Photo by congerdesign
Raised beds are garden boxes that are all the rage in the gardening world. No matter where you live, they offer a long list of benefits to combat many challenges that may get in the way of growing your own plants at home.
Learn how your garden can benefit from raised beds, and what type of plants grow perfectly in them. We'll tell you how to get started building your own stunning raised beds and garden boxes today. This is your ultimate guide, complete with everything you need to consider before you start.
Why You Need Raised Beds or Garden Boxes
A raised garden box or raised bed is typically a large planting box that works well in a variety of different settings, for various types of plants. There are tons of benefits to having them, particularly because they help solve the following top three main gardening issues: drainage, pests and accessibility
Garden boxes are especially handy if you live in an area that doesn't have ideal planting conditions. They're great for apartments with no yard space, or land that has sandy or clay-like, hard-packed soil.
With raised beds, you can create the perfect conditions for whatever you choose to grow at home. Is there a problem with the soil near you? Not an issue. With a raised garden bed, you can grow: fruits, vegetables, ornamentals and herbs.
How Much Room Do You Need to Build A Raised Garden Bed?
Raised garden boxes help turn any backyard into the garden of your dreams. They work just as well in urban settings as they do in spacious acres of land and allow you easy access to your plants. Whether you choose edible crops or want to plant colorful flowers and shrubbery, they'll help to bring nature closer to you.
Many raised beds are 4 x 8 feet and at least 6 inches tall. Of course, the best part about building your own raised garden bed is that you can design how large the box is. Pick your own shape or build a box that will fit perfectly on your urban patio or balcony.
Don't go wider than 4 feet so you can easily reach the plants in the center. The ideal depth is around 12 to 24 inches for most garden boxes. If you plan to create more than one raised bed, leave yourself a path that's at least 18 inches wide so you can walk a wheelbarrow between them.
Think About What You'd Like to Grow
Many raised garden boxes are around 6" high because you can grow just about anything you could possibly want, and the materials are cost-effective. If you create a 12-inch-tall box, however, you may be able to grow plants that require more room for the roots.
Carrots, for example, have deep roots that a 6" box simply can't hold. A fully sunlit area is best for vegetables as well, but you'll want to tuck them away so they aren't a focal point of your garden during the off-season.
Watermelon, on the other hand, will require far more room to grow. A bush watermelon typically has vines that extend from 3 to 4 feet, while full-sized tomato plants can grow over 7 feet tall in some locations.
Consider what plants you'd like to grow, and weigh their growth habits into your decision making. You can always create more than one raised bed for different types of plants to keep unruly varieties from competing with their neighbors for nutrients or sunlight.
A Vegetable Encyclopedia, or guide on when to plant which types of veggies, will help you with your decision-making process. Decide which veggies you want to plant and the best time to do so, and make sure to include the foods you and your family enjoy eating the most. Why grow anything you don't want to eat?
Root crops often perform well in the majority of areas, and they can be sown from seed. Certain greens and vining plants do well in raised beds as well. Consider choosing some of the following for your own space:
- Salad greens
Most people enjoy taller raised gardens. Plus, you won't have to bend over quite as far each time you tend to your garden, which your back will really thank you for.
Where to Locate Your New Garden
Think ahead when planning your new garden's location, and consider the types of pests you're likely to contend with. You need to pick a spot that not only gets at least 8 hours of sunlight but also where you can easily reach it with a hose for daily waterings.
Look for a location that also offers level ground. This will help make the building and gardening process easier later. If you plan to work on a patio, no worries.
Make Sure Your Hose Will Reach It
If you wind up too far from a hose, you'll need to fill up a watering can and carry it to your garden, which can be extremely physically demanding. It's much easier to use a hose instead.
You can buy a new hose if the one you have is too short, or find one with a swivel connection that allows you to gently water the base of your plants. Many species do better if you don't get the leaves wet anyway, and a swivel connection will keep your hose from becoming twisted.
