Once you’ve harvested the very last vegetable from your raised beds and your summer perennials have started dying back, it can be easy to think that you’re done gardening for the year.
However, as soon as winter starts approaching, now is the best time to start preparing your raised beds for the next growing season.
But just how do you prepare a raised bed for winter? It’s easier than you might think. Below, we’ll take you through each stage of the process, explaining why each of them is important, and helping you maintain healthy raised beds that will be ready to use next spring.
Weed Your Raised Beds
Over the summer months, any weeds you’ve missed from your garden (or any that your neighbors haven’t kept on top of) will have set seed. These seeds can be dispersed throughout your garden and can even get into your raised beds, carried in by a strong gust of wind.
While the weather is nice and sunny, these seeds will sit snugly in the soil without doing anything. However, as soon as winter starts, the cold temperatures start a process called ‘stratification’.
This toughens the seed up, allows it to absorb water as it freezes and thaws, and, essentially, starts the germination process.
In most cases, seeds are so small that you’ll never be able to see them with the naked eye. But, by actively weeding your raised beds and the rest of your garden throughout the summer, you can reduce the chances of these tiny seeds getting in the soil.
You’ll also save yourself a lot of time and effort next growing season as there will be less weeding to do.
So, the first thing you need to do before you start preparing your raised beds for winter is to thoroughly weed them. Pull out anything that you haven’t purposefully put there, making sure you take the roots of the plant with it.
Improve The Soil
Once you’ve cleared any weeds and dead plants from your raised beds, you need to improve the soil it currently contains. This can be done by adding compost or manure to the top and working it through with a fork.
There’s is a common misconception that spring and summer is the best time to do this as the nutrients in the compost are fresher. However, adding new compost to the existing soil in hot temperatures can sometimes cause leaf burn or promote the growth of fungi.
This doesn’t happen in cold temperatures, so there’s no risk of damaging your plants. It also gives the compost time to work itself into the soil by being hammered with rain and snow over winter.
So, come springtime, you’ll have well-distributed, nutrient-rich compost that your seedling will love.
Plant Cover Crops
This is relatively new amongst amateur gardeners. Up until now, it’s always been believed that covering raised beds with a weed membrane of a sheet of thick plastic is the best way to overwinter them.
However, this can stop the compost you’ve added from working itself through the entire bed as it won’t be exposed to the elements. Not to mention, this involves using plastic, which is something that all gardeners should try to avoid as much as possible.
Instead, planting cover crops is the best way to keep the soil in good condition over winter. Doing this will also prevent any soil from getting blown out of your raised beds during a particularly bad spell of weather.
But that’s not all they’re good for! Depending on what you plant, cover crops can give you a display of color throughout the winter months when everything else has died back.
This means you don’t have to look out into a bleak, seemingly lifeless garden for months. Instead, you can enjoy vibrancy and structure, which is often much-needed when the days are shorter.
Here are some excellent plants that you can use as cover crops in your raised bed:
- Annual Rye
- Crimson Clover
Once winter has passed, you can start turning these into the soil 2-3 weeks before the start of spring. Or, if you’ve had a really cold winter and they haven’t survived, you can leave them on the surface of the soil and the elements will work them into the soil for you.
Plant Winter Vegetables & Flowers
If you plan your garden calendar carefully enough, you don’t even need to worry about preparing your raised beds for winter. Instead, you can use them all year-round by planting flowers and vegetables that are winter-hardy.
This doesn’t only mean you’re able to practice self-sustainability throughout the year but keeps your raised beds looking full and healthy during the winter.
Here are some vegetables that can be planted in the fall and harvested in early or late winter:
- Broad Beans
- Perpetual Spinach
- Swiss Chard
If you prefer to use your raised beds for flowers, you also have some excellent winter-hardy planting options that will produce color all winter long. These include:
- Snow Drops
- Winter Aconite
However, one important thing to remember is that your planting options may differ depending on the area you live in. Some parts of the country suffer from long, harsh frosts that can last for weeks at a time. Even the hardiest of plants could have problems surviving these conditions.
So, check the label on any plants and seeds before you purchase them and make sure they’ll survive the winter conditions in your location. A good tip here is that if the plant is native to your area, it’s more than likely to survive the winter.
As you can see, preparing your raised beds for winter is a really easy task. It’s a simple case of clearing any weeds and working some compost into the soil ready for next spring.
However, if you’d like to make the most of your raised beds over winter, why not try planting some cover crops or winter-hardy plants and vegetables. This will give your garden color and interest at a time when you need it most.