Tips for Raised-bed Gardening
Raised beds can provide potentially perfect growing conditions, no matter how difficult surrounding soil might be. These planting areas also offer an ideal solution for growing many plants in a limited space. Learn more about raised beds – and make plans to add some to your yard this year.
Benefits of Raised Beds
Advantages abound when you garden in a raised bed.
- Fits anywhere. A raised bed can occupy a small piece of real estate, fitting into the tiniest yard.
- Drains better. Soil drains better, which helps prevent plant loss. Even low-lying areas become productive gardening spaces when topped with raised beds. To provide the best drainage, amend soil located beneath the raised bed.
- Warms up. Soil warms more quickly in spring and also dries out faster – which means you can plant sooner.
- Allow customized soil. You control what goes into a raised bed. Most gardeners use a blend of topsoil and organic matter, such as compost or composted manure. You can use bagged potting soil, too, which is a pricier option. Craft soil to suit plants you intend to grow. For instance, mix in sand for Mediterranean herbs, like rosemary, thyme and sage.
- Starts clean. When you create soil from the ground up, you start with few or no weeds and less disease.
- Protects soil. With raised beds, you don’t step on planting areas, compacting soil. Instead, soil stays fluffy and loose, which is ideal for roots to thrive.
- Provides control. In a raised bed, you control fertilizer and water and can easily aim for the ideal.
- Yields big. Space plants more tightly using square-foot gardening techniques, and you’ll enjoy a large harvest from a small space.
- Reduces labor. Once a raised bed is established, annual tilling and heavy digging aren’t needed because soil stays loose. You’ll also save yourself a little backache – raised beds eliminate some bending, reaching and squatting.
Tips for Raised Bed Success
You can craft raised beds in many ways. Consider these simple tips to get started.
- Width. Keep beds 3 to 4 feet wide if accessed from both sides; 2 feet for single-side access. This allows you an easy reach to maintain and harvest plants without setting foot onto soil.
- Height. Beds can be from 4 to 12-plus inches tall. Shorter mounds (4-6 inches) don’t need a frame to keep soil in place; taller ones do. Framed beds built to 18 inches high provide nice seating while weeding.
- Frame. Surround soil with the framework of your choice: rocks, recycled bricks, cinder blocks, straw bales, rot-resistant lumber or other materials. Anchor bed frames to soil using stakes or by burying at least 2 inches.
- Site. Place beds near a water source. Orient them north-south if you’re growing shorter crops. For taller, trellised plants, like tomatoes or pole beans, orient beds east-west, and tuck shorter plants on the south side of the bed to prevent shading by taller ones.
- Screen. Add hardware cloth to the bottom of beds in areas with gophers and moles.
- Add-ons. Attach 1-inch PVC pipes to bed edges if you plan to add hoops to support bird netting, floating row covers or season-extending frost blankets.
- Paths. Use the material of your choice between beds, such as gravel, mulch, pavers or even grass. Keep grass paths wide enough for mower access.
- Numbers. Start with a small number of beds, especially if you’re a new gardener. Increase bed numbers as your confidence grows.