During the winter there may not be much going on in the vegetable garden, but keeping the beds in good shape allows you to easily plant cool-season vegetables such as peas as soon as the ground begins to thaw. Winter care of vegetable gardens also prevents weeds from taking over the bed early in spring, keeps the soil easier to work and ensures there are plenty of nutrients present once planting time comes. Make time to check on your vegetable beds even in the quiet cold months.
Remove all dead annual vegetable plants in late fall once the first killing frost of the year causes them to die off. Pull them from the bed and compost them or till them into the soil with a power tiller.
Lay a 2- to 4-inch layer of straw mulch over the entire vegetable bed to prevent weed growth. Mulch around any cool-season plants remaining in the garden, such as lettuce or spinach, to preserve soil temperature.
Perform a soil pH test. Contact your county or university extension office for testing services. Most vegetables thrive with a pH between 5.0 and 7.0.
Spread 1.5 pounds of wood ash per every 100 square feet of garden bed if the pH is below 7.0. Use sulfur at the rate recommended on the test if pH is above 7.0.
Remove any dead leaves, branches and other garden debris from the bed throughout the winter. Remove any large rocks that surface as the ground freezes and thaws.
Place a soil thermometer into the garden bed in late winter. Remove the straw mulch and begin planting cool-season crops once the soil reaches plating temperature as indicated on the seed packets. Generally, lettuce and peas can be plated once the soil reaches 40 degrees F, carrots and spinach at 45 degrees F, and Swiss chard at 50 degrees F.