Any gardener knows that having the right soil can make all the difference in achieving great results in the garden. Unfortunately, not every garden is blessed with nutrient-dense, high-quality soil. Raised bed gardening is the perfect solution. Using raised beds, you can control your soil and learn to grow beautiful flowers, fruits and vegetables.
What Are Raised Beds?
A raised bed is basically a large, above-ground planter, with walls ranging from 6-24 inches high. Generally these beds are encased in some sort of frame usually wood, concrete or stone. Once the housing for the bed is built, it is filled with soil forming a simple, but effective planter. If the area where the bed is constructed has poor soil quality, outside soil can be used.
Raised beds can be used to grow just about anything. They make great vegetable planters, can be a lovely way to display flowers and are an ideal choice for shrubbery, fruits and herbs. When properly constructed, raised beds can be a beautiful way to create distinguished planting areas in the garden.
What Are the Pros of Raised Beds?
There are many benefits to creating this type of garden bed. One great benefit is that you can determine which type of soil to fill the planter with, which gives you complete control over soil quality and nutrition. This can be a big help if your backyard soil is composed of sand or heavy clay. Raised beds also extend your growing season because they warm much earlier in the spring. This will allow for earlier planting and cultivation in the garden. They promote good soil drainage and will help you to achieve the ideal water balance for each of your plants.
Another great benefit of the raised garden bed is the ease of access. Most gardeners plan the width of their beds carefully (usually no more than 4 feet) to ensure that the entire planting area is accessible from the sides. This can make gardening easier for those that have a hard time kneeling to plant and weed their garden. Raised beds, correctly designed, can even be accessed by those in wheelchairs. The raised design also keeps you from compacting your soil and crushing plants.
And finally, raised beds can allow you garden on steep slopes where erosion would otherwise be a problem.
Texas Extension Service – In Praise of Raised Beds
Planet Natural – Raised Bed Gardening Advantages, Tips and Techniques
University of Kentucky – Introduction to Raised Bed Gardening [Video]
What Are the Cons of Raised Beds?
Raised beds are a convenient gardening option, but they aren’t without their downfalls. One downside is that they must generally be cultivated by hand. Garden tillers are almost impossible to use in a raised bed. However, if you continue to amend the soil with quality compost, your soil should remain workable with little digging needed. Another con is the initial time and expense required for installation of these beds. Whether you choose to build the beds on your own or to use a pre-made kit, they can be costly and will take time to set up and properly install.
Placing Your Beds
The placement of your beds is very important and will depend on what you wish to grow. For example, tomatoes require at least 8 hours of direct sunlight, while shade-loving plants prefer minimal sun. Determine what you will be planting and then find a location that will provide the ideal light and growing conditions. Also consider its ease of access from your home, location of your water supply, and proximity to pests like deer and rabbits.
The area will also need to be properly prepared before planting can begin. One of the first things that you will want to do is remove any weeds and vegetation from the bed site. This can be accomplished through manual digging to remove the sod and get down to bare soil. Covering the area with black plastic sheeting or a thick layer of mulch for several months will make your job much easier. If you are building a tall raised bed (12 inches or more) you can leave grass in place, put some newspaper or paper bags down to smother the grass, and simply add the soil on top. The paper will simply disintegrate in a couple months. If your yard is plagued by burrowing animals like moles, you may want to consider putting chicken wire in the bottom of the bed — but whatever you do, make sure earthworms can get into your beds to keep the soil healthy.
Seattle PI – Clearing Garden Beds
Spring Hill Nursery – How to Create a Garden Bed [Video]
How Do You Build A Raised Garden Bed?
Building a raised garden bed is a pretty simple process if you have the right tools and a plan in place before you get started. You can by raised bed kits from garden supply centers, or you can build your own from scratch. The first thing that you will want to do is choose the materials that you will use to construct your bed. You can use almost anything from wood to concrete to stone and even materials found around the home. When choosing your materials, it is important to consider what chemicals could be leached into the soil. Non-toxic materials are especially important when growing vegetables or other edible plants since any chemicals in the soil can pass into the produce.
Once you have determined which materials to use, you can get started with the construction process. Take the time to make your frame stable and secure since this will help it to last and will limit soil erosion. Once the frame is constructed it should be filled with soil. This is a great opportunity for you to create a soil mix that will help your plants to prosper, so choose a soil that is ideal for the type of plants that you are planning on growing. Mixing sand into your soil will improve your drainage and using an organic matter like peat moss or compost will help the soil retain optimal moisture levels.
Popular Mechanics – How to Build and Install Raised Garden Beds
Fine Gardening – How to Build Raised Garden Beds [VIDEO]
This Old House – How to Build a Raised Planting Bed
Once your beds are constructed they are ready for planting. You can plant a variety of different fruits, vegetables and floral accents in the same bed or you can separate various types of plants.
- Think about plant placement: Tall plants should be planted in the middle of your bed or along one side so that they don’t block access to other plants or create unwanted shade.
- Pay attention to planting guidelines: Raised beds will be ready for spring planting earlier than non-raised beds. Follow the specific planting guidelines for each plant you choose. Plant too early and your plants may freeze, but plant too late in the season and you may not have enough time for produce to fully develop before the season is over.
- Fertilizer is important: Proper fertilizing of your plants will help your plants to grow. When applying fertilizer try to apply around the base of the plant and to avoid contact with the plants leaves.
Tim’s Square Foot Garden – Tips and Tricks
Weed and Pest Management
Raised beds are easier to maintain than ground level beds, but they still require regular maintenance. You can use mulch to keep weeds at bay and row or bed covers for pest management. Since raised beds are self contained they are often easier to cover than other styles of garden beds.
Hobby Farms – Keep Your Garden Protected
Char’s Gardening – How to Build a Raised Bed Protective Covering
So there you have it: the best resources for raised beds on the Internet. We hope our Ultimate Guide series has saved you time and gotten you off to a great start!
CC flickr photo courtesy of pdbreen