By Stephanie Lezotte
Raised beds are ideal growing environments for renters who cannot alter their land, homeowners with poor soil quality, injured or disabled gardeners, or beginner gardeners who want to start small. Raised beds can constructed in any size and framed from a multitude of temporary, biodegradable, or permanent materials.
For an overview of material options and construction methods, check out this handy guide by The Food Project. Their guide describes optimal bed sizes, preferred wood types, and recommended crop types based on the frame material. Once the frame is assembled, the next steps are basically the same: encourage adequate draining, fill with soil, and plant seeds.
And without further delay, here’s our one-stop resource for instructions and ideas for creating your own DIY raised beds.
A Raised Bed Garden from Wooden Planks (Lumber)
Perhaps the most basic method: wooden planks are an easy-to-handle material in which to construct a square or rectangular frame. The Better Homes and Gardens website provides step-by-step instructions for building a professional-looking wood-framed raised bed. Simple steps include prepping the ground, assembling the frame from 4x4s, 2x6s, and 2x2s, and ensuring the structure is sturdy and level.
Once your frame is assembled, consider aesthetic adjustments. You can nail old shutters to the frame for a crafty look or add caster wheels to create a mobile garden—perfect for re-positioning the bed in order to capture fleeting sunlight. For a truly “raised bed” that can grow short-rooted plants, fasten wooden legs to the frame to elevate the bed to hip level.
On YouTube, MIGardener has a great step by step video with DIY instructions.
Wood Pallet Raised Bed Garden
Wood pallets are valuable and versatile gardening commodities; using one to create a raised bed is a possibility. This DIY urban gardener dumps bags of soil into a wheelbarrow and mixes together. One side and end of a pallet is covered with the empty plastic soil bags to prevent the soil from escaping once the pallet is lifted. While lying flat, the pallet is packed with the soil from the wheelbarrow.
With help, the pallet can be gently lifted to lean against a wall or fence. Vegetable or flower seeds are planted in the slat openings. Consider using multiple pallets—one seed type per pallet—or planting multiple seed types in alternating slat openings. Pallets can be painted with nontoxic paint for decoration. YouTube also has a more elegant solution with wood pallets that involves a little bit more work taking them apart.
Raised Bed Gardens made from Logs
If you have a few small trees on your property that need to be cut, these downed trees can be trimmed and settled into a trench. For a more expensive, yet less laborious DIY option, consider using garden edging logs. These can be cut to the desired length and stacked like a log cabin, end over end. To ensure a durable structure, logs may be screwed or nailed together. The interior of the bed can be lined with landscape fabric to help keep soil inside and weeds out.
This DIYer added PVC tubes in the corners of his log bed to support and level the framework. Railroad ties serve the same purpose and will often be donated. Be sure to use railroad ties made of untreated wood if creating a raised vegetable garden to prevent toxic exposure.
Raised Bed Gardens Made of Cinderblock
One of the fastest ways to create a no-tool raised bed is using cinderblocks, which can be acquired for little to no money. A cinderblock raised bed can serve as a temporary gardening plot in an urban or rented yard by simply arranging blocks in a square and filling with soil, but can also become a sturdy permanent structure such as we see in this video.
This DIYer fastened a string to posts across the yard to act as a level. To kill underlying grass and prevent weeds, consider using plastic to smother the area prior to building your bed. For extra sturdiness, cinderblocks were placed in a trench and packed with pea gravel. Landscape fabric was applied to the bed’s bottom and carefully tucked in between two layers of brick to prevent weed growth.
On top of the fabric, cardboard was arranged with a gravel cover to function as an added weed barrier and to encourage drainage. Flat solid blocks can be arranged on top of the cinderblocks for seating. If you are interested in covering this type of bed with a hoophouse for a greenhouse effect, view the fourth video in this series.
