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Raised Garden Beds 101: A Guide to Getting Started


May 6, 2021

Raised garden beds, also known as raised planter or garden boxes, are effective and fun-to-build home projects for the avid gardener. Whether you have a green thumb or not, raised beds are a fantastic way to plant your favorite perennial flowers and vegetables in front, back, or on the side of your home. Enhance your curb appeal and see those seeds start sprouting today.

raised garden bed with lettuce

What Are Raised Garden Beds?

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty about home gardeners’ favorite garden containment units: raised garden beds.  Raised bed gardening uses a planting bed on top of your existing ground soil to overcome issues with your native soil or mobility limitations. Raised beds can be just a few inches off the ground, waist-high, or higher depending on your preference.

Raised garden beds, however, aren’t technically containment units since they don’t have a bottom. These bottomless units allow plants’ roots to grow beyond the hand-assembled topsoil medium into your native soil if necessary. Raised garden beds are traditionally filled with nutrient-rich garden soil for optimal aeration and drainage.

Benefits of Planting in Raised Beds

Why build your very own raised garden bed? There are numerous benefits in building or using a raised garden bed. For one, raised beds can produce healthier and more resilient plants in the long run due to their ability to spread their roots into your ground soil and avoid competing with weeds for nutrients.

If your native soil is too compact or undesirable for gardening, raised beds allow you to fill them with whatever soil type you want to ensure it’s fluffy and nutrient-rich. The slightly higher elevation also tends to keep planting bed soil warmer compared to ground-level soil, which means you can start planting a little sooner in the spring than without a raised bed.

Get the perfect soil recipe for your raised garden bed here.

Raised beds also provide your soil with better drainage since you are incorporating loose and fresh soil into your container. Compacted soil issues become a thing of the past. By choosing your soil medium, you are able to grow a variety of plants that your unmanageable soil wouldn’t allow. Varying soil compositions in different beds can create unique environments for specific plants.

Raised beds are space and time-saving gardening units that offer maximum convenience. For one, you don’t have to bend all the way down to the ground or crouch as much due to the elevation of your raised bed. Gone are the days of back-breaking labor. Now, you can water and harvest with ease.

In terms of pest control, raised beds reduce the number of pests that affect your crop. The elevation helps deter annoying garden pests like snails and slugs from munching on your award-winning plants. Wire or hardware cloth on the bottom of beds can stop burrowing pests such as gophers and groundhogs from attacking your flowers and vegetables.

How Deep Should a Raised Bed Garden Be?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question: how deep should a raised bed garden be? The height (and even the size and shape) of your garden bed is entirely up to you. Build it short, tall, narrow, square, or anything your heart desires. Every gardener will have unique gardening needs.

Raised beds range in heights, but can start at about 6” in height. Generally, more soil depth allows your plants’ roots to grow freely. More soil in the planting bed, however, tends to hold in more moisture, which reduces the amount of overall watering needed in the long run. For poorly compacted soil, a deep bed of 10 to 12 inches should be enough.

What Is the Best Material to Use for Raised Garden Beds?

Raised beds can be constructed out of a variety of durable materials including steel, concrete, and wood among others. Traditionally, raised beds were made of rot-resistant cedar or Juniper posts, which are a great alternative. When using wood for raised beds, consider laying down a wire fencing to keep burrowing animals out and ensure the openings are small enough to keep even the tiniest of critters out.

Cinder blocks are another affordable and accessible material that can withstand the test of time. Unfortunately, cinder blocks can be heavy to carry and hold an excessive amount of heat, which is good for winter, but can wreak havoc during the summer months.

planting raised beds garden

Rock material for a planting bed can be relatively inexpensive (or free!) depending on where you live. Rock-based raised beds offer gardeners a rustic look, but can also be difficult to carry. Additionally, you’ll need to fill the space between rocks with cement to keep out weeds and grass.

Concrete alone can offer gardeners a sleek and clean look that lasts longer than most other raised bed materials. Concrete, however, can put more of a dent in your pocket than other materials and isn’t exactly DIY-friendly, especially for first-time builders.

Galvanized metal and stock tanks are easy to set up and have a unique and industrial look. These materials can be expensive and galvanized metal can rust over time, despite its galvanized protection.

Behlen 2 x 1 x 4 ft. Stock Tank 44-Gallon

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Steel is another space-saving material that has an industrial feel. Steel can be more expensive than other materials and will definitely rust over time, depending on the weather. Steel-based raised beds aren’t optimal for growing vegetables or fruits.

Materials such as railroad ties may offer a rustic appeal, but they contain tons of toxic chemicals that can affect your soil and vegetation. Car tires are also a common raised bed material, but they are not ideal for use for edible plants due to their heavy metal content. Treated lumber can also release harmful chemicals into the soil.

Do Raised Garden Beds Have a Bottom?

Unlike traditional garden planters, raised beds do not have a bottom, which is part of their appeal to gardeners. Traditional planters do have bottoms to contain the soil. A raised bed does not have a bottom to allow plants’ roots to extend beyond the soil medium inside. If necessary, you can put down cardboard, newspaper, or landscape fabric/weed blocker on the bottom. You can also use hardware cloth, which tends to work better against blackberry briars than other traditional fabrics.

