Gardening 101: How to Start a Raised-Bed Garden

If you are short on space but yearning to grow a vibrant garden, a raised bed could be the answer. Raised-bed gardening is a convenient and easy choice for those with little to no outdoor space.

However, before you set out to build or buy your own raised bed, you’ll need the right tools and materials to get the job done.

Raised-bed gardens allow you to grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and more at home. You can place these gardens on the ground, on your patio or on a balcony, which means not even apartment living can stop you from having a garden.

What is a raised-bed garden?

Raised-bed gardens are manmade containers full of soil that enable you to grow plants almost anywhere. They are typically square or rectangular, but they can come in all shapes and sizes. For example, some raised-bed gardens aren’t just built into the ground, but rather elevated with wheels. Others may be round or include trellises for climbing plants.

You can purchase pre-constructed beds from a home and garden supply store. Alternatively, you can build your own from materials like cedar or galvanized metal.

The best type of plants for a raised-bed garden are vegetable plants. Vegetable gardens do very well in raised beds because this type of setup offers superb drainage, a break from the weeds and a confined space for seeds to flourish. However, you can also plant fruits and herbs as long as they are compatible with the garden bed environment.

Environment Needed for Raised-Bed Gardens

You can use a raised-bed garden almost anywhere. Unlike traditional gardens that are planted directly into the ground, raised-bed gardens sit above the earth. This means that the soil inside a raised-bed garden heats up quicker and earlier in the season than the soil in an in-ground garden.

If you live in a cold-weather climate, hold off on planting anything inside your raised-bed garden until after the last frost. However, if you are eager to get a head start, you can begin construction of your garden during the winter months. If you do this, cover up the raised bed with a tarp to prevent snow from penetrating the wood for long periods of time.

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Once the last frost is gone, you can begin to prep your raised-garden bed with gravel and soil. If you live in a warm-weather climate, you have the benefit of being able to grow vegetables and other plants throughout the year.

The types of vegetables that you can grow in your raised-bed garden will depend on the growing zone in which you live. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help you determine the best time to plant. The map is broken down into 10-degree zones based on the average yearly temperature during the winter.

Finally, raised gardens are generally recommended for sun-hungry vegetables. Therefore, whether you live in a warm or cold climate, you should place your garden bed in the sunniest spot you can. Raised-bed gardens should always be built in a spot that receives six to eight hours of sunlight each day.

Tools and Materials Needed to Start a Raised-Bed Garden

Building a raised-bed garden requires a few more tools than your average in-ground garden. Construction costs can add up quickly and will vary depending on the size of your garden bed.

You may need to rent or buy a few items from your local hardware store to effectively build a raised-bed garden. Expect to spend anywhere from $30 to $200, depending on your plans.

To build a raised-bed garden, you’ll need the following items:

  • Rake
  • Shovel
  • Gravel
  • Tape measure
  • Drill or hammer
  • Nails
  • Speed square
  • Screws
  • Soil
  • Lumber (such as cedar, oak or locust)

When selecting lumber for the bed, avoid pre-treated or painted wood. Paints and treatments may contain toxins that are harmful to the growth of your plants.

When you have your materials, measure your pieces and use the circular saw to cut them down to the right size. Use the speed square to make sure the angles of the wood pieces align. Once you have your frame measured and laid out, drill nails or screws into the garden bed to hold it all together.

Use your shovel to neatly move gravel into the base of the raised bed. After the gravel is laid down, it’s time to lay down the soil. Since you do not have to rely on the native dirt from your backyard, which can often be less than ideal for plant growth, treat your plants to a fresh and nutrient-rich soil if you can.

Pros and Cons of Starting a Raised-Bed Garden

Not only are raised-bed gardens a trendy and attractive way to dress up your green space, but they offer many benefits. To set yourself — and your future garden — up for success, you should weigh all of the pros and cons when it comes to starting a raised-bed garden. Here is what you need to know.

PROS

  • Weeds are less likely to grow since there is less space and separation from the ground.
  • The structure keeps pests like rodents, slugs and snails from snacking on your garden.
  • Raised-bed gardens take up very little space, and you can place plants close together.
  • Raised-bed gardens can be built right on top of a concrete slab, which means a backyard is not required.
