How to Make Cheap Garden Beds

You’ll have your best garden ever if you create permanent garden beds — whether they’re raised beds, at ground level, framed or unframed.

  • Cheap Garden Beds
    Here's how — and why — to create permanent garden beds and paths, and why framed or raised beds may be optional.
    Photo By Matthew T. Stallbaumer
  • Garden Beds
    This elegantly framed permanent garden bed has woven wood covers to protect greens from bunnies.
    Photo By Dreamstime/Marilyn Barbone
  • Garden Hoops
    If you make garden beds the same size, hoops can be shared among them.
    Photo By Dreamstime/SEVER180
  • Garden Rows
    Straw on paths will 'sheet compost' by season's end.
    Photo By Dreamstime/ALISONH29
  • Raised Beds
    Raised beds are attractive but not necessarily more fertile than non-raised garden beds.
    Photo Courtesy Seed Savers Exchange
  • Monticello Garden
    The garden at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is made up of wide, permanent garden beds.
    Photo By Terry Wild

  • Cheap Garden Beds
  • Garden Beds
  • Garden Hoops
  • Garden Rows
  • Raised Beds
  • Monticello Garden

Sometimes garden writers make things involve more work and expense than necessary. Raised garden beds are one example. Your crops will grow fine whether your beds are level, raised or even sunken (a good choice in dry, windy regions).

Maintaining dedicated beds — where you plant crops — and dedicated pathways where you walk is the important piece.

Compacted soil is the enemy of strong plant growth. The more easily a plant can send roots into the soil, the faster the plant can absorb the nutrients it needs and the more drought-resistant it becomes. If the plant has to spend energy pushing roots into hardened soil, the plant has less energy to grow and produce well.

In nature, meadow mice, moles, earthworms and other critters tunnel throughout the soil — and thus counteract compaction — and humans and other large critters do not walk over the soil often. But in a garden, we walk back and forth a great deal, and our footsteps definitely compact the soil. “One winter, we took a shortcut across a fallow field, using the path almost daily,” reports market gardener Anthony Boutard in his splendid book, Beautiful Corn. “When I looked at an aerial photograph taken three years later, I could still see that pathway reflected in the reduced growth of the crop planted there.”

The best way to minimize soil compaction is to lay out defined areas for growing and defined areas for walking. First, measure the entire area and make a drawing on paper (or use our nifty Garden Planner software). Choose a bed width that lets you easily reach to its center from the path. Think about where you want composting areas, where you will want gates if you fence the garden, and where to leave room for a worktable or two and a bench with a nice view.

You can make paths as narrow as 1 foot if your space is limited, but always make a few main paths wide enough to accommodate a garden cart or wheelbarrow comfortably. If your garden area slopes, arrange the permanent garden beds across the slope rather than down it to minimize erosion. Build most of your beds the same size so you can use row covers, critter protectors and chicken tunnels interchangeably. Use wooden stakes, pipes or rebar to mark the corners of the beds. The stakes can do double duty as hose guides — simply slip a length of plastic pipe loosely over each, and hoses will slide around them easily.

7/14/2020 2:58:33 PM

I made raised beds and filled with new compost because the existing soil tested high for lead. You need to test soil to know if it's safe.

4/18/2018 7:48:43 AM

re: "but unless your site has drainage problems, there’s really no reason for garden beds to be raised"..... if you experience joint stiffness, arthritis, injuries that afford you less motility, etc...... you'll find a whole new appreciation for raised beds!

12/22/2017 6:16:56 PM

To barkway You might try getting a farm cat. If you feed it and give it shelter it will probably stay. The cat should take care of your rodent problem if he is a good mouser. Cats will also chase squirrels away.

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