Winter Gardening 101: Plastic Raised Bed Covers and Alternatives

It’s that time of year again – the leaves are changing colors and starting to fall, the weather is getting colder, and winter is just around the corner. For gardeners, this means it’s time to start thinking about how to protect our raised beds from the cold weather. Should you cover your raised bed with plastic for the winter? Are there better alternatives to plastic coverings for garden beds? When is the best time to cover your garden beds for winter? 

Of course, you can always invest in a greenhouse to house your plants for the winter, but are there more affordable ways to maintain a healthy garden in the winter? In this article, we will explore all of these questions and more!

Should I Cover My Raised Beds With Plastic for the Winter?

Winter can be a tough time for gardeners. Low temperatures and short days make it difficult to get out and tend to your raised beds. And if you live in an area with a lot of snowfall, you may be wondering if it’s worth the effort to keep your garden going. 

However, there are some good reasons to consider covering your raised beds with plastic during the winter months.

The Benefits of Covering Garden Beds for the Winter

  • The plastic helps to keep animals and pests away from your plants, protecting your harvest.
  • Weeds tend to be killed off under plastic coverings, which makes it easier to prepare your raised beds for spring planting.
  • The plastic helps to warm both the air and soil under it, creating a greenhouse effect that can encourage plant growth.
  • Vegetable gardens in particular benefit from plastic coverings, as it can help to extend the growing season for crops like tomatoes and peppers.
  • Plastic can help to prevent soil erosion by providing a barrier between the soil and the elements.

So if you’re looking for ways to protect your raised beds this winter, plastic may be the answer.

The Drawbacks of Covering Garden Beds for the Winter

  • One of the main issues with using plastic is that it is often not attractive, and can take away from the aesthetic appeal of your garden.
  • Plastic also tends to hold in moisture, which can lead to diseases and rot in some cases. Plastic can block out sunlight, which may stunt plant growth or prevent seedlings from germinating.
  • Plastic can be relatively expensive and difficult to work with, making it less ideal for gardeners on a budget.

Are There Better Alternatives to Plastic Coverings for Garden Beds?

If you’re looking to warm the soil AND air around your plants, there really isn’t a better alternative to a plastic coveres, which create a greenhouse effect.

However, If you’re looking for a more attractive and natural alternative to plastic, there are several options to consider that you can lay down to at least protect the soil from the elements, which may be enough to keep your plants alive, depending on how cold it gets in your area.


One popular choice is to cover your raised beds with leaves, which are a natural and sustainable option. Leaves may not be as effective at protecting against pests or weeds, but they can help to insulate the soil and boost moisture levels for plants.

Mesh or Screen

Another option is to use a mesh or screen/net cover for your raised beds. This can help to protect against pests like rodents and animals, while still allowing sunlight and air to reach the plants. Mesh coverings are often less expensive than plastic, and can be easily removed when needed.

Landscape Fabric

If you’re looking for a more permanent and long-lasting option, landscape fabric may be the best choice. This is similar to mesh but can last for several seasons without needing to be replaced. 

While more expensive than plastic or mesh, landscape fabric is a great way to protect your garden bed without harming your plants or the environment. This is because it allows for airflow and sunlight, while still blocking out weeds and pests.


If you’re looking for a low-cost and easy-to-use option, cardboard can be an excellent alternative to plastic garden coverings. Simply cover your beds with cardboard, tuck in the sides to prevent light from getting through, and wet it down thoroughly. This simple method can help to keep out pests, weeds, and even some light frosts.

In the end, there are many options for protecting your raised beds from the cooler temperatures of winter. Regardless of what you choose, the key is to find a method that works best for your garden and your budget.

Should I cover my garden with plastic for the winter?
Plastic coverings over a garden can be a great way to extend the growing season for your plants

When Should I Cover Garden Beds for Winter?

There are a few key factors to consider when deciding when to cover your garden beds for winter with plastic and other materials.

Your Gardening Zone

The first thing to consider is your gardening zone, which can help you determine the best planting times and growing conditions for your region. Different climates will have different requirements for covering garden beds during the colder months, so it’s important to do your research and find the right approach for your region.

Some of the plant hardiness zone data can be unreliable due to microclimates within each zone and a host of other conditions that affect plant hardiness. Use these tools as a guideline.

In general, you want to your garden to be covered before the first chance of frost in the season. Keep an eye on the forecast and if the night time temperatures start to dip to about 35°F, it’s time to cover your raised bed.

Your Garden Type

Additionally, you will want to consider the type of garden you are growing. Flower gardens tend to require less protection than vegetable or herb gardens, as they are generally more tolerant of colder weather and frost.

Many flowers are perennial, meaning they may die back and go dormant in the winter, but will come back to life if watered properly.

Your Plants’ Needs

Finally, it’s important to consider the specific needs of your plants. Some plants may require extra protection during the winter months, while others may do just fine without any covering at all. By assessing the health and growth of your plants, you can determine if and when they need additional winter protection.

Decorative Garden Cover Ideas

If you’re looking for a more attractive way to cover your raised beds during the winter, there are many creative options to consider. Here are two.

DIY Covers

One popular choice is to DIY your own covers using materials like burlap, tarp, or even old sheets. These can be easily adapted to fit the size and shape of your beds, and you can even decorate them to suit your style or theme.

Plant Coverings

Another option is to use decorative plant coverings, such as straw bales, leaves, or even pine cones. These natural materials can add a festive touch to your winter garden, and are often more eco-friendly and budget-friendly than plastic covers.

Whether you’re looking for a simple and practical approach or something that is more aesthetically pleasing, there’s something out there for you. Get creative with it.

A Helpful Video with Some Easy Garden Cover Ideas

Final Thoughts

Raised bed covers are an important tool in protecting your garden during the winter months. By choosing the right materials and timing, you can help ensure that your plants are healthy and thriving come springtime. 

So why not get started today? Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, it’s never too late to cover your raised beds and start preparing for winter. Good luck!