Summer is over, autumn is in full swing, and winter looms on the horizon. On my northern Wisconsin farm, it’s time to start preparing my garden for winter, a lengthy but important process to ensure the garden beds are ready for planting as soon as temperatures warm back up again in the spring.
These days, I plant almost exclusively in raised beds, which present a tidy appearance while helping control weeds and clearly separate different types of plants. Raised garden beds also offer precise control over soil composition. But that control can mean extra effort preparing them for winter.
Exactly how you proceed with prepping seasonal garden beds for winter may vary depending on where you live. But the following four steps should prove helpful in many situations.
1. Clear Away Plants & Fruit
Emptying the beds is the best place to begin. Start by clearing away bulky materials like stems and leaves. Consider removing entire plants (roots and all) to lessen the likelihood of diseases and pests overwintering on decaying material.
Also, don’t forget to clean up fallen fruit. I know from experience that if you leave fallen tomatoes behind, you’ll get a crop of random volunteer tomato seedlings in the spring.
2. Adjust the Soil Composition
Especially if you’re caring for raised garden beds, you may want to adjust the soil composition before winter. Sometimes over the course of a growing season, I come to realize I’ve added too much compost and not enough topsoil to a raised bed, or vice versa.
You’ll be able to evaluate over the course of a season if your plants are fighting to grow through dense soil or struggling to retain moisture in loose soil. Autumn is a good time to make corrections.
3. Add Nutrients & Mulch
At the same time you adjust the soil composition, consider adding compost, grass clippings, shredded leaves, etc. to give the soil a general nutrients boost. A soil test can help determine if your soil is lacking anything specific, in which case you can correct with an appropriate amendment.
Mulching soil for winter is also beneficial, keeping out the worst of winter cold and providing protection from erosion. A nice layer of organic mulch can simultaneously feed your soil and present something of a barrier against weeds in the spring.
4. Label What You Grew in the Beds
Crop rotation is important to avoid draining a bed of the nutrients needed to grow a specific plant. And you shouldn’t assume you’ll remember from one year to the next what you grew in each bed.
Consider creating a chart or map to mark down the plants you grew in each bed, then refer to it the following spring when you start planting. Or if you have raised garden beds and are concerned about misplacing your map (it happens), use paint or an outdoor marker to label each bed directly.
Prepping garden beds for winter can be a big task, but just think—they’ll be ready to go first thing in the spring. Maybe you can start harvesting garden vegetables earlier than usual!