Growing plants in a raised garden bed is easy. All you need is a level spot in your landscape, some plants or seeds, and enough good-quality soil and compost to fill the bed. You can purchase a kit that comes with pre-cut lumber and hardware, or build your own raised bed in any size you need.
Although raised garden beds don’t need much maintenance, keeping a few tips in mind will help you get the most out of your new growing space:
Do’s For Your Raised Garden Bed
Prep the site for your bed. If you really want to give your plants plenty of room to put down roots, you can opt to remove the sod from your site and dig down 8 to 12 inches to loosen the underlying ground. Then fill the bed with good soil, compost, and any amendments that a soil test may indicate. Of course, you don’t have to excavate if you don’t want to. You can simply remove any grass or weeds from the spot where the bed will sit, and then add layers of newspaper, cardboard, or landscape fabric to smother anything that might grow back. Finally, fill the bed as described above.
Level the raised bed in all directions. If the bed isn’t level, rainfall or the water from your garden hose can run off, rather than soaking into the ground. Water that runs off can also carry away your good soil, leaving trenches you’ll need to fill in.
Create a pleasing layout. Raised garden beds make your landscape look neater and more orderly, so think about where to put them in your landscape. You can even arrange the beds in eye-pleasing geometric patterns.
Don’ts For Your Raised Garden Bed
Don’t walk around in the bed. Stepping on the light, loose soil you’ve put in the bed compacts it, making it harder for roots to penetrate. If you have to get in the bed for some reason, use a few pavers or boards, and walk on those instead.
Don’t make the bed more than about 4 feet wide (8 feet long is a good length). You’ll save a lot of strain on your back and knees if you make a bed that you can easily reach across. Keep a stool at hand so you can sit down to work with your plants.
Don’t frame your raised bed with railroad ties or heavy blocks. Lifting heavy materials is a lot of work in the first place, and if you decide to move the bed at some future date, you’ll have to haul them around again. Use lighter wood, or form your bed with bales of hay or straw. Just remember that a bed made with hay or straw probably won’t last more than a year, as these materials will start to decompose.
Tips For Southern Gardeners
- Raised beds have been popular in the South for a long time, where heavy clay makes gardening difficult. But clay does contain beneficial minerals, so if you mix it into your garden bed, do a soil test first, to see if you need to add amendments.
- Use shade cloth to protect crops that can’t tolerate hot afternoon sun.
- In Florida and other states with saturated soil and frequent summer rains, use raised beds to help drain water away from plants and avoid root rot.
- Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to water your narrow, raised beds so that plant foliage stays dry. Diseases can spread when leaves remain wet in the South’s hot, humid weather.
Tips For Northern Gardeners
- Because soil in a raised bed tends to warm up faster, you may find that you can start planting a little earlier than usual. Beds also stay more productive into the fall, helping extend your growing season.
- Orient your bed north to south to take advantage of the morning and afternoon sun.
- Get more use out of your raised bed by covering it with lightweight, clear plastic and turning it into a cold frame when the weather changes. Use poles, trellises, or plant cages to help support the plastic. Take the plastic off the bed, or fold it back on warm, sunny days to avoid heat build-up that could damage your plants.
- If burrowing rodents are a problem, line the bottom of your bed with hardware cloth or poultry wire to keep them out.
(Image: Shutterstock/Alison Hancock)
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