Planting raised beds? Use these veggies, fruits and flowers
Maximize your space for the best harvest
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It’s fun to grow delicious vegetables, scrumptious berries, and vibrant flowers in raised beds—but it can be tricky to figure out what to plant to get the most bang for your buck.
Raised beds make it easier to grow plants because they solve common soil problems, and put your garden up where you can reach the soil with less bending and crawling. Raised beds’ advantages over growing in the ground can include such things as better drainage, since you can choose what soil and amendments go into the bed, more nutrients and organic matter, less contamination, and fewer soil-borne diseases, pests, and weed seeds.
Not only are raised beds easier to maintain, they offer higher yields by growing more plants in a smaller space, and you’ll use less water for irrigation while doing so.
If you live in a climate that isn’t always warm—and that’s many of us—raised beds also offer warmer soil earlier in the year thanks to good drainage, so you can plant crops sooner, and easier ways to cover with frost protection, so you can extend the growing season (and keep your seedlings safe from hungry critters!).
Here are some tips and recommendations for what varieties of plants to grow in your raised bed, and how to grow it.
First, how to plan a raised bed garden
When you’re planning a raised garden bed, think about space in terms of squares, not rows. The vegetables that take up the most amount of space—like tomatoes or bush zucchini—need a square with 24-inch sides, according to Alabama A&M (which has a good illustration of dense raised-bed planting). Potatoes and cabbage get 1-foot long squares, while snap beans and peas can make do with 4 inches to 6 inches of space, and crops like carrots and lettuce can be slipped in between other crops.
With this compact spacing, the leaves of your garden plants will quickly shade out most weeds. Just make sure that you keep up with your weeding while your seedlings are small.
You can pack even more plants into your space by building up instead of out. Use a trellis, stakes, or plant ”cage” supports for vining plants like tomatoes and peas. Tall A frames work well for supporting squash and melon vines with heavy fruit.
Just remember: Raised beds dry out more quickly than garden soil, especially as the temperature climbs. If you’re not going to be home with your hose, consider getting a drip irrigation kit with a hose timer, and install it before you plant anything—or you can end up crushing your precious seedlings that get in the drip hose’s way.
Not sure what you want to grow? Take a look at lists of vegetables and flowers for containers for great plants for tight spaces.
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Want to grow veggies? Consider these best ones for raised beds
If you’re prepared to stake, cage, or trellis your tomatoes, you can grow any variety of tomatoes you like! Tasty, tried and true varieties include cherry tomatoes Sungold (orange) and Super Sweet 100 (red). Both Sungold and Super Sweet 100 are sweet, high-yielding, and grow in a variety of climates.
For big red slicing tomatoes, try Super Beefsteak for big, luscious, meaty, classic red tomatoes, or Burpee’s Early Pick, which matures earlier than Super Beefsteak with smaller fruits. Reviewers report that Burpee’s Early Pick does better in hot, dry conditions in the Southwest than most tomatoes, and it’s resistant to two common tomato diseases (fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt). For a little color variation, try Pink Brandywine, an Amish heirloom with prize-winning flavor, or yellow and pink Mr. Stripey, with mild, sweet flesh.
Looking for lower-maintenance tomatoes that don’t need staking? Try smaller varieties of cherry tomatoes, like Sweetheart of the Patio, which tops out at 2 feet to 3 feet, or Baby Boomer, which grows in little red balls of flavor on 1-foot to 2-foot bushes. Grow these varieties in a tomato cage, or just let them sprawl—but remember that tomato vines that lie on the ground generally have reduced yields.
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- Get 10 Sweetheart Of The Patio Hybrid Tomato seeds at Burpee from $6.95
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Zucchini, squash and cucumbers
Zucchinis, squash, and cucumbers are sprawlers. They love to put out big leaves and long stems or vines. “Harvest Moon” squash vines can reach 14 feet! You can save space by looking for “bush” varieties. Elite zucchini is one of the more petite varieties, producing slender, fine-tasting fruit in about 50 days, but you’ll still need a 2-foot to 3-foot square of space to fit it into your raised bed.
For compact winter squash, try the Early Acorn hybrid, a heavy-yielding variety with sweet orange flesh—but you’ll still need at least a 3-foot square to grow it. And the most compact orange pumpkin varieties, like Kandy Korn Plus, are bushes 2-foot across that produce charming little mini-pumpkins 3 inches in diameter.
Bush cucumbers are a great option for tight spaces. Salad Bush cukes pack crisp, sweet flavor into 2 feet of space. If you’re setting up a trellis, Chompers set 10-inch-long cukes on 7-foot vines, while Lemon cucumber vines grow to 4 feet with round, crispy yellow cucumbers the size and shape of a navel orange, but the color of a lemon.
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Peas and beans
One of the best peas to grow in any garden bed is Super Sugar Snap, a reliable variety with plump peas and a sweet, crunchy, edible pod. These pea vines reach 4 feet to 6 feet, so you’ll want to support them with a trellis or stakes to save space and make it easier to harvest; consider using a pole bean and pea tower—a hoop on top of a pole with hanging strings that can let you grow up to 36 pea vines in a 5-foot-square space.
