Winter Mulching

Garlic sprouts in mulch

Winter mulching will protect vegetables and other garden beds from the impact of wind, rain, and snow and prevent the loss of soil nutrients. Mulch for winter can be straw, chopped leaves, aged compost, or a cover crop.

Clearing the garden of debris and weeds and putting mulch in place before winter will make getting the garden re-started in spring easier. When spring arrives, pull the mulch back about two weeks before planting (to allow the soil to warm), loosen the top 4 inches (10cm) of soil, and rake the bed smooth before planting.

Before setting down mulch, do the following:

  • Remove annual weeds from the garden; don’t let weeds flower or drop seed.
  • Dig out perennial weeds; remove taproots and all creeping roots.
  • Clean the garden of spent plants and debris.
  • Where the ground freezes, allow the ground to freeze before mulching; this will cut down on soil heaving after a mid-winter thaw.
Turning the soil
Lightly turning the soil before mulching beds will expose insects to killing winter cold.

If insects have been a problem the past season, work the soil 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) and leave it bare for two weeks before mulching, then turn the soil one more time before mulching. This will expose various life stages of insects such as potato beetles, flea beetles, wireworms, June bugs, grasshoppers, onion maggots, and brassica root maggots; the insects will be eaten by birds or die of exposure before you mulch.

Also of interest:

Common Mulches for Vegetable Gardens

Mulch for Vegetable Gardens: The Benefits

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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