If you’re like me, there comes a point in the harvest season where I let my garden go. It starts wilting, it starts drooping, and I stop watering it regularly. It creeps up on me, then all of a sudden snow is on the forecast and I don’t have a plan. This year, I tried to put an end to the madness, and to learn how to prepare raised beds for winter.
Depending on where you are at in your gardening journey, there are many plants that you can preserve through the winter months, depending on where you live. For me, my garden was pretty experimental and I felt like I learned a lot of things from what I grew. I learned which plants needed more space, which plants worked well growing together, and which plants didn’t. So, for me it was worthwhile to uproot all of the old and fill my raised beds with lots of healing organic materials to get them ready for the next season.
The Importance of Preparing Raised Beds
Since plants eat up the nutrients in soil, garden soil must be tended to at least annually. Soil requires delicate care and attention. Even if you filled your raised beds with the healthiest most beautiful organic fertilizer and compost mixture the previous spring, over the course of the garden season, the soil becomes depleted. Fall is the perfect time to replenish your soil so that it’s ready to grow another season of beautiful plants and harvest.
First, uproot any plants that aren’t going to make it through the winter. Most plants fall neatly into two categories: hardy, or non-hardy. In more simple terms: frost tolerant, and frost intolerant.
Some common frost tolerant vegetable plants include:
- brussel sprouts
Some common frost intolerant plants are:
- summer squashes
When removing plants from your garden, it is essential that you uproot these plants entirely. Don’t wait for them to die, as this invites disease and icky pests to come make a home in your raised beds. Pick a weekend toward the very beginning of your chilly season and uproot all plants that are non-hardy.
Pro Tip: You can uproot healthy plants and add them to a compost pile! (Here’s how to compost.)
- Consider adding some fall vegetables
If it’s early enough in the season, learn how to plant fall bulbs and seeds. Read more about what to grow in September, zone by zone.
- Add Shredded Leaves
If you’re like me, and you spend countless hours raking up leaves and then not knowing what to do with them, (or maybe you just like to admire and collect pretty leaves as they fall around your neighborhood) we have exciting news for you! Leaves are a great way to increase your soil quality over the cold winter months.
Similar to composting, leaves are organic materials that can break down and provide nutrients to soil. Additionally, the coverage of leaves prevents soil erosion from wind and snow by providing a cover. To add shredded leaves to your soil, make sure to shred them or break them down if they aren’t already shredded, then mix these in a bit.
- Add Compost to Your Raised Beds
Scoop some healthy compost atop your raised beds to provide energy for your soil. Composting is a way to repurpose food scraps and organic materials through breaking them down and using them as nutrients for soil. Compost contains important nutrients like calcium, nitrogen, and potassium. These all work together to provide shape and enrichment to the soil that is in your garden.
Whether you go with a store-bought bag of compost or work to produce your own compost blend, simply add a layer to the top of the soil. There is no need to mix it in.
- Add a Cover Crop
Once you’ve added in some nutritious materials, it’s time to plant a cover crop. Now that you’ve added all the nutrients you need and your soil is in good shape, you want to seal the soil from losing any nutrients to the wind. Planting something that will prevent weeds and secure the nutrients is the final step in how to prepare raised beds for winter.
Popular cover crops include:
- oilseed radish
- field peas
If this ain’t your first rodeo, and you have access to animal manure, this is also a great way to add mulch to your soil throughout the winter. Remember: only add animal manure in the fall so that it has time to mix into the soil over the winter. If you add manure before planting in the spring, it will likely kill the plants.
- Cover Perennial Plants
Last but not least, cover any perennials (frost tolerant, hardy plants) with a protective barrier. Stake a plastic sheet over the top of your beds to keep them healthy through the cold season.
Finally, enjoy the slower season of fall and winter. No more daily watering or weekly weeding. It’s a time to rest and recharge alongside the natural world and let go of things that don’t serve you any longer.