As long as you’ve set up a trellis for your peas, you’d might as well put in a second crop of pole beans, which need support for their long vines for best yields. Try classic green Fortex Pole beans for tender, stringless beans, or bring a punch of color to your garden with deep violet Pole Purple King beans.
No trellis? No problem! Grow bush beans. Porch Pick beans grow dense crops in small spaces, reaching just 18 inches high. Purple bean fans can grow Purple Queen bush beans, which grow crisp, colorful beans on 20-inch plants.
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Kale, spinach, and lettuce
Kale, spinach, lettuce, and most other leafy greens do best in cool temperatures of late spring and early fall. They’re also interesting to look at, with decorative foliage in intriguing shades from blue-green to bright red. Plant them along with edible flowers like nasturtiums or marigolds for a tasty, colorful garden.
For a classic curly-leafed blue-green kale with hearty flavor and great yields, try Dwarf Blue Curled Vates, an 18-inch variety that goes from seed to table in 55 days. Lacinato, otherwise known as Tuscan or “Dinosaur” kale has long, slender, deep blue-green leaves with a snake-skin texture and a sweet, mild taste, while Scarlet kale has bright reddish-purple stalks and curly green leaves.
Space spinach produces tasty deep green leaves in just 40 days, and resists heat more than other spinach. Lettuces come in a wide range of colors and forms. Mesclun mix is a great way to add color to your garden and try different varieties to see what you like.
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Carrots, beets, and radishes
For carrots, you can choose your variety by length. Caracas baby carrots are short (2 inches to 3 inches long), but only need 57 days to grow into their crunchy sweetness. Nantes Half-Long need 70 days to grow into their full selves, but you’ll get big, tasty carrots 7 inches long. And, if orange just isn’t your color, Deep Purple carrots are, indeed, deep purple.
Early Scarlet Globe are the classic American little red radishes, round and bright and ready to eat in less than a month. Asian food fans will want to plant the large, cylindrical Daikon Long radishes to use in salads, soups, stews, and pickles. Early Wonder beets are double-duty plants, saving garden space by growing edible greens as well as tasty beet roots.
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Spice up your meals with these zesty herbs
Most herbs grow beautifully in raised beds. Some of the easiest, most rewarding herbs for raised bed gardens include Genovese Basil with large, fragrant leaves for pesto, and sauces, chives or parsley for salads and eggs, or sage for dressings, stuffings, or soups. You can also preserve or dry the herbs for use all year long.
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Scrumptious fruits for summer treats
Fresh, sweet, sun-warmed strawberries are one of the finest pleasures of a summer garden. To make the most of your space, opt for “everbearing” strawberries like Mara Des Bois, which keeps growing bright white flowers and berries from mid-spring through frost. Tristan strawberries are another good ever-bearing option, with entrancing deep pink blooms.
You can grow bramble fruit like raspberries and blackberries in a raised bed, but be aware that these plants can spread very aggressively: You need to be willing to put in the time trimming back seedlings sprouting from underground runners throughout the growing season. If you’re gardening in tight quarters, opt for thornless varieties like Triple Crown blackberries or Joan J. Raspberries.
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Gorgeous flowers and foliage for raised beds
There’s a reason why marigolds are so popular: They’re easy to start from seed, and once they start flowering, the blooms keep on coming until frost. For a traditional look, try the yellow and orange Happy Days mix. Snowball hybrid marigolds look like ruffled carnations, while Irish Lace marigolds are mostly grown for their fine anise-flavored leaves, which make a stunning backdrop for other flowers, and a tasty addition to teas, syrups, and salads.
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Nasturtiums are another double-duty plant, with edible bright jewel-colored flowers and distinctive moon-shaped leaves that add a peppery punch to salads. Empress of India nasturtiums sport scarlet-red blooms on compact 10-foot plants, while the Double Dwarf Jewel Mix includes flowers in red, tangerine, and taxicab-yellow.
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Although it’s fun to grow 12-foot tall Mammoth sunflowers, they take up a lot of horizontal space in your garden bed. If you want to fit a lot of sunflowers in a small space, consider Sunray hybrid sunflowers, which can produce up to 14 yellow-and-brown 4-inch flowers on a 2-foot plant. If you have a little more room, Chianti sunflowers are 4 inches wide and an intriguing rich wine-red, blooming on 18-inch to 20-inch wide plants and reaching 4-foot to 5-foot high. (You can also use sunflower stems as supports for pole beans!)
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Gardeners use annual geraniums to add a pop of color to their beds, usually in bright red, like the Calliope variety. If you’d like a pop of scent instead, try the Citronella geranium. Yes, it’s the same lemony scent you find in bug-repellent candles, but with lime-green ruffled, cut leaves, and delicate little fuchsia flowers.
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If you want to grow a cascade of flowers to decorate a fairy house, this is the plant for you. Stock flowers sweet-smelling cascades of petals on 12-inch to 18-inch stems in shades pink, purple, rose, cherry, and white. Try the Katz Fragrant Mix, and you may become as enchanted as your fairy friends.
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