Zac Benson offers an alternative, and artsy, method for using cinderblocks to create a raised bed. The pattern can be created randomly or pre-planned; once finalized, use adhesive to secure the blocks together. Metal screening covers the cinderblock holes to contain soil. Each exposed cinderblock hole can incubate its own small-rooted plant. The resulting design will form an attractive raised vertical bed that sits nicely against fences or other flat structures. It is also handicap-accessible.
Of course, you need not settle for cinderblock; any type of brick or stone will do. Although laborious, brick enables you to elevate your bed to a desired height. Your bed need not be square either. Check out this creative brick design with step-by-step instructions.
Raised Bed Gardens from Straw bales
A compostable raised bed can be formed by arranging $5 straw bales in a square (note: avoid hay bales, as these are animal feed and still have seeds attached). Bales should be watered thoroughly and left alone for ten days to regulate internal temperature. The open center portion is filled with soil for large-rooted plants such as carrots and garlic, while other plants like lettuce and tomatoes can be planted right into the straw bale itself, topped with some soil.
Be sure to arrange bales with the straw facing vertically to encourage root growth. For growth support, a trellis can be inserted into the top of the bale by the crop. Alternatively, you can arrange one side of the bales along a chain link fence. Note that this is a temporary raised bed option, as the straw bales will eventually turn into compost. YouTube also covers a method of straw bale raised bed gardening with some good detail.
Raised Bed Gardens Built From Recyclable Materials
This is where you can get creative. While not ideal for vegetables, stacked tires can house small flowers or ground cover. This method can even offer a temporary reprieve: if you have used tires that simply have not yet found their way to the tire recycling facility, consider a short-term beautification effort. Properly stacked and secured tires can be a perfect height for those with back conditions or those in wheelchairs. Painted tires also make festive raised beds for community gardens and aspiring child gardeners.
Empty wine bottles can be used to create raised beds by stacking in rows, or this simpler, but not as attractive method on YouTube. Be sure the bottles are securely lodged and have solid end caps to prevent them from slipping. Experiment with different colors of glass to create an interesting conversation piece.
Even a broken or cracked kiddie pool can be used to create a raised bed. This is a perfect “tester” gardening method that can be recycled in the event of a failed experiment or at the end of the growing season. Use a utility knife or heated metal stake to create holes in the bottom of the pool for drainage. Layer compost or mulch on the bottom to encourage drainage (mulch has the added bonus of a barrier for those stubborn weeds that may grow through drainage holes).
A Raised Bed Garden From Galvanized Metal Tubs
For a clean, rustic look that is virtually maintenance-free, consider using galvanized steel tubs, as these do not rust. The depths of these tubs are perfect for the roots of herbs and spices. Holes should be drilled on the bottom of the tub for drainage and this featured DIYer added a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the tub to promote drainage. Final placement consisted of three tubs of varying sizes stacked on one another to create a vertical pyramid design. Metal tubs can be painted or otherwise decorated to fit in with the home’s existing outdoor décor. YouTube covers the subject with plenty of detail.
Turn Discarded Household Items Into a Raised Bed Garden
A catch-all category. Not sure what to do with that fancy claw-foot tub or cracked fiberglass tub? If you can find a few friends to help you move it outside, you have an instant raised bed that will minimize back and leg fatigue or provide ideal access to gardeners in wheelchairs. In order to reduce the amount of soil used, create a partition midway through the tub to section off the upper and lower halves. This can be done with rocks or wooden planks. Be sure to allow for adequate drainage: the tub itself should have holes throughout the bottom, and any interior barrier must be permeable.
For decorative touches, surround with a fence or trellis, paint the tub, or glue mosaic glass shards to the outside. Also consider an old or cracked porcelain pedestal sink, wheelbarrow, shopping cart, or old grill. Alternatively, if you can pop the top off of an outdated nightstand or kitchen cabinet, you can fill the inside with soil for small flowers, adding legs as desired.
Seen any other cool DIY raised bed garden ideas that we missed? Leave a comment with a link so we can check it out and potentially add it!