Raised beds don’t have to be complex to be successful — simply mounding up soil into a deep, wide planting area will work just fine. Here are a few tips on how to get started.
Why Create a Raised Bed?
Raised bed gardening is among the best ways to grow healthy and productive plants. Not only do they allow for better control of drainage and a more user-friendly work space, they give gardeners the opportunity to create custom soil and define their planting area. While raised beds can be as simple as mounding up soil, you can also add a physical border to your garden for a sharper, more defined look.
What Materials Should You Use?
From railroad ties to lumber to scrap concrete, any material that retains the soil will work just fine. Even composite wood is starting to gain popularity. What works best, however, is non-treated, rot-resistant lumber like cedar. While it’s true that pressure-treated wood is less expensive, there is some debate regarding the safety of its use around the plants — especially edibles.
How Tall Should You Make It?
A six-inch bed height is adequate if you have really good soil. However, in general, beds that are 12 inches tall prove to be more successful than shorter ones because the height gives plant roots an optimal environment for growth and expansion. Raised beds can also be built waist high for those that have difficulty bending over. Bottom line? Anything over six inches deep will do.
How Big Should It Be?
While there are no limitations on the length of your raised bed garden, the width is very important. Beds should be wide enough to plant at least two rows of plants. Three rows is fine as long as the bed isn’t so wide that you’re unable to reach into the center. Generally, plants grow well in beds at least 12 feet long and three feet wide. But as you can surmise, more planting options are available with an even wider bed.
Before You Start
When using flexible material like lumber as a physical border for your raised bed, understand that the pressure of the soil will cause it to bow outwards. To combat this, secure the material to stakes halfway down the length, or as needed.
Also, if using wood for your border, be sure to build the frame so that the wood grain faces inward. Otherwise, as the wood dries and weathers, the boards might pull away and curve toward the outside, creating an unsightly and less secure planting bed.
Other Things to Consider
When assembling your raised bed, try using galvanized 3-inch screws instead of nails to secure the wood frame. Screws are more forgiving than nails if you make a mistake. Simply drill pilot holes first toward the ends of each piece to prevent splitting.
There are also premade kits available that include connecting joints and hinges so that you are able to make your raised bed the shape and height that you prefer. These kits make setting up your bed a snap, without any construction necessary.