Raised garden beds are a synonym for convenience. What a dentist’s chair is to a dentist, a garden bed is to a gardener, so to speak. These tools make gardening (and dentistry!) less physically strenuous.
But this is just the beginning of why raised bed gardening is worthy of attention.
There’s a real buzz about it among experienced gardeners. And for a good reason. It’s a happy marriage of easy gardening and superior conditions for growing plants.
- The well-drained and well-aerated soil you can put in a raised garden bed will improve your yields.
- Having a raised bed means you can convert a nutrient-poor garden into a high-producing machine.
- Higher garden beds require less bending.
- Weeding becomes much less of a chore when your plants are elevated.
But while having a raised bed implies less effort, making one is far from effortless, right?
It can be as easy as screwing in a few lumber pieces. Today, we’re walking you through a few simple steps to make building raised beds for gardens a breeze.
- How to build a raised garden bed?
- What wood to use in the construction?
- What soil to use in your garden bed?
- Is it worth the trouble?
How to Build Your Raised Gardening Bed?
There’s a host of DIY raised garden bed plans you can use for inspiration. But if you want to go straight for the kill, use the simplest model using pressure-treated wood (more on treated lumber later).
What Size Wood Should You Use?
When building a raised garden bed, the point is to make gardening easier. Hence, you should choose dimensions that allow you to reach across the bed to tend to the plants.
What you’ll see in most gardens is the optimal 4-feet width. You can scale this up or down depending on your specific needs, but don’t go overboard in size.
When it comes to length, you’re free to experiment. Your garden bed can be anywhere from 8 to 12 feet long. The bed should be big enough to fit all your plants.
How Deep Should Your Raised Garden Bed Be?
This boils down to any individual gardener’s needs. But the point of reference when it comes to depth is the root size of your plants.
This will vary from plant to plant, but it ranges between 6 to 12 inches. To be sure you have enough space for the roots, build a bed that’s at least 12 inches deep.
Step-by-Step Building Tips
To start building, purchase three 8-foot long pieces of lumber. Pair this up with a few deck screws. And that’s all you’ll ever need to build your raised beds. Garden centers offer cutting services, so have them cut one of the boards in half.
This is the result you end up with:
- 2 x 8-foot boards for the length
- 2 x 4-foot boards for the width
Once you’ve got the planks ready, all there is to do is assemble the frame, add some soil, and hey presto!
Here are the detailed steps to take:
Lay your 8-feet and 4-feet lumber pieces on a flat surface to make sure your raised-bed-to-be is level.
Assembling the frame is as easy as screwing the boards together. Carefully align all the sides before screwing them in.
Use 3-inch deck screws. You want them this long so they drive in deep enough to hold the structure together.
Bonus tip: Before screwing in the frame of your raised garden bed, think about where to put in the screws. You want to ensure the bed is sturdy enough and lasts through the years.
But if you’re not careful, the bed can bend or break apart under the weight of the soil and plants. This is most likely to happen on the longer sides of the bed, as they suffer most of the pressure. If you screw your raised bed on the longer sides, the screws could slide out over time.
That’s why you want to insert your screws on the shorter sides.
Next, screw in the frame on all four sides. Once you do, your raised bed is complete. Provided this is the depth you’re pleased with.
If not, build another frame like this, repeating steps 1 through 3, and stack it on top of the first one.
The two frames put together like this will give you a raised bed that’s 15 inches deep. With the extra height, you can add more soil to accommodate root vegetables and make gardening even easier.
Use four pieces of 4×4 lumber as corner posts to attach the two frames together.
Drive in four screws at each corner side to fix the corner posts to the frame. Repeat this for the remaining three corners of the frame.
What Kind of Wood Should You Use for Raised Beds?
It’s a subject of many discussions, whether to use pressure-treated lumber for raised garden bed projects.
The use of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) in treated wood has raised concerns for years. This toxic chemical can leach into the ground and affect the plants you’re growing.
But there’s good news. In 2003, CCA was replaced by another wood preservative, alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ). And this compound is considered safe to use around edibles.
