Winterizing raised garden beds is an important part of the annual cycle in the backyard vegetable garden. Now is the time to set yourself up for success in the future by helping to foster healthy garden soil and take good care of your gardening equipment. Read on to learn all about winterizing your raised garden beds.
1. Pull spent plants from raised beds and compost/discard
The first step in winterizing raised garden beds is to pull up and compost spent warm-season plants. Some plants will be killed by frost, while others will have finished their life cycle by this point in the year. Compost the spent plants unless they appear contaminated with disease. Plant matter composts most quickly when it is cut up into small pieces rather than just dumped on the compost heap.
Make notes about each crop as you clear the beds. Note down the productivity of the plants, any pest issues, and anything else you’d like to remember for next year’s warm growing season. This is also a great time to do any last-minute seed saving that you didn’t do as part of your September gardening chores.
2. Remove and store plant supports
Fall is the time to remove, clean, and store temporary plant supports like stakes and trellises as well as other delicate structures such as garden ornaments and unused row cover hoops. These supports will last for years if properly cared for, so it makes sense to store them in a clean, dry location over the winter. Keep them out of the elements and they’ll last much longer than if they’re left in the blowing snow and rain.
3. Smooth & top-dress soil surface of raised bed for next year
Once the spent plants and temporary supports are gone, it’s time to smooth the surface of the soil in the raised bed. Use a hand cultivator or handheld rake to create a reasonably-flat surface on each bed.
Once each bed is straightened up, apply a top dressing of 1″ of homemade compost or leaf mould as the top layer on each raised bed. This soil conditioning is one of the secrets to winterizing raised garden beds well. Your soil will be full of nutrients and will have improved structure in time for the next growing season.
4. Plant winter crops and overwintering vegetables
Fall is the perfect time to plant crops that can be harvested throughout the winter and into the following spring. Some common fall-planted crops for raised beds include root crops like garlic, radish, and carrots, as well as leafy greens like lettuce, kale, and gourmet greens. Here is a detailed list of winter crops to grow in your raised beds in cooler weather.
Your local climate will dictate whether or not certain crops will require season-extending devices like poly row cover tunnels, cloches, or cold frames. Some raised beds come with cold-weather attachments so you can easily grow veggies all year long, while others can be retrofitted and improved with season-extension accessories. Make a plan for appropriate season-extension structures as part of winterizing your raised garden beds.
5. Fill in empty bed areas with winter cover crops
Once your winter crops are planted, take notice of any areas of bare soil left over. These areas are prime real estate for green manure cover crops! These beneficial groundcover plants crowd out weeds while adding organic matter to the soil.
It generally turns out that bare soil will grow SOMETHING if left to its own devices. It’s better to grow a nice green manure crop than to let the weeds take over.
6. Plan for leaf removal and snow removal in raised bed area during winter
The final step in winterizing raised garden beds is to make plans for any required leaf removal and/or snow removal. These items can certainly be left on top of the raised beds for a low-maintenance approach to winterizing raised garden beds, but most gardeners tend to at least remove the majority of leaves, as well as the snow from any active areas of the garden.
Remove the leaves from the bed as they appear and compost them to make the leaf mould. You’ll be able to use the leaf mould from these leaves to top-dress the beds with compost next fall. Leaves compost most quickly if shredded first with a mulching leaf vacuum or mower.
Snow is actually a wonderful insulator and does not necessarily need to be removed. Areas planted with overwintering garlic can be left with a blanket of snow all winter. That said, any areas which are actively harvested will benefit from snow removal. Supports like plastic polytunnels and glass cold frames may not be able to hold the snow load and should be regularly cleared.