When you’re flicking through gardening magazines and see photo after photo of perfectly placed vegetables all lined up in a raised bed garden you might be thinking, how can you build this at home?
It doesn’t require extensive training and resources to design and build a raised bed in your garden. With the right materials and a little space, you can transform a blah patch into a spectacular space for crops!
This guide will walk you through choosing materials, the right location, and building up your perfect raised bed.
What Is a Raised Bed (And What Can You Grow in It)?
Let’s clarify our terms. Raised beds are gardens that see above the ground level and are framed to enclose the additional soil. A bed that is mounded up but not framed is also a raised bed, but we’re talking about the first kind, here.
The main reason people decide to build and use raised beds in their garden is that they can help boost drainage and improve conditions to give plants the ideal environment, especially if you have less-than-ideal soil normally. For instance, heavy clay can be a challenge. A raised bed solves that problem.
But, what exactly can you plant in a raised bed if you build one in your garden?
As already mentioned, most people grow vegetables and fruits in this area of their garden. But pretty much anything that doesn’t grow too massive can grow in a raised bed.
They’re especially good for plants that tend to spread and take over an area like blackberries, bamboo, and some grasses. Raised beds are also great if you need to have dramatically different soil than you do organically.
For instance, if you want to grow hydrangeas or rhododendrons but your soil isn’t acidic, you can create a raised bed using acidic soil.
Benefits of Having a Raised Bed
Apart from being more practical for planting your seeds, there are other benefits to this type of growing. Here are some of the main benefits of having a raised bed on your homestead, but we have lots more benefits listed in this guide.
1. Less Back Pain
A common problem among gardeners is back pain. When you spend hours tending to your crops you are normally crouched over for most of the time. If you do this for a long period of time it can really affect your overall health.
Raised beds are created to be higher than the ground, which means you will no longer have to bend over as much anymore when watering your flowers or weeding the garden.
2. Provide Better Drainage
If you live somewhere that is prone to floods, then a raised bed could be the solution to stopping your crops from becoming soggy. The extra height ensures that your plants are protected from excess moisture and will give the soil better drainage.
For some help on making sure your bed drains well, you might want to visit our article, which contains lots of tips.
3. Helps Limit Pests
Another frustrating issue that gardeners face is the infestation of pests on a regular basis. Even though there are ways to stop things like rabbits, moles, and voles from ruining your plants, sometimes they appear and there’s little you can do.
However, having a raised bed is a great way to block off certain ground pests from entering your crops. It also limits pets and livestock such as chickens from interfering with your plants by walking on or digging up the soil.
4. Reduce Weeds
Weeds have a harder time gaining hold in a raised bed and if you stay on top of weeding, you’re less likely to have a serious problem.
5. Warmer Soil
Raised bed soil warms up faster in the spring and stays warmer later in the year, so you can get a jump-start on the growing season and keep your crops going later into the fall.
Choose the Right Materials
Picking the material for your raised bed can be tricky as you want to ensure that it can withstand your climate and not deteriorate over time, but you also probably don’t want to spend a fortune on your beds.
The main materials that are used for creating raised beds are wood, metal, stone, bricks, and cement blocks because they strike a balance between lasting a good long while and not costing too much.
In terms of costs, pine is the cheapest option so it is ideal if you’re on a budget. However, if you want a type of wood that is rot-resistant then cedar, redwood, or locust might be a better option for building your raised bed.
Wood can be used to craft the frame or for the entire thing, including the walls.
Carefully consider whether you want to use wood that has been treated with chemicals as they could leak into the soil and taint your crops. Treated wood like railroad ties are common in raised beds but only you can decide your comfort level.
For some plans on how to create a raised bed out of scrap wood, check out our guide.
Wood is not the only resource that is easy to find, as stones are also readily available. If you want something that looks nice aesthetically, then stone could sprinkle some texture and contrast with your plants to make a beautiful garden.
Stones last longer than wood, though they’re heavier and more difficult to work with. You’ll also need to maintain them as they shift around.
Cinderblocks raise the temperature of the garden bed, so they can be useful if you live somewhere with a short growing period.
Nothing beats bricks for their durability and strength. They also are great for making sure your crops don’t grow outside their borders. If you want to create a raised bed that is neat and tidy then bricks will give you a clean look.
You can either use engineering bricks or landscaping bricks, depending on your budget and if you need them to be weather resistant. Engineering bricks are good for harsh weather conditions because they don’t absorb much water.
Landscaping bricks are made specifically to be used in gardens and they can usually withstand all kinds of weather and abuse.
Cement is also an option for building your raised bed, but keep in mind that it can raise soil pH over time. The advantage of this material is they restrict weeds from growing over your plants which will make your maintenance tasks easier.
Cement is good for regulating temperatures and keeping the soil warm during the growing period.
Many people opt to make a wood frame and then fill in the sides with metal. Corrugated siding and roofing work particularly well. This has the added benefit of heating up the soil slightly so you can get a headstart on the planting season.
Or you can use metal for the frame and create the walls with wood.
The downside is that most metal tends to start rusting over time.
Creating Your Raised Bed
The first step in bringing your raised bed to life is to decide on the location so you can begin positioning the boards. As a general rule, you shouldn’t build the raised bed garden more than four feet wide.
That’s because you never want to step into the bed itself. You should be able to reach the middle of the bed while standing on the exterior. As far as length goes, it’s all up to you! Just keep in mind that it can be nice to have some division between certain plants.
In terms of height, consider how deep the roots are on the plants you intend to grow. If you want long carrots, for instance, you’ll want a bed that is at least a few feet deep.
1. Pick the Right Location
If you stomp over the soil too much it will impact the quality and ruin the growth of your plants, so keep the four-foot-wide rule in mind. If you want to place the raised bed near a fence or wall, you should make it even more narrow since you can’t access one side.
Consider the plants you intend to grow. If they need full sun, then you’ll need to put your bed somewhere that receives full sun. You also want to avoid placing it under any eaves or trees that drop fruit or debris.
Don’t place your bed in a marshy area or where frost tends to linger. Avoid windy areas, as well.
2. Lay Down Barrier Material and Mark the Frame
Use some string or chalk to mark out the dimensions of your raised bed. When the width and length are set, lay down barrier material like cardboard or landscape fabric to protect your plants from any weeds growing underneath the new raised bed.
You can skip this step and just build your frame right on the ground if you want, but you might have some surprise grasses poking through.
3. Build the Frame
The steps for building the frame vary depending on what material you’re using. If you are stacking bricks, railroad ties, or stone, you can get started by laying out the first layer and then gradually building up on that.
Wood or metal frames require putting a support structure in place, first.
One of the best materials for securing your frame is rebars. They’re sturdy and reliable, and you won’t have to worry about replacing them once you’ve put them in the ground. Sink one bar in each corner and fasten the wood to it.
You can also attach the wood corners to each other or buy metal fencing corner pieces. Or sink fence posts in each corner.
Now you can build up the wood or metal in between the frame corners.
Read this raised garden bed article for some inspiration.
4. Fill the Bed
The last thing you need to do is fill your bed.
Of course, you’ll have to be careful about the type of soil you choose for the raised bed. Don’t use top soil, which is too compact and devoid of nutrients. Instead, buy a raised bed mix at your local nursery or make your own.
To create your own, use your native soil and mix it with equal parts well-rotted compost.
If all this feels a bit overwhelming, you can always buy a metal stock container, drill a few holes in the bottom, put it in the right place, fill it with soil, and plant away!