Everything You Want to Know About Raised Garden Beds (2024)

Everything You Want to Know About Raised Garden Beds (1)

Why build a raised garden bed?

A raised garden bed can make growing many of your favorite flowers and vegetables easier. Whether you struggle with soil that seems unhospitable to your favorite plants or the thought of bending over while weeding and harvesting makes your back hurt, growing plants above ground level makes sense.

Get better soil

One compelling reason to use a raised bed is to control your soil. Heavy clay that doesn’t drain well leads to root rot and other diseases. Sandy soil dries quickly and doesn’t hold nutrients, leaving plants hungry. Raised beds offer the opportunity to fill the frame with rich, weed-free soil that has great drainage. You give your plants the perfect environment for lush, healthy growth. This is your best solution for truly terrible soil because you don’t have to worry about what’s underneath. And you can get immediate results! There’s no tilling or waiting for improvements over several years. Just bring in brand new soil and you’re ready to go.

Less bending over

A raised garden bed is good for your body, too. It can end your need to lean down to plant, weed, deadhead and harvest. This is especially helpful if you have knee or back problems.

Less compaction

When you don't have to step into the garden to take care of it, it reduces compaction. This makes it easier for plants to develop healthy root systems.

Extend your harvest

Putting in a raised garden bed also means extending your harvest. Taller beds thaw earlier in spring, giving you an extra couple of weeks for frost-tolerant favorites like salad greens.

Help deter pests

Well-designed raised beds also thwart pests. A waist-high bed is too tall for most rabbits to reach. Some gardeners report that deer don’t venture between closely spaced beds. And you can line the beds with wire mesh to deter gophers and other burrowing pests.

Add style

Finally, a raised garden bed can be a decorative element in the garden, whether you build up bed edges with stone, pavers or wood. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Pros of a raised garden bed

  • It’s easy! Yes, there’s some hauling and spreading, but you don’t need to till.
  • Good drainage Beds raised above the original surface can have better drainage.
  • Raised beds warm up earlier in spring than surrounding soil Especially if they’re surrounded by stone or concrete edging. This means Northern gardeners can get veggies and annuals going earlier in the season.

Cons of a raised garden bed

  • It may need a little time Although you end up with an immediate bed, you need to wait for the soil to settle before you plant trees, shrubs or perennials. One solution is to plant only annuals the first year so if anything settles it’s no big deal.
  • May not be for trees and shrubs It’s hard to create a raised garden bed big enough to support trees or large shrubs — it’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of soil!

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Choosing the size of your raised garden bed

When building a raised bed or two, your first decision is size. If you get a raised garden bed kit from your local hardware store or garden center, you don’t have to fret. But building a raised bed from scratch gives you freedom to design it in a way that’s right for you. Keep a raised bed around 4 ft. wide. This allows you to weed, water or harvest without stepping into the bed.

Consider the height

Coming up with the right height is more subjective. You can sit on the edges of a raised bed that’s a couple of feet tall and easily reach in without having to bend down. But it’s more costly, requiring more soil to fill and more materials to build it.

Lower raised beds are less expensive to get started, and easier to move if you change your mind. Most perennials, annuals and vegetables do just fine in 12 to 18 in. of soil. Don’t forget to allow for settling — pile the soil at least 4 to 6 in. higher than you think it needs to be.

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What type of soil to use in your raised garden bed

A well-drained, weed-free topsoil is one of the most common choices. You can usually buy it in bags from your local garden center or home improvement store. But buying in bulk from a local landscaping company and having it delivered may be more cost-efficient. Wherever you get it, use only screened topsoil. Unscreened soil has large chunks that’ll make digging very difficult.

The best option is to go with topsoil or garden soil mixed liberally with compost. This is a less expensive option if you have easy access to organic matter, such as well-aged manure from a local farm.

Though it’s not as cost-effective, many people find that filling their raised beds with a mixture of topsoil and potting mix is an easy way to go since potting mix is usually lighter than bags of topsoil.

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What materials should you use to build a raised garden bed?

After you have your bed dimensions, you have to decide what to make it out of. Below are several great options for materials you can use to build your raised garden bed to suit your style and needs.

