Ready raised beds for winter

Q. I have a raised-bed vegetable garden. Last winter I covered the beds with a tarp. Do I have to keep covering them with a tarp? That was a lot of work putting the tarps down.

Joyce from Youngstown

A. No, you don’t need to cover raised beds with a tarp. But because the soil in raised beds is exposed, above ground level, it does need some protection.

Mulch, straw or yard leaves can be used to cover raised beds. Covering your beds with organic material has several advantages. It conserves soil moisture, reduces erosion and leaching, prevents rapid temperature fluctuations and improves soil structure after it decomposes. Remove or incorporate the covering next spring to help the soil warm up.

Before covering the bed, take some other steps to get your raised-bed garden ready for the winter.

Do a good job with fall cleanup. This is especially important because you have a limited growing area within raised beds. Remove crop residues from the area – all leaves, fallen fruit and other plant parts. Pull the entire plant and remove from the area.

This is especially important for vegetable plants. Disease and insects pests can overwinter in crop residue to emerge next spring. When the residue is removed you can add compost to the soil to increase its fertility next year.

Remove your posts, poles, trellises and portable frames. Needed repairs or refinishing can be accomplished now while we have a few nice days left. Stakes should be brushed clean, removing soil and debris. Place on concrete or pavement on a warm fall day to sterilize before putting away for the winter. Storage helps to avoid the effects of winter damage and weathering.

Mark your perennials for spring. A marked stake can indicate the location and provide information on what should be emerging next spring so it is not accidentally pulled like a common weed!

Today’s answer was provided by David Sprague, OSU Extension master gardener volunteer. Call the office hot line at 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Clinic hours are Mondays and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon through October.