instructions on the package.
Some common amendments include:
- Peat moss
Amending the soil helps ensure plants have the essential nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
6. Plant Winter Cover Crops
Leaving your raised garden bed bare over winter predisposes it to soil erosion and compaction. Planting winter cover crops helps protect the soil, prevent erosion, improve fertility, and prevent weeds from taking over.
They grow through the winter, and you can harvest them during spring when you’re preparing your garden for planting.
Some common winter cover crops include:
- Field peas
- Rye grass
Winter cover crops are hardy and will tolerate cold weather and frost. However, you will need to prepare the garden bed before planting and care for the cover crops throughout the winter.
- Turn the cover crop seeds into the top few inches of soil using a rake or hoe.
- Water the area evenly until the ground is moist but not saturated.
- Cover the area with straw, leaves, or mulch to protect the seeds and help them germinate.
- Properly care for the plants by regular watering, weeding, and controlling pests for a healthy, bountiful garden.
7. Remove Plant Supports and Stakes
Plant supports and stakes are essential for keeping your plants upright and healthy. Trellis, cages, tomato stakes, and other supports help prevent damage from heavy fruits, diseases, pests, and bad weather.
They also promote better air circulation, which helps prevent fungal diseases.
When the growing season ends in winter, it’s important to remove all plant supports and stakes from your garden and store them indoors until the next growing season. Leaving them in place can damage the plants and make it more difficult to prepare the garden bed for winter.
Besides, proper maintenance and storage of your plant supports will help them last longer and stay in good condition. To remove plant supports:
- Carefully loosen the ties or other fasteners holding the support in place.
- Lift the support out of the ground, taking care not to damage the plant.
- Be careful not to harm yourself while removing or handling the support.
Depending on the support type, clean it and store it indoors or dispose of it. Plastic and metallic supports need to be cleaned and stored in a dry place. Leave wooden supports outside to air dry before storing.
8. Cover Plants With Fleece or Burlap
Frost damage is one of the biggest dangers to plants during winter. The cold weather can damage and kill even the hardiest plants if they’re not properly protected. One way to protect plants from frost damage is to cover them with fleece or burlap.
Fleece is a synthetic fabric made from polypropylene or polyester. It’s light and breathable, which makes it ideal for covering plants. The fabric helps insulate the plant and keep it warm during cold weather. It’s available in most garden stores and comes with varying thicknesses, so you can choose the right one for your needs.
Burlap is a durable, natural fabric made from jute or hemp fibers. It’s often used for crafts but also makes an effective plant cover. Burlap is breathable and provides some insulation to help protect plants from frost damage.
Covering plants with fleece or burlap is a relatively simple process, requiring a bit of DIY know-how.
- Cut the fabric to the desired size, allowing enough excess to tuck under the plant. You will need to measure the size of the plant before cutting the fabric to avoid over or under-sizing.
- Tuck the fabric around the plant, ensuring it’s not too tight. The fabric should be loose enough to allow some air circulation.
- Secure the fabric in place with string, tape, or rocks. Be careful not to damage the plant while securing the fabric.
- Check the plants regularly to ensure the fabric hasn’t become too tight or loose. Adjust as needed.
Alternatively, you can create a teepee of sorts by draping the fabric over a frame of bamboo poles or other tall, slender objects. This teepee structure will keep the fabric off the ground and provide extra support in windy conditions.
9. Take Care of Perennial Plants
While most plants die back during winter, some like lavender, rosemary, and sage are evergreen and will remain green all year. These plants are called perennials and require special care to survive the harsh winter (source).
When left unattended, perennial plants can become overgrown and leggy. This makes them more susceptible to damage from cold weather and pests. They can also become difficult to manage when the growing season starts again.
Here are several ways to care for perennial plants during winter:
Pruning helps keep your perennial plants healthy and under control. Pruning also encourages new growth in the spring. Remove any dead, dying, or diseased branches. Cut back any overgrown branches to promote new growth.
Use a sharp pair of shears or a pruning saw to avoid damaging the plant. To avoid spreading disease, sterilize your pruning tools before using them on your plants.
Mulch helps protect plants from extreme temperature changes and prevents moisture loss. Spread a layer of mulch around the base of your perennial plants, making sure to leave a few inches of space between the mulch and the plant stem.
Use natural mulch, such as wood chips, leaves, or straw. As it decomposes, it will improve the soil’s structure, aeration, drainage, and nutrient content.
Perennial plants need to be well-watered during the winter to avoid drought stress. Water your plants when the top inch of soil is dry. Aim to water in the morning, so the leaves have time to dry before nightfall. Avoid leaving water on the leaves, as this can promote fungal growth. See How Long Should You Drip Irrigate a Raised Garden Bed?
Fertilizing helps perennial plants stay healthy and vigorous. Use a slow-release fertilizer that’s designed for use in winter. Follow the directions on the package, as too much fertilizer can damage your plants. Water thoroughly after application to avoid fertilizer burn.
Checking for Pests and Diseases
Even in winter, pests and diseases can be a problem for perennial plants. Check your plants regularly for signs of pests or disease.
If you notice anything abnormal, take action immediately to prevent the problem from spreading. You can use organic pest control methods, such as traps and barriers or chemical pesticides if necessary.
This video is really insightful and gives a lot of practical tips on winterizing a raised garden bed:
Winterizing your raised garden bed helps prepare your plants for the colder months ahead. Remove all the weeds, rake up the leaves, and add a layer of mulch to protect the soil.
You can also plant winter cover crops or cover your plants with fleece or burlap to keep them warm. Be sure to water your perennial plants regularly and fertilize them if needed.
These steps will help ensure that your plants remain healthy and thriving all winter.