There’s never a dill moment in the garden! During winter, temperatures drop, making it difficult for your raised garden bed soil to adjust and function as it should. At this time, most gardeners spend their time preparing their raised garden beds for winter. It helps prevent damage to the soil and the plants that are still waiting to be harvested. If healthy soil leads to healthy plants, then exhausted soil with little nutrients won’t sustain plant life. It’s especially true if you grow cool-weather crops in your raised garden bed.
Even if you grow nothing on your raised garden bed, you still must protect the soil in winter to avoid erosion and a loss of nutrients. About thyme, you learn how to prepare your raised garden bed and the benefits of the process!
Why Choose Raised Garden Beds
Raised garden beds are versatile, easy to make, and fit anywhere you want them. While there are many DIY garden bed ideas, you should avoid using some raised garden bed materials if you prefer to build your own. That said, raised garden beds come with many benefits.
- They help reduce soil compaction,
- They promote better water drainage,
- Raised garden beds allow for an earlier start to the planting season,
- They are easy to maintain,
- Less exposure to weeds.
However, as with everything else, they have some disadvantages:
- They require more frequent watering,
- They are not exactly budget-friendly (depending on the materials used)
- Some garden bed materials can be a health concern.
Raised garden beds are great for older gardeners, those with mobility issues, or those who don’t want to spend too much time pulling out weeds. They’re easy on the back and a fantastic choice for growing edible crops.
Preparing Your Raised Garden Bed for Winter
Cold winter temperatures decrease the soil’s nutrient content, microbial activity, and increase your soil’s salinity. Before you stash away your gardening tools, ensure you ‘parsley the test’ by learning how to prepare your raised garden bed for winter! Here’s how:
1. Remove All Weeds
Although you clear overgrown weeds often, pulling them out at the end of fall is crucial. It is especially true if you plan on planting winter cover crops or cool-season veggies that you can harvest and consume in the colder months.
But don’t winter weeds protect and improve the soil in the winter? Yes, with non-container gardening, the idea is to let some weeds grow, like thistle and dock, to help improve the soil’s aeration and drainage. Container gardening doesn’t require this because the soil is easy to maintain and doesn’t get compacted much.
Moreover, letting weeds grow in containers is bad because some seeds can last decades in the soil! For example, Canada thistle seed can survive more than two decades buried in the soil, whereas the annual ryegrass can survive up to nine years.
An easy way to suffocate weeds and their seeds is by covering your raised bed with dark plastic, a tarp, or cardboard. Tilling the soil is another option. But beware, frequent tilling worsens your soil’s structure and health, increases the risk of runoffs and erosion, and reduces the soil’s earthworm population. Don’t till unless your soil is very compacted.
Pro Tip: If the weeds you pulled from your garden look good and free of disease, add them to your compost.
2. Clean Up All Dead Plant Debris
After the first significant temperature fall, start clearing the old plant material. Remove all dead plant debris and add them to your compost pile or toss them out if they’re infected, diseased, moldy, or have blight.
Rotting, diseased, and infected plants are a breeding ground for bacteria, pests, and fungi, which is why it’s not a good idea to add them to your compost pile. Adding healthy fallen leaves, grass clippings, and safe weeds to your compost pile is a great way to recycle plants and transform them into black gold for your garden.
Although your cool-season root crops, like carrots, beets, radishes, or potatoes, will be fine till early winter, be sure to harvest them on time before the ground freezes completely.
3. Add Compost
Compost is called black gold for a very good reason! It provides the soil with nutrients and microorganisms to help it sustain plant life. To amend your soil, add 1 or 2 inches of compost into the top 3 to 5 inches of your soil. As you learned above, frequent tilling can increase the risk of soil erosion, so you must amend your raised garden bed’s soil and add a new layer of topsoil before adding compost.
4. Plant Cover Crops or Mulch
Cover crops are an effective way to fight weeds and improve soil health. However, choosing the right cover crop for your garden is very important. Some gardeners make the mistake of picking a cover crop that refuses to die by the end of the winter and turns into an aggressive weed as temperatures warm up in spring.
Some cover crops you can grow include:
- Crimson Clover
- Hairy Vetch
- Winter Wheat
- Winter Peas
- Sweet Clover
You can spread mulch on your raised garden bed if you don’t want to plant cover crops. The idea is to cover the top of your raised bed so your soil’s minerals, amendments, organic matter, and nutrients won’t be washed or blown away.
One of the most common mulching mistakes is using the wrong material for mulch. Natural mulches, like grass clippings, fallen leaves, straw, and pine needles, are great for your raised garden bed.
5. Use Season Extenders
Building season extenders, like hoop houses, cold frames, and cloches, are a good way to make the most of your raised garden beds. Season extenders will allow you to plant earlier and keep your plants safe when temperatures drop in winter. Since season extenders provide additional heat to plants, you’ll need to closely monitor your crops to ensure they don’t overheat and dry out.
6. Simply Cover It
If you don’t want to grow ground covers or cool-season crops, and if you don’t want to spend time removing weeds, the next best thing to do is to cover your raised garden bed with a heavy blanket, an old carpet, tarp, or layers of cardboard. Covering it up will suffocate and kill most weeds, but when temperatures warm up, you’ll need to rejuvenate your garden soil to sustain plant life.
Be-leaf In Yourself!
Raised garden beds are a great way to extend the growing season and go easy on your body, especially for older gardeners and those with mobility issues. They’re easy to maintain, have better drainage, prevent soil compaction and weeds, and allow for a longer growing season. However, you must ensure your raised garden beds are prepared for winter.
Leave your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comment section, and as always, please share!