Choosing a Raised Bed
A thriving garden is a huge accomplishment. But what no one sees behind your overflowing veggies are the hours spent tilling and weeding, constant battles with that pesky woodchuck, and lots of back pain. You’ve probably been wondering if raised beds solve these common garden problems. Luckily for you, they do!
Raised garden beds give you significantly more control over the entire gardening process and are great solutions to most pest, soil, drainage, or accessibility issues. But there are so many types of raised beds that it can be difficult to know which is best for your property.
Differences Between Raised Bed and Traditional Gardening
Raised bed gardening uses contained plots that are higher than the natural grade and their constructed sides enclose the plants and soil. Raised beds are easy to maintain and can be built with sides as tall as you want to minimize bending over. They can have open or closed bottoms, which enables you to plant just about anywhere.
Traditional in-ground gardening is an open style that doesn’t use anything to separate beds. There are less space constraints so plants can grow freely, but this can be harder to maintain. They require high in-ground soil quality without rocks, sand, or clay and extra maintenance for weeding, tilling, and keeping pests away. In-ground gardens are not very accessible to anyone with limited mobility or living in an urban area.
There are pros and cons to both methods of gardening that depend on your soil and property. Top benefits of raised bed gardening include:
- Eliminates air circulation and drainage issues
- Enables matching soil to plants and avoids planting in high clay soil
- Reduces weeds and cuts down the need for tilling in between seasons
- Creates an elevated habitat that heats up quickly in the spring
- Keeps pests away with use of bottom liner and/or top cover
- Decreases stress on backs and necks (depending on bed height)
- Adds unique aesthetic to landscaping
Types of Raised Beds
Modular or tool-free raised beds are pre-built beds that come with a sturdy frame and corners made of wood, metal, or plastic. They can be a few inches to several feet tall (called an elevated raised bed, containerized raised bed, or deep root raised bed) and placed in the ground or on top of a surface. Most modular beds are made from rot-resistant, food-safe materials and can be set up quickly.
Build-it-yourself raised beds can be created from just about anything and the simplicity or complexity of design is up to you. Many gardeners repurpose stones or wood from their property into raised beds to make intricate landscapes. Choose the material of the raised bed carefully if you’re growing food!
Terraced or tiered raised beds maximize gardening space with more than one soil depth. They enable a variety of planting in a single bed and add a unique aesthetic to your property. Many tiered raised beds are also modular.
Elevated raised beds are deep planter boxes that use a hybrid gardening technique: half container gardening and half raised bed gardening. Traditional raised beds don’t have bottoms while containers always do. Elevated raised beds can be either (depending on model) and have different needs for soil and plant types than open-bottom beds.
Factors to Consider Before Choosing a Raised Bed
Garden type dictates almost everything with a raised bed – flowers have very different needs than pumpkins. Almost any crop can grow well in a raised bed but be mindful of the space needed. Fruit bushes and root vegetables require lots of room while flowers and herbs don’t. If you’re planning to grow anything with deep roots, make sure the raised bed is large enough to support it.
Material is the most important factor of raised bed gardening after you’ve decided what to grow. Raised beds are usually made from cedar wood or, in many cases, composites that are food safe and rot resistance. (If you’re growing food, whether buying or building, make sure your material is food-safe). Best raised bed materials include:
- Any type of lumber, fence boards, pallets, or upcycled wood
- Metal or powder-coated/galvanized steel
- Large natural stones, cinder blocks, or bricks
- Heavy gauge plastic or other resin
- Wine barrels, tires, or other containers
Raised bed garden location is another important decision to make before purchasing. Most plants need 6-8 hours of full sun every day, so ensuring the raised bed can fit somewhere with lots of sun could dictate the size you need. If you hope to grow any shade-loving plants like ferns, hydrangeas, or primrose, these need a less sunny area.
Raised bed gardens can thrive in the ground or on top of a hard surface. Gardening on a surface technically falls within “container gardening” because there’s limited room for the roots to grow. Taller raised beds are usually the safest option so the roots have plenty of space.
Accessibility might be a deciding factor for you. Raised beds that are only a few inches off the ground require bending or kneeling to garden. Elevated raised beds are much more accessible because of their height. Some gardeners make a DIY hybrid solution by putting a standard raised bed on top on a tall surface.
Essential Raised Bed Accessories
Successful raised bed gardening requires more than just the bed. To protect your investment, consider adding raised bed accessories. We recommend a cover, an irrigation kit, and some type of animal barrier. If you’re growing tomatoes or other climbing plants, support these vertically with a trellis. Don’t forget to order any standard gardening tools you’re missing, including gardening gloves, pruners, potting trowels, and more!
Experiment and learn! Gardening can be a lifetime passion and raised beds make it easy for everyone. Reach out to us with questions anytime, and sign up here if you would like to hear when new products are available here at CHP!
Last updated: 6/21/2022