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.