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What You Need to Know About Soil for Raised Garden Beds

Lucy Mercer
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Raised garden bed full of greens.

Lifting your plants above ground level in a raised bed benefits both gardener and garden. Gardeners profit by not having to stoop to access the plants, and the plants benefit by having loamy soil to stretch their roots.

Gardeners can grow just about anything in raised beds: vegetables and herbs, annual and perennial flowers, even shrubs and trees, but this style of gardening is most popular for edibles.

Plus, an efficient raised bed system allows you to grow more vegetables in a smaller space. When you grow in a raised bed, there is no wasted space.

Raised garden beds can be as simple as elevated mounds of soil in a traditional vegetable garden or the kind built from plans or kits. No matter the construction or materials, pay attention to the soil to get the best results from your garden.

Advantages of Raised Beds

Raised garden bed with greens.

  • With a challenging soil situation, like poor-draining, compacted and clay soil, raised bed gardening makes the most sense. With improved soil, you’ll see higher yields of vegetables and more flower production. 
  • Elevated beds and improved drainage mean that soils stay warmer in summer and heat up sooner in spring, giving you a leg up on the season.
  • Raised bed gardening is easier for gardeners of all abilities. Chores like weeding and watering can be accomplished without stooping.
  • Raised beds are the solution for difficult sites, too. Hillsides and rooftops alike can become green spaces with raised garden beds.

When installing raised beds, take advantage of the base soil to give plants even more space to extend their roots. Double-digging or roto-tilling below the raised bed soil line can help drain away excessive water, give depth for root vegetables, provide a bigger pool of soil nutrients and dilute pest and disease issues.

Soil for Raised Bed Gardens

What You Need to Know About Garden Soil | The Home Depot's Garden Club

All soils are combinations of minerals, organic matter, air and water. These ingredients work together to provide ideal conditions for plant roots to produce fuel for plants to grow. The mineral component of soil is a mixture of sand, silt and clay, with an ideal ratio of 40 percent each of sand and silt, and 20 percent clay. Too much sand and the soil won’t hold water, too much clay and the soil will be unworkable and retain too much water.

The best mix for raised beds is a combination of topsoil, compost, fine pine bark mulch or soil conditioner and peat moss. You can create your own recipe from Garden Center ingredients, or purchase packaged raised bed soil designed especially for successful raised bed planting.

Tip: Use this mulch calculator to figure the amount of soil and amendments you’ll need. And save time when you use delivery options.

Fill Your Raised Bed Garden

Raised garden bed filled with soil

In the Garden Center, you’ll find packaged raised bed soils formulated for successful gardening. Here are some tips for success with these soils:

  • Look at the peat content of the soil you purchase. Kellogg Garden Organics uses fine wood particles in its formula and the product needs to be thoroughly watered before planting. Put the soil in the bed and then thoroughly wet the mix through the full depth of the bed. After planting, regular watering is sufficient.
  • Packaged soils have a lot of good nutrition, but all plants will benefit from applying organic fertilizer when planting and another boost six weeks into the growing season.
  • You can direct-sow seeds in raised beds. Just stir in organic seed starter mix to give your plants the very best start.

Maintaining Raised Garden Beds

Hands spreading mulch around green plants.

Raised garden beds will give you years of gardening enjoyment. Just keep in mind that raised beds warm up sooner and dry out faster than in-ground plantings.

This is good news in spring and fall, but sets a challenge for summer. Drip irrigation is one solution that will make your life easier. You can also spread a blanket of organic mulch like pine bark, wood mulch, pine straw or composted leaves over the plants.

Mulching means less moisture loss to evaporation, roots kept cooler, weeds suppressed and a tidy garden.

Got questions about this article or any other garden topic? Go here now to post your gardening ideas, questions, kudos or complaints. We have gardening experts standing by to help you!