Updated: Feb 24, 2022
If you start preparing your raised garden bed at least three weeks before spring, your seeds will be rewarded with airy and nutrient-rich soil when it's time to start planting. Without preparation, winter weather will rob your bed of its nutrients, and leave the soil unsuitable for planting come spring.
Follow the 5 steps below to get your garden as fertile and protected as possible ahead of time. This way, your garden bed will be ready for planting as soon as you are, so you can start planting earlier, save time on amending the soil, and yield healthier crops!
Note: If there's no snow in your garden bed, you're ready to start, no matter how cold or late in the season! If there is snow, wait until it melts, or shovel it out before getting started.
5 STEPS TO PREPARE YOUR GARDEN BED FOR SPRING
STEP 1: REMOVE WEEDS
Your first priority should be removing any weeds growing in your bed. If left in the garden over winter, their roots will completely take over the soil and it of its nutrients. Be especially careful to uproot perennial weeds like dandelions and pigweed - these invasive species are especially ruthless!
STEP 2: CUT (DON'T UPROOT!) LEFT OVER CROPS
If you have any plants left over in your garden, cut their stems all the way down at the soil's surface. You can save these clippings for compost or mulch, which you'll need later on.
Do not uproot your left over crops! Without sunlight, the roots will die and decompose. As they're broken down by earthworms, beetles and other insects, air pockets will appear in the spaces where the roots used to be. The organic material will also spread throughout your garden, enriching the soil with nutrients that your plants will love!
Before you move on, a word of advice: never dig or turn over the original layer of soil in your garden bed. Natural processes are already underway beneath the soil. Do not disturb the spreading of nutrients and aeration that is going on underneath. Instead, focus your efforts on making the new layer of soil on top as fertile as possible.
STEP 3: ADD A LAYER OF COMPOST
Instead of replacing all your soil in the spring, filling a raised garden bed with compost and ensures that the soil is saturated with plant food as soon as you're ready to start planting. Compost also acts as an insulator, keeping your raised bed warmer throughout the winter.
Mix organic compost made from plant material with some all-purpose soil, fertilizer, and soil starter for best results. Then, dump the mixture on your bed's soil surface - but don't pat or stomp it down! Remember, light fluffy soil is always the goal for raised beds. Instead, gently water it down.
The best possible compost you can find will come straight from your own compost bin. Homemade compost is chock full of beneficial bacteria, fungi and microbes that are essential for a fertile plot of soil. However, store-bought compost also works great.
STEP 4: ADD ORGANIC MULCH (THE FREE STUFF WORKS BEST)
Organic mulch works best, because like compost, it slowly breaks down, adding bacteria, microbes and fungi to the soil. Free mulch works the best! A mixture of grass clippings, chopped leaves, wood chips, sawdust, shredded bark, straw, pine needles and even clippings from your last yield would make excellent, nutrient dense mulch.
Spread this mixture so that it covers the entire surface, but loosely. Packing down the mulch and making the layer too thick will suffocate the soil. 1-2 inches of mulch is all that is needed to protect and feed your soil.
A tip from the pros: go for a roughly 50/50 mixture of of carbon-dense materials like chopped leaves and sawdust, and nitrogen-dense materials like grass clippings. Carbon-dense materials aerate the ground as they decompose, while nitrogen-rich materials like grass clippings and fruit skins feed the ground with nutrients. A healthy dose of both types will ensure your soil is both full of nutrients, while maintaining its structure.
WHY ORGANIC MULCH IS SO IMPORTANT
Soil degrades faster in the winter than any other season. Without the buffer of leaves on trees to soften the wind, dry soil blows away easier. What's more, heavy snow suffocates the soil by removing air pockets, and excess water leeches the garden by carrying away vital nutrients.
The good news is, adding a good layer of organic mulch can prevent all of this. It acts as a buffer between the wind and the soil, insulates the ground similar to compost, blocks heavy snow from pressing down on the soil, and softens the impact of water so it permeates the garden instead of creating runoff.
STEP 5: START PLANTING!
Now you're ready to start planting! When spring finally arrives, all you'll have to do is spread little areas in the mulch where you want to plant your seeds. You can remove some of this mulch if you would like - otherwise, leave it in your garden for added protection and nutrients throughout the spring!
MORE BRIGHT IDEAS
We hope this article was useful in preparing your garden bed for spring. And we'd love to see what your garden looks like when you start planting! Show off pictures of your raised bed by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tag @ideacollective.learning with #ideacorner for a chance to win a prize from our store!