These materials on the bottoms on a raised bed allow you to keep out those pesky weeds and pests that can ruin your crop. Bottoms can also protect surfaces that you don’t want to stain with soil such as a concrete surface of a patio or the surface of a deck.

How Do I Build a Cheap Raised Garden Bed?

Small and cheap garden bed kits allow you to start your raised gardening on a budget. For a cheap raised planting bed, your best bet is to use wood or cinder blocks. If possible, buy recycled wood from a salvage yard or cheap planks for your bed. Cheap garden beds may not look as pretty as their more expensive counterparts, but they’ll get the job done.

3ft x 3ft Cedar Raised Bed Garden Kit

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You don’t even need a lot of equipment to start. All you require is a saw, some screws, and a screwdriver. Pine boards are an affordable option for gardeners on a budget. You can add a coat of paint to make your project pop, just make sure not to paint the inside to avoid contaminating your plants.

Lining the inside of your bed with plastic sheeting can help protect your wood from moisture and rot. Quality soil will be your biggest expense. You can cut down on costs by evenly blending compost and topsoil and buying soil in bulk at your local gardening supply store if possible.

Planning to Build a Garden Box

Before you go out and buy all your building materials, it’s important to check how much room you’ll require for each plant. For instance, determinate tomatoes require at least 18 to 24 inches of space per plant. Two rows of four plants would require at least a 4 feet wide by 8 feet long planting bed to allow the roots to grow and provide enough space for its bushy form.

Root depth is another important factor in your planning. Tomatoes, for example, can have a root depth up to 24 inches. Peppers have a root depth of 12 inches, while rhubarb and watermelon should be allowed to grow roots up to 36 inches.

Now, on to placement. Where, oh where, should you position your raised flower bed? First, consider the amount of sunlight you’ll need for your plants. Choose a position on your property that gets the required amount of sunlight for the plant. Consider sheds, other outbuildings, or that majestic and expansive tree in your backyard that block sunlight (except fruit trees, which may attract birds which can become garden pests). Keep in mind, raised beds’ soil temperature remains higher, so you can plant sooner.

garden box

Also, consider your soil medium and its ideal pH level for your plant. Most garden vegetables prefer pH levels around 7. You can test your soil’s pH with a budget-friendly soil test kit at your local gardening supply store. Other vegetables or flowers prefer acidic soils. Adjust your pH levels to ensure your plants get the right amount of nutrients needed.

luster leaf Rapitest 1601 Soil Test Kit

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While garden boxes can certainly be moved, once you’ve planted in them, they’re tricky to transport. Before setting up your raised bed in a permanent space, make sure to remove any weeds or grass from the area. Ideally, loosen your native soil to a depth of six to 10 inches to improve drainage and moisture retention.

When determining the width of your garden box, you’ll need to check how far you can reach. Ideally, your garden box will allow you to reach the center from both sides without having to compress the soil bed. Most beds are about 4 feet wide.

If you’ll be setting up multiple raised beds, think about the spacing between each bed. Consider which gardening beds need sun and which ones need shade to figure out the proper spacing between them. You can even start thinking about the type of material you’ll use for the footbed between planting areas. Mulch, dirt, rock, shells, and hazelnut are all viable options.

Nature Scapes Color Enhanced Mulch- 2cf Brown

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For the ultimate growing experience, consider installing a drip watering system that delivers water to the base of your plants. Drip irrigation reduces evaporation and misdirected watering. These systems can run on scheduled timers and water different zones at different times. While these systems require a robust up-front cost, they’re worth it.

Raindrip R567DT Drip Watering Vegetable Garden Kit with Anti-Syphon

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Finally, special considerations and features can take your raised gardening to the next level. Wheels can make your garden portable, Built-in trellises are a space-saving technique for vertical gardening. Removable greenhouse covers can protect your plants from unforgiving and unexpected weather. Storage shelves and containers can keep all your tools in one place.

How to Make Raised Vegetable Beds

When designing a raised bed for growing vegetables, you’ll have to carefully consider the materials you use. For instance, pressure-treated timber and other treated woods contain toxic chemicals that can leach chemicals into the soil and wind up in plants inside your vegetable planter. When you’re planting edible plants, stay away from materials riddled with harmful chemicals.

Most vegetables require at least eight hours of sunlight per day. Choose the sunniest location on your property to build your vegetable bed. Also, avoid planting in low and wet areas that can lead to soggy soil. Consider building a bed close to the hose for optimal gardening. Also, a 12-inch deep bed gives most vegetables enough room to grow.

Gardening with raised beds for vegetables or flowers is ideal for new and experienced gardeners alike. Build your own box with inexpensive materials and find plenty of garden bed ideas online. Building your own gardening box is a fun activity you can share with friends or family, not to mention the satisfaction you’ll get from building it from scratch and growing a range of flowers and vegetables all year round.

Need to know when to plant your favorite veggies? Read more here


We would love to see your garden growing, use #mywilcolife on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag Wilco Stores.

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