Take your vegetable and flower garden to a higher level by adding raised garden beds this year. By simply elevating and containing the soil and plants, you will harvest higher yields due to the loose, rich soil and intensive planting.
Raised garden beds are the best choice if you have heavy, poor draining, sandy or clay soil. The added soil depth in a raised bed helps plants develop roots while improved drainage means warmer soil and earlier planting in spring. Add row covers in the coldest months to expand your harvest across the seasons.
Raised beds are a solution where a traditional row garden won’t work. For example, on a sloped site. Additionally, a raised garden bed allows for easy maintenance and less stooping for weeding and watering, because you reach in from outside the bed.
What to Grow in a Raised Garden Bed
If you can grow it in the ground, you can grow it in a raised bed. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash and bush beans can be planted close together, instead of in rows like a traditional garden. Raised beds are ideal for vertical gardening, too, when you trellis vining plants like cucumbers, pole beans and snap peas. The shade from taller plants deters weed growth below.
Because the soil in a raised bed is loose and crumbly, or friable, root vegetables are naturals for raised beds. Try carrots and radishes in cool weather months, and grow tender lettuces when temperatures remain above freezing.
Flowers like raised beds, too. Consider a cutting garden with seed-grown blooms like sunflowers, asters, zinnias, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, coreopsis and daisies.
How to Build a Raised Garden Bed
Before you begin to build, choose a site that gets at least six hours of sun a day. Begin with a level surface, and turn the soil in the area that will become the raised bed. Consider using a raised garden bed kit or create beds with planter wall blocks and lumber for a customized raised bed. Kits usually come in two sizes, 4 x 4-foot and 4 x 8-foot, and can be stacked for added depth. This depth is particularly necessary if you’re growing root vegetables. See below to learn how to install a raised bed kit.
To construct a raised bed, rot-resistant redwood and cedar are good choices. Raised beds can also be built with pavers, bricks, stones and synthetic lumber. If you’re growing edibles and want to keep an organic garden, go with untreated materials like redwood or cedar.
Length can be as long as your landscape allows, but eight feet is standard. It’s important to create paths alongside and between the beds. If they’re grass, make sure your lawn mower can safely maneuver around them. Wood chips and gravel are also popular low-maintenance choices for garden pathways.
To keep weeds from growing up through the garden, line the base of the bed with durable hardware cloth and landscape fabric to keep roots within the bed and critters out. Get step-by-step directions for how to build a raised garden bed.
Fill with the Right Soil Mix
Choose a well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter and nutrients. Many gardeners make their own soil from a mixture of 75 percent topsoil and 25 percent screened compost. You may want to add peat moss and vermiculite for lightness and drainage, and a slow-release fertilizer for a healthy start.
For an easy solution, try pre-mixed raised garden bed soil. It’s formulated to give your vegetables, flowers and herbs just what they need to grow.
Growing in a Raised Garden Bed
Vegetables and flowers are planted close together in a raised bed, and sometimes in a triangle formation instead of rows. This keeps down weeds and maximizes the use of space. For irrigation, try installing a drip irrigation system, or a soaker hose. Cover the soaker hose with organic mulch like straw, hay, wood chips or pine bark. The mulch will suppress weeds and keep moisture in the soil.
Being above-ground means the soil warms sooner and dries faster, allowing early planting of cool-season crops. When the growing season ends, the remaining plants can be composted and amendments can be added to the bed. With the use of row covers, a raised garden bed will extend your garden across the seasons.