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FAQ: Raised Bed Gardens

How does raised bed gardening differ from traditional in-ground gardening?

Raised bed gardening uses contained plots that are higher than the natural grade and their constructed sides enclose the soil and plants. Raised beds are easy to maintain and can be built with tall sides to minimize bending over. They also enable you to plant just about anywhere on your property.

Traditional in-ground gardening is an open style that doesn’t use any materials 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.

There are pros and cons to both methods of gardening that mainly depend on your property and soil. In general, a raised bed garden...

  • Eliminates drainage and air circulation issues
  • Avoids planting in high clay soil and enables matching soil to plants
  • Creates an elevated habitat that heats up faster in the spring
  • Reduces amount of weeds and makes pulling them easier
  • Keeps pests away with bottom liner and/or top cover
  • Makes for easier harvests from sectioned beds
  • Cuts down the need for tilling in between seasons
  • Decreases stress on backs and necks (depending on bed height)
  • Adds appealing aesthetic to landscaping

What are the different types of raised beds?

Modular or tool-free raised beds are standard pre-built beds that come with a sturdy frame and corners made of wood, plastic, or metal. They can be a few inches tall up to several feet (sometimes called a containerized raised bed or deep root raised bed). Most modular raised beds are made from food-safe, rot-resistant materials and can be assembled in minutes.

... Modular raised beds are the easiest type – just assemble and fill!

Build-it-yourself raised beds can be made from anything and be as complex or simple in design as you want. Many gardeners repurpose wood or stones from their property into raised beds and create intricate landscapes. Be very careful with material choice if you’re growing food.

Terraced or tiered raised beds maximize gardening space with different soil depths. 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.

... Terraced raised beds can be a statement piece on a patio or added to a larger garden space.

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 are a combination of both and have different needs for soil and plant types than standard raised beds.

... Many elevated raised beds have enclosed bottoms, so they’re best for crops without deep roots.

Which material is best for a raised bed?

The most important factor of raised bed gardening is the material of the bed. Cedar wood is popular because it’s rot resistant. Be careful with material choice, especially when growing food. Best materials for raised beds include:

  • Any type of lumber, pallets, fence boards, or upcycled wood
  • Metal or powder-coated/galvanized steel
  • Large natural stones, bricks, or cinder blocks
  • Heavy gauge plastic or other resin
  • Wine barrels, tires, or other containers

Which plants can I grow in a raised bed?

Raised beds can grow just about any crop, depending on the size and height of the bed. Root vegetables and fruit bushes need lots of space while herbs and flowers don’t. Successful raised bed gardening depends on the delicate balance of maximizing productivity without overcrowding your plants.

Some gardeners plant themed raised beds based on a meal. If your family loves making pizza, plant a “pizza garden” with oregano, garlic, tomatoes, and peppers. Or if you have a salad for lunch every day, why not grow your own lettuces, cucumbers, and carrots?

We highly recommend planting at least one crop that’s new to you. Discovery is part of the fun of gardening!

What type of soil is best for a raised bed?

The right soil is the key ingredient to a healthy raised bed garden. Fill the bed with 70% topsoil and 30% compost. If you’re concerned about the topsoil not being high enough quality, you can decrease this to 60% and add in 10% potting soil. Alternatively, if you don’t have access to quality topsoil at all, switch to a 50/50 blend of compost and potting soil.

... Nutrient-rich soil is the backbone of all successful gardens!

Raised beds provide an upfront advantage over in-ground gardens because you can fill the bed with a superior blend of soil than your yard’s native soil. Loose soil rich with organic matter allows roots to grow freely and access nutrients. Plus, in the spring, raised bed soil warms faster, giving you a head start!

Where is the ideal spot to put my raised bed?

Most plants need at least 6-8 hours of full sun every day, so put your raised bed in a spot with lots of sun access. Just be mindful if you hope to grow any shade-loving plants like ferns, hydrangeas, or primrose, as these will need a less sunny area. It’s best if the garden area is level so you don’t have to trim the bed frame.

Don’t put your raised bed where there’s a risk of heavy rain runoff or pooled-up water. Even though raised beds are elevated, collected water can still get up into the bed and drown your plants.

... A flat area with room to add a fence is best for a raised bed garden.

Keep in mind any furry nibblers like deer or racoons. Planting your raised garden near your home is recommended to discourage unwelcome visitors. You may consider adding a fence around the beds if animals become an issue.

Can I put my raised bed on a patio, porch, or hard surface?

Of course! Raised bed gardens can thrive in the ground or on top of a surface. This is a great solution for limited garden space or any accessibility issues. Simply line the bottom of the raised bed with drainage fabric and rocks/gravel to avoid leaks and stains.

When gardening on a surface, always keep your plants’ roots in mind. Taller raised beds are usually the safest option so the roots have plenty of room to grow. These are frequently called deep root raised beds.

... Raised beds on solid surfaces require the same techniques as container gardening.

Will I need to change the soil each year?

One of the best parts of raised bed gardening is you can reuse the soil. But you should refresh the soil with new compost or another soil amendment at the beginning of each season to restore nutrients. There’s no need to replace the soil unless it’s been contaminated.

If you have any concerns about your soil, do a soil test. This will help you make sure the ph level is neutral and the soil isn’t lacking in any nutrients.

How should I prepare my raised bed for winter?

There are a few simple steps to help the bed survive cold weather. Start by clearing away any old plants so their decaying roots don’t attract pests. (You can add these old plants to your compost pile for next year’s soil!) Then put a layer of compost on top of the soil, which will break down and provide extra nutrients.

After the soil is prepared, cover the raised bed to protect it from wind, snow, erosion, and other seasonal elements. Some gardeners use whole leaves, straw, and/or grass clippings as covers (they also break down and add nutrients), but a plastic raised bed cover or tarp are also helpful.

Which are the best raised bed accessories?

Successful raised bed gardening requires more than just the bed. To protect your investment, we recommend adding a cover, animal barrier, and irrigation kit. If you’re growing tomatoes or 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!

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Last updated: 8/24/2022


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