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How To Prepare Raised Beds For Winter – Protecting & Recharging The Soil

Unfortunately, winter is coming fast, and that means it’s time to start preparing your raised beds for a long stretch of cold and nasty weather. Weather that can quickly take a toll on the health and vitality of your raised bed soil.

More and more people are turning to raised beds for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. Not only are they perfect for gardeners with limited growing space, they also greatly reduce the amount of weeding and work that can go into gardening.

But as wonderful and low-maintenance as raised beds can be, they still need attention from time to time. Especially when it comes to protecting and recharging the soil within their walls each year.

Whether growing vegetable plants, delicious herbs, or a gorgeous planting of flowering annuals, the plants that grow in raised beds are constantly taking nutrients from the soil. And if those nutrients are not regularly replaced, future plants growing in the same space will suffer.

growing vegetables
Raised beds are a perfect solution for those with small yards or limited space. But without replenishing nutrients and protecting the soil through winter, they can lose their ability to power plants.

But in addition to replacing those nutrients, you also need to protect your soil from the harshness of winter. Leaving your raised bed soil unprotected through the winter months is a recipe for disaster. Not only can weeds and weed seeds take over, but it can also allow the wind, snow, rain and ice to whisk away valuable nutrients.

With that in mind, here is a look at how to prepare your raised beds this fall, and set the stage for big success next year!

How To Prepare Raised Beds For Winter

#1 – Clear Out Old Plants

When it comes to raised bed maintenance in the fall, it all starts with clearing away old plants. In fact, the quicker you remove spent vegetable plants, annual flowers and herbs, the better.

Plants left to decay in raised beds create a myriad of issues for the soil. For starters, the decaying stems, roots and foliage are an easy target for pests and disease to take up residence. And even though they may not have much life in them, those dying plants also continue to take valuable nutrients from your soil.

prepare raised beds for winter
Leaving old plants in raised beds through the winter is asking for trouble. Not only is it unsightly, the decaying plants make it easy for disease and pests to overwinter.

In addition, as the flower and vegetable seeds dry out, they drop to the soil. The result? Hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers seedlings just waiting to sprout next year. Talk about a weeding nightmare!

As soon as plants begin to fail, remove them from the soil – roots and all. Be sure as well to clear out any fruit or seed heads that may have found their way to the soil. The foliage and roots of most plants are actually perfect for adding to your fall compost pile. (See : What To Do With Old Vegetable & Flower Plants)

If you happen to be growing perennials in your raised beds, now is the time to cut them back. Just as with annuals, leaving the foliage up all winter can provide cover for pests. Finish by covering your perennials with a few inches of protective mulch.

Recharging Your Soil – How To Prepare Raised Beds For Winter

Now that your plants have been cleared from the growing space, it is time to recharge that soil!

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As we talked about at the beginning of the article, it is extremely important to add nutrients back into the soil every year. Luckily, fall just happens to be the perfect time to tackle the chore. Recharging your soil can be done using several individual methods, or a combination of all them.

Compost

One of the best ways of all to power up your soil is with a top dressing of compost. Compost is teeming with nutrients. By simply covering your raised beds with a few inches of compost in the fall, you can re-power your soil with ease.

There is no need to dig in the compost, simply lay it over the top of the soil. As the compost breaks down over winter, it will slowly leach nutrients down into the soil. As you will see in a moment, it is important however to cover the compost layer once it is in place.

Aged Manure / Composted Manure / Fresh Manure

Chicken, rabbit, horse, goat and cow manure are all teeming with nutrients. And those nutrients are perfect for recharging the nutrient levels in your raised beds in the fall.

Aged or composted manure is one of the best choices of all. Both of these are available in bags and do not have the pungent odor of fresh manure. A few inches of manure spread out over the top of beds is more than enough to do the job.

aged manure - how to prepare raised beds for winter
Animal manure is an excellent way to recharge the soil in your beds. Not only is it filled with nutrients, it also adds structure and humus to the soil as it breaks down.

You can also use more “fresh” manure in the fall if you do not have any plants overwintering in the bed space. There is no worry of burning plants next spring as it will have plenty of time over the winter to break down.

Just as with compost, you will want to cover the manure through the long winter months to protect it from erosion and the nutrients leaching away.

Growing A Cover Crop

Cover crops are one of the best ways to both recharge and protect a traditional garden. But they also happen to be excellent for protecting and powering raised beds as well.

The roots of a cover crop work down deep to open up air channels and break up hard soils. Up top, the foliage helps protect the soil from erosion, weeds, and weed seeds all winter long. Then in the spring, you can simply mow it off (string trimmers work great for raised beds) and incorporate the foliage back into the soil to recharge your beds.

With some cover crops, such as annual rye, you can mow it off until the crop dies off and plant right through it. Simply seed in the fall, let it go, and then cut it back and plant. It doesn’t get much easier than that! Product Link : Annual Rye

how to plant a cover crop
Annual rye is an excellent choice to cover crop raised beds. It grows in lush and thick to protect the soil over the winter. In the spring, after being cut back a few times, it simply dies off, giving its nutrients back to the soil.

Covering Your Soil – How To Prepare & Protect Raised Beds For Winter

Obviously, if you plant a cover crop, your soil is protected from the erosion and harshness winter can bring to your raised bed soil. But if you are using compost or aged manure to power your beds, you will still want to cover each to keep the nutrients in place.

One of the best ways to cover beds is with leaves. Leaves have nutrients as well, and provide an excellent cover for beds through the long winter months.

Whole leaves work best for covering as they mat down to protect the soil from wind, snow and ice. In the spring, the leaves can be pulled back, shredded, and then added into the beds for more power for the soil. (See : How To Know What Leaves Are Best For Gardening)

Straw and grass clippings are both excellent choices for covering your beds as well. Like leaves, they add organic matter back to the soil as they break down. Of the two, grass clippings will add more nutrients than straw and incorporate into the soil more rapidly.

covering open soil
It is important to cover your raised beds to prevent both erosion and weeds and weed seeds from coming in over winter. If leaves, grass clippings or straw are not available, cover your beds with a tarp or plastic.

If all else fails, you can also cover your beds with a tarp or plastic sheet. At the very least, it will keep weeds and weed seeds out, and prevent erosion too.

Here is to protecting your raised beds this fall for the long winter ahead. And, to setting the stage for an amazing raised bed garden next spring and summer. Happy Gardening! Jim and Mary.

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