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Stone is a permanent option, and gives your raised beds a structural character. This can be a fantastic design option to incorporate into your yard if you have a flagstone path or patio. See more about stone raised beds here.

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Cedar is a great and affordable choice for building a wooden raised bed. Untreated wood may last five years or so, depending on your climate. Pressure-treated wood has about twice the lifespan but some research suggests the chemicals may not be safe for vegetables. Line the inside of your wood raised bed with plastic if you’re concerned. Learn how to build your own simple wooden garden bed here.

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Corrugated metal

Metal is becoming trendy for its long life. Corrugated galvanized panels in a wood frame create a chic look that works well in urban environments. And corrugated stock tanks make easy ready-made raised beds.

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Weathered steel

Weathered steel has a rusted finish and a contemporary look. As the surface oxidizes, it creates a protective coating over the interior of the material so it has a relatively long life. This material's thin profile makes it a great option for raised beds in tight spaces, as its footprint is smaller than that of stone and most wood.

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Or go more traditional by stacking bricks or cinder blocks. To make a bed like this, level the soil in an area, then put down the first course of concrete blocks. Add a second course but be sure to stagger the seams with each course of blocks for stability.

Unique ideas for raised garden beds

Gardeners have developed many useful ways to make raised beds work for them. Here are a few favorite tips readers have shared with us over the years.

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Upcycled garden beds

Kim Butterfoss of Massachussetts wanted raised beds but didn’t want to make a big investment in materials. After looking around, she got the idea to upcycle an old dresser! She removed the drawers from the body of the dresser and pried off the bottoms. Then she had six small frames with which to build her raised bed. The illustration above shows how she placed the drawers with the pulls facing out so the backs are flush against each other. You could make the raised bed as large or small as you’d like. With everything in place, she filled the raised bed with soil and was ready to plant.

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Easy raised beds made from steel roof panels

Bill Anderson of Georgia cut pieces of steel roof panels, available at home improvement or hardware stores, to double as sides for raised beds. Bill liked the first one he built so well, he knew he’d want others. Starting with a 35-inch-tall, square wood frame, he lines the inside with cut-open, nonrecyclable plastic dog food bags, attaching these to the wood with shingle nails. This lining works to keep water in, as well as extend the life of the 2×4s.

In addition to being wheelchair-accessible, this height is a perfect match for the 36-inch-wide panels — Bill sinks an inch of the steel into the ground for a neat look. And since the panel’s edges are sharp, it’s easy to push into the soil without having to dig a trench first. He nails four 2×4s onto the top of the frame, to cover the panels’ other sharp edges. Bill uses drywall screws to secure the steel-panel sides to the wooden frame. The beds are sturdy and stable, and leaving wide pathways between them allows a lawn mower or wheelchair to be pushed through without any problems.

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Raised garden bed brackets

Craig Videan from Michigan grows his vegetables in 4-by-8-foot raised beds. Every year he rotates crops, trying to avoid soil-borne diseases. That was easy with row crops, but moving those trellises for vine crops took a lot of extra work. They needed to be taken down, moved and then re-attached to the garden frame. After building a utility trailer from a kit, he had an idea. Why not use 2x4s to build the trellises and secure them with the same type of brackets that hold the 2x4 stakes for the sides of the trailer?

Craig attached the brackets at measured intervals along the sides of his garden frames. Then he inserted the trellis where he wanted it that season. The brackets above are available in the deck and fencing department at home improvement centers. Or he says you can make them from galvanized sheet metal.

Craig discovered an added benefit of the brackets. He needed to protect some seedlings with a floating row cover. After spreading the protective fabric over the raised bed, he tucked the edges into the brackets. Then he wedged a 2x4 scrap into each bracket, pinning the fabric. Craig says this holds the material securely and is easy to do after he hears a frost prediction.

Everything You Want to Know About Raised Garden Beds (2024)


Everything You Want to Know About Raised Garden Beds? ›

Raised beds stay warmer than the soil in the ground, which allows you to extend your growing time in the fall and the spring. Raised beds give plants' roots more vertical space to dig down so that you can fit more plants horizontally in a tighter space. Raised beds drain more quickly than in-ground beds.

