Raised garden beds are hugely popular for homegrown vegetables. They are relatively low-maintenance but still need similar attention to ordinary garden beds. It’s always good to clean up beds before winter, but should you cover them during the winter months?
There are various reasons why you should cover raised beds in winter. For instance, it’s a good way to protect the nutrients in the soil from winter rains and soil erosion. It also prevents unwanted weeds from growing. But your decision will usually be determined by climate. If you live in warmer USDA zones, there’s no need to cover beds in winter.
What do you do with garden beds in the winter?
Raised beds are a great solution for small yards and gardens with less than perfect soil conditions. But the functionality of garden beds during the winter months depends entirely on where you live and the nature of your garden.
There are many plants that thrive during the winter, including vegetables and herbs. On the other hand, many plants die back in winter or become dormant.
Either way, there are some useful tasks that you can embrace during winter. For instance, you can use what is often a period of dormancy to clean up and make changes in preparation for spring.
Clean up Your Raised Garden Beds
Pull out all dead plants and weeds, making sure you remove the roots. This is an essential first step toward maintaining healthy soil.
It is easy to do in a raised bed where you have planted annuals or veggies that have stopped producing. But if you have perennials growing, you’ll need to be sure not to disturb the plant roots. You may, though, want to cut back on perennials.
It’s also a good idea to remove stakes, tomato cages, and any moveable trellises. Clean them and pack them away in a shed or garage.
Also, clean all your tools thoroughly because, like plant debris, they can carry plant pathogens.
Clean & Repair Your Raised Bed Structures
There are all sorts of structures you can use for raised beds. The most typical are constructed from timber, and this is the material most DIYers use for their raised beds.
You can also buy ready-made wooden structures as well as sturdy plastic and metal. Another DIY method is to build up edges using bricks, cinder blocks, or large rocks and stones.
Of course, wood and rockery-type raised beds made with stones are the easiest structures to maintain and fix. If metal comes apart, you might be able to wire it back together, but a little welding may be required.
Replenish the Soil and Add Nutrients
Winter is the ideal time to add nutrients to garden beds and make sure that drainage is working. It’s also a good time to add soil if levels seem low.
Provide a Protective Layer Over the Soil
It’s always a good idea to add some sort of organic layer to your raised beds. Compost is an obvious option, but dead leaves or leaf mulch work well to protect the surface.
Cover crops are a great way to prevent weeds from taking over barely raised beds. This is because they create winter cover in the form of a living mulch in the beds.
Not only will they choke out weeds in a garden bed, but if you turn your cover crop into the soil at the end of winter, it becomes green manure. It’s a brilliant way of preparing raised beds for spring planting. That said, you can plant cover crops at other times of the year too.
Jill MacKenzie from the University of Minnesota Extension suggests planting oats, rapeseed, or ryegrass in late summer. These cover crops grow quickly in cool weather.
See more about how to cover and/or protect your raised beds in the next two sections.
Is it necessary to protect raised garden beds during winter?
It is commonly accepted that swimming pools should be winterized. But what about the rest of your garden?
If you don’t get frost where you live, you won’t necessarily even think about covering your garden beds, unless you want to prevent erosion or cultivate nutrients undercover.
However, in severely cold climates, it’s essential to winterize garden beds, and not just raised beds. It is especially important if you get winter snow and ice.
How do I protect my raised garden beds in the winter?
You don’t necessarily need to cover the beds with a solid or even a semi-solid cover like plastic or a kind of mesh.
Many people prefer to cover their raised garden beds with a thin layer of compost or leaves that have fallen late in the fall. The leaves will start to break down during the winter months, forming a natural mulch.
Those who opt to cover beds with plastic over winter like the fact that it heats up the soil during the day when the sun shines. The warmth also helps increase beneficial microbe species that develop in the soil.
Also, you can sometimes simply plant windbreaks to protect garden beds, including those that are raised. It can work really well and is a more eco-friendly approach than using plastic.
What else should you do with your raised garden beds during winter?
Winter is generally a great time to add paths and structural elements. It’s also an ideal time to plant annuals that flower in winter.
Of course, you can also grow hardy veggies that will live through winter and add food to your table. Examples include baby leaf salads, sprouts, leeks, radishes, spinach, and rocket.
But again, you may be restricted by climate.
If you get frost and snow regularly in winter, consider erecting some kind of cover above your raised beds. A creative design can perform a similar role to a greenhouse structure – as long as it can withstand the weight of the snow.
In some areas, it’s essential to cover raised beds in winter. In others, it becomes a personal choice.
In subtropical regions, it really isn’t necessary.