After the season's garden produce is harvested and frost has killed vegetable plants, it is time to prepare the raised bed garden for winter's weather. Doing a little work now will improve the soil, help prevent disease, protect established perennial plants and get the beds ready for spring planting. With proper preparation in the fall, the garden will take care of itself through the winter, allowing you to settle into your favourite chair with seed catalogues and start planning next year's vegetable garden.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Garden gloves
- Pruning shears
- Trowel or claw tool
- Watering can
Remove dead vegetable plants and weeds, pulling them up roots and all. Rake up loose leaves and any produce remnants and remove them from the bed. Put discarded plant material in the compost pile or yard debris recycling bin.
Cut off and remove dead or diseased leaves and stalks from any perennial plants that stay in the garden through the winter, such as strawberries, herbs, rhubarb or asparagus. Remove any weeds and cultivate between established plants with a trowel or claw tool to improve soil drainage and aeration.
Loosen the soil in the empty beds with a shovel, trowel or claw tool and rake it level.
Drain irrigation lines to clear them of standing water, which may freeze. Put away hoses, sprinklers, spray nozzles and other irrigation equipment.
Spread a 1- to 3-inch layer of mulch over empty beds to discourage weeds and prevent erosion. Compost works well as mulch as it also serves as a fertiliser, provides food for earthworms that aerate the soil and does not need to be removed in the spring. Other mulch materials include shredded leaves or bark, straw and pine needles. Sheets of newspaper or cardboard weighted down with boards, bricks or rocks also work but must be removed in the spring before planting.
Feed perennial plants using a fertiliser with a low nitrogen and high potassium content, following the directions. Fertiliser containers are marked with three numbers representing nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, in that order. Select one with a high middle number to enhance root growth and a low first number to prevent top growth, which would be damaged by severe weather.
Mulch or cover perennial plants in areas with severe winters. Choose mulch material that allows air circulation, such as evergreen boughs or straw, and which won't form a dense mat when wet.
Water perennial plants deeply every six to eight weeks unless you live in a wet climate. Water only when the temperature is above freezing.
Tips and warnings
- A wood frame or hoop of wire mesh covered with clear plastic makes an effective cover to protect perennial plants from drying winds or severe cold. In spring, the covers can work like mini-greenhouses to protect tender seedlings and to warm the soil in raised beds, allowing earlier planting in the spring.
- Avoid using grass clippings or hay for mulch as they may introduce weed seeds into raised beds.
- Do not compost diseased plants. Some compost piles do not reach a sufficient temperature to kill pathogens, so you risk spreading the disease when you use the compost.
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