What do I need to know before building a raised garden bed? ›

Determine Size Of Raised Beds

Choose the right size to ensure you can work comfortably to reach your plants. Easy reach into the bed from any side makes it comfortable to dig, plant, and weed your plants. Height is also an important aspect that you need to decide on depending on the type of plants you choose.

What should I put at the bottom of a raised garden bed? ›

Some gardeners chose to implement a barrier at the bottom to keep out pests and weeds. Below are a few materials you can use: Cardboard or newspaper: Cardboard is a great option if you are on a budget. You can line the bottom of your raised garden bed with cardboard and newspaper to deter pests and weeds.

How deep should a raised bed be? ›

A raised bed does not always require a significant depth for it to be effective. They should have at least 8 inches of soil depth to accommodate the root systems of plants, because the majority of plant roots require 6 – 8 inches of soil for healthy root growth.

How deep should a raised bed be for tomatoes? ›

Tomatoes should ideally be grown in a raised bed that's at least 15 to 18 inches deep. Many of my clients in Houston are successfully growing tomatoes in 12-inch deep raised garden beds, but their plants tend to be a little stunted compared to plants in deeper beds.

What is the best layout for a vegetable garden? ›

As a general rule, put tall veggies toward the back of the bed, mid-sized ones in the middle, and smaller plants in the front or as a border. Consider adding pollinator plants to attract beneficial insects that can not only help you get a better harvest, but will also prey on garden pests.

When should I start gardening raised beds? ›

Building a raised bed garden in the spring allows you to still have ample time to plant seeds and seedlings before the height of gardening season in the summer. Building a raised bed garden in the middle of summer is fine too. There are many plants you can seed for a fall harvest, like kale, chard, spinach and beets.

Why put cardboard in raised beds? ›

It acts as a physical barrier to block out pernicious weeds. Usually, 2 – 3 layers of cardboard will suffice, though you may want layers in more weed-prone areas. The damp environment created by the cardboard is conducive to earthworms and other beneficial soil microorganisms.

Do you put landscape fabric under raised beds? ›

Depending on your budget and gardening goals, you can line the bottom of your raised garden beds with wide-mesh hardware cloth, stainless steel mesh, landscape fabric, burlap sack, or newspaper/cardboard.

How many bags of soil do I need for a 4x8 raised bed? ›

For a 4x8-foot raised bed with a 6” height, using Mel's Mix: about 5 cubic feet each of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite is needed. It usually takes about two to three bags of purchased fertile mix (1.5 cubic feet each) to cover the bed surface to a depth of 2 inches.

Are there any disadvantages of raised beds? ›

Raised beds also tend to dry out more quickly (i.e., you'll need to water them more often) and may need to be amended more often with organic matter given that all the good bio-stuff that's happening in your native soil is below grade.

What is the easiest thing to grow in a raised bed? ›

Here are a few suggestions: Tomatoes: Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables to grow in raised beds because they require relatively little space and are easy to care for. Peppers: Like tomatoes, peppers are also relatively easy to grow in raised beds. They prefer well-draining soil and lots of sunshine.

What vegetables grow best in raised beds? ›

Most garden vegetables will grow well in raised beds. Try growing lettuce, greens, radishes, and strawberries. Bush type vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans also do well in raised beds. You can install trellises for vegetables that need support, like some tomatoes and beans.

When should I start building a raised garden bed? ›

In fact, the fall and winter months are the perfect time to take care of mini-projects around your home—like building or repairing your raised garden beds.

What time of year should I build a raised garden bed? ›

I've built raised garden beds in the fall, filled them up and let them sit all winter so they were ready for planting in the spring. In my opinion, the fall is the best time for building a new raised bed vegetable garden because you don't have to take precious gardening time in the spring or summer to do it!

Do you need holes in the bottom of a raised garden bed? ›

When it comes to container raised garden beds or raised garden beds, make sure there are holes in the bottom of the container for proper drainage. Ideally, when you water the raised garden bed, your plants will absorb what they need and let the rest of the water drain from the drain hole of the container.


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