ACQ has been found unharmful to the human body when it comes to minuscule exposures. But you should still take some health precautions. Be sure to wash hands and collect the sawdust when working with ACQ-treated wood.
Pressure-treated wood can extend the life of your outdoor projects for up to two decades. And there’s also a way you can bring any health risks to a minimum.
- Treat your pressure-treated lumber with a sealant to lock in the chemicals. It’s recommended to do so anyway in order to protect the wood from wear and tear.
- Use recycled wood for your backyard projects. Even if treated lumber is infused with arsenic, the compound is less likely to leach from used wood.
What’s the Best Soil to Use?
Once you have your raised garden frame all set up and ready to use, it’s time to load it up with soil.
Choose the perfect mix of organic materials to suit the plants you’re growing. That’s the make or break soil factor that will determine your yields.
U.S. garden centers typically offer soil mixes with a 50/50 ratio of topsoil and compost. However, you’ll get the healthiest soil if you stick to these proportions:
- 60% topsoil – a blend of mineral material with the addition of some compost.
- 30% compost – organic material with the addition of vital humus.
- 10% potting soil – a blend of pine bark, peat moss and perlite and/or vermiculite.
Amending your soil is always a good idea so your plants get the best growing conditions. Here’s our suggestion on how to do this:
- Add more compost. You can get store-bought compost or make your own. Either way, this will help you maintain optimal soil moisture levels and provide nutrients to plants. If making your own, add a mix of wood chips, leaves, and grass clippings to the bottom of your garden box. Then place some cardboard on top. This will turn into compost once you put the soil in.
- Add more sand. Mixing sand into your soil will prevent rotting due to improved drainage and air circulation.
Bonus tip: When buying blended topsoil, get it in bulks instead of bags. Topsoil in bags is often nothing more than mineral-devoid dirt picked up from a construction site.
DIY Raised Garden Beds vs. Store-Bought Ones?
The ultimate question here is:
Is it worth it?
You need to put in your valuable time and resources to build a raised bed on your own. So, why would you bother, when you can buy one at the gardener’s supply store?
Read on and draw your own conclusions.
Let’s start with the money aspect. That’s always an issue. A large enough raised garden bed at a home improvement store can cost you up to $400+. The DIY alternative leaves you with $350 back in your pocket, as you can make one for under $50.
You can always settle on cheaper materials and recycled wood to keep the price tag low.
And another critical point: Most affordable store-bought raised garden beds are only 10 inches deep. This puts a limit on what you can plant in the bed and makes the plants harder to tend.
And yes, building a raised bed on your own means signing yourself up for some extra work. But you can make an affordable bed that’s tailored to your gardening needs.
Raised bed gardening can give you four times the amount of gardening produce in regular backyard soil.
Having a high-quality bed just adds up to the benefits growing in raised beds would otherwise give you:
- Less pain. Raised garden beds take the pain out of gardening. Those with back issues can return to their long-time favorite gardening activities.
- More control. Using a raised bed allows you to grow your plants, even if you have nutrient-poor soil in your garden.
- Greater productivity. This method of growing improves plant productivity since the soil drains well and is deep enough for longer roots.
- Earlier season. You can start working the soil in your raised beds much sooner since it warms up faster.
- Fewer weeds. Raised bed gardening allows for controlled growing conditions. Your plants are kept away from weeds growing in the ground. And another level of protection: new disease and weed-free soil can be added regularly to your bed.
Make a Fresh Start in Your Garden
Ready to take up raised bed gardening?
It’s a super-handy method that you can use to gain a clean slate, even if your gardening situation is desperate. Even if your soil is so bad that all your planting efforts to date have been wasted.
With raised bed gardening, though, every effort counts – and the benefits outweigh the costs.
It’s a very lucrative endeavor. The input to pay-off ratio puts you on the winning side. With a raised bed born in your own workshop, you’ll have a greater volume of better crops.
Keep learning and the sky is your limit!
Turn to the Gardening Channel as your go-to source for all things gardening. Get free access to expert gardening tips that will make growing plants in your raised bed a piece of cake.