I personally love hoses with a thumb control for the nozzle as well. It helps to control the water flow and pressure easily, and it keeps me from accidentally spraying my shoes or creating a huge puddle in my yard each time I water the garden.
Consider the Animal Species Near You
The whole point of creating a raised garden box is to keep pests and animals from your plants. If there are a lot of wild animals or insects in your area, you'll need to protect your garden against them. Not all animals are interested in your garden, but moles, voles, and gophers are common culprits.
You can protect your raised beds by adding a line of chicken wire to the bottom lining when building the boxes. It's easier to complete this step before you fill the box with soil, so plan ahead. This is essential if you need to keep animals from digging up through the bottom of your garden bed.
As an added precaution (if you have space), you can also add a cage to the box tops. Depending on what animals live near you, this can help keep species like deer and raccoons from attacking your garden box from above.
To add a cage to your garden box, use thin boards to create a frame. Then use more chicken wire to drape over that frame. Create an opening in the middle that you can swing open with a hinge to access your garden or water the plants.
This step isn't necessary for everyone, and creating a cage above your garden is only needed if you really want to keep animals from getting into it. If you live near the woods or in an area where moles are common, for example, you may consider building one.
How to Build Raised Beds or Garden Boxes
If you're ready to take on this DIY project, you'll need a few tools to get started. Head to your local hardware store to compile the following list of materials before you get started.
- Untreated wood that's rot-resistant, especially cedar or recycled redwood
- Avoid using railroad ties; stick to using a staple gun and staples
- Cardboard, newspaper, or weed cloth make great bottoms, as they keep weeds and grass from overtaking your raised bed
Drill, and 5/32-inch drill bit
- Wood screws, at least 2" long
- Pencil and ruler for measuring
- Shovel or trowel to scoop soil
- Gloves for your protection
- Bagged soil, or soil and manure mixture
- Wire cutters and chicken wire (optional)
- 4 adjustable woodworking bar clamps: 2 short and 2 long (optional) to help keep the frame in place while building
- Drip-watering system (optional)
- If you're cutting your own wood, you may also need a wood saw
1. Gather the materials you'll need and either screw the pre-cut wood planks together or cut your wood into the right lengths to fit your desired box dimensions.
2. Build your frame. Line up the boards and pre-drill the holes in the outer board into the corner posts. These will secure boards to your four corner posts. Use a woodworking bar clamp to hold the boards in place while you work, if desired.
3. Line the bottom with weed cloth or another material to keep your soil inside, and burrowing critters out. Staple this across your raised beds in strips until it's covered.
4. Flip the bed over once the bottom liner is attached, and place the box in your ideal location. Position it in a location that gets full sunlight, or a north-south orientation for the best sun exposure.
5. Dig 5- to 6-inch deep holes for each corner post, and sink each post into the ground. (Ignore this step if you're placing your raised beds on a patio. If doing so, you may consider weighing down the box if necessary.)
6. Fill the garden box with soil or a 50/50 mixture of planting soil and compost. You can often save money by buying in bulk from your local soil yard, and they'll often back a truck right up to your garden to save you a ton of work.
7. Plant the crops you've selected and watch them grow!
One Final Consideration
If you don't like the aesthetic appeal of wooden planks to build your new garden boxes, you can create some stunning raised beds from the following alternative materials:
- Wattle - Weave a frame out of long, flexible sticks.
- Concrete - Blocks of concrete make easy barriers and offer open ends to provide extra growing room.
- Logs - If you clear trees on your own property, you can re-use the logs as a cost-effective and decorative way to build garden boxes.
Have you ever built your own raised beds or garden boxes? What are some of your favorite and gorgeous designs?
I personally love some of the new and clever urban designs that are allowing people to bring a bit of nature back into the city. It's a clever way to add a veggie garden while living in a place where you couldn't normally do so, and it's a relatively inexpensive option for most people.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.