How to build raised garden beds in your yard
Take your garden to the next level.
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Raised garden beds solve almost every garden problem—they let you plant more veggies in less space, cut down on weeds, plant earlier in the spring, improve drainage, keep your plants safe from lawnmowers, discourage nibbling by all kinds of pests, and make your yard look neat and organized.
Wondering how to build a raised garden bed in your own backyard? Follow the steps below to watch your garden grow.
1. Select your site
Choosing the right spot for your raised garden bed is the first step to a successful harvest. You want to put the bed where your plants will have the best chances for healthy growth.
Choose a site with full sun
Pick a site for your raised garden bed with “full sun” which means six hours or more of direct sunlight every day, without any branches or roofs shading the plants. You can grow many garden vegetables, herbs, and flowers with less than six hours of sunlight, or under dappled shade from high branches, but they won’t grow as quickly or get as big as their sun-soaked counterparts. Shady and damp sites also increase the risk of fungal diseases.
If you have to choose a site for a raised garden bed that only gets part-day sun, pick a spot which gets morning sun and afternoon shade. The sun helps dry up morning dew which can promote fungal disease, while afternoon shade can reduce heat stress.
Look out for water
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Think about drainage
The roots of a garden plant need air to grow. Too much moisture at the base of the plant can cause the roots to rot, which is why it's important to consider to think about the drainage when it comes to building a raised garden bed.
To keep excess water from getting into your raised garden bed, avoid putting your raised bed on a marshy site where the bottom of the bed will rest in water. You’ll face similar problems if you put your raised bed in a low spot that floods frequently. Consider planting a rain garden there instead.
To get excess water out of your raised garden bed, look at your soil. Soil with a high percentage of clay particles drains poorly. If you’re not sure what kind of soil you have, you can use a home soil texture test to see how much clay you have, or get a soil test from your state extension office.
Clay soil, in particular, can cause your raised garden bed to become water logged. The best way to improve the drainage for clay soil is to mix in organic matter such as compost or composted manure. Many sites recommend mixing in sand, but if you add sand to clay soil in the wrong proportions, you can end up with concrete.
You may need to put your raised garden bed on a slope that drains toward your house or another structure. Try putting gravel-filled trenches around the bed to direct the water where you want it to go.
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Avoid frost pockets
Have you ever noticed a low spot in your yard that seems to get frost earlier than the rest of the site? You may have a frost pocket, also known as a frost hollow. These are places where cool air tends to settle at night and get trapped by land or dense vegetation. Build your raised garden bed somewhere warmer.
2. Choose your method
There are three main types of raised beds.
Raised ground garden beds are large, flat mounds of earth. These backyard planting spots are easy to build since all you have to do is shovel dirt into a pile. The beds are not as effective at reducing weeds, improving drainage, and garden pests, as other types of garden beds. Ground garden beds can increase the soil temperature, but they are one of the most cost-effective ways to build a raised garden bed.
Supported raised garden beds have edging that stands roughly six to 10 inches tall. This sizing range is what you'll find with raised garden bed kits. Most garden plants need at least 10 inches of soil for their roots, so you may want to add compost or manure below your raised bed.
Container raised garden beds have walls that are 10 inches or taller. Since the bed stands higher than most, many plant roots won't reach the ground below. Raised beds that are 27 inches tall are a good height for those who use a wheelchair and are a good choice for accessible gardening. Container-style raised beds allow you to control the composition of the soil better than other DIY garden beds. Pro tip: You will need a lot or soil to fill the garden bed entirely.
3. Choose your shape
When it comes to garden bed shapes, there are plenty of options. Try a circular design, or you can purchase garden bed corners that allow you to attach your own lumber to make a square or rectangle design. Of course, you can always wing it with your own free-form design.
Whatever shape you choose, make sure that you can reach the middle. Most people are comfortable reaching up to two feet to make it easy to dig, plant, and weed.
You also want to make sure you can move around your raised garden bed, so try to make paths at least 24 inches wide. If you’re planning to mow next to your raised garden bed, do you have space to push your lawnmower? It may be easier to opt for mulch on your garden paths.
If you’re designing a wheelchair-accessible bed, grass, and mulch aren’t good options for paths; you will need a path made of firm, hard material. Wheelchair-accessible paths should be at least 36 inches wide—and don’t forget that a wheelchair user will need space to turn around at the end of the bed.
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4. Build and fill your bed
The simplest way to build a raised garden bed is to buy a pre-made bed, like ones that are simply giant bags made of landscaping fabric. You can get them in circles or rectangles up to 8 feet long.
Alternatively, you can buy a raised garden bed kit, or build a bed with your own lumber or wooden pallets.
If you’re building a raised garden bed with less than 10 inches of soil, think about how to best control the weeds. Lining the bottom of your bed with landscape fabric can help suppress weeds from sprouting.
Landscape fabric has its disadvantages, though. You may not want the plastic material in your garden, especially if you're growing edible plants. It also blocks earthworms and other beneficial insects from getting into the bed. You can also opt for putting two to three inches of mulch between your plantings.
Now, fill the garden bed with soil. If you’re using soil from your yard, you can replace up to half your soil with compost to help retain water, and give your plants more nutrients to grow green, full, and healthy.
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5. Put plants in your raised garden bed
Now comes the fun part—planting! Fill your garden bed with your favorite vegetables, herbs, and flowers.
There aren’t as many weeds in a raised bed (and the soil is full of nourishing compost), so you can put your plants closer together than most soil packets recommend. The University of Massachusetts Amherst recommends giving enough space between plants so that the leaves are shading most of the soil, and spread up to a half-inch of fine mulch like shredded leaves or coffee grounds between your plants to keep weeds down.
Don’t forget that you can maximize your space by growing crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and pole beans on a trellis in your raised bed. The sky’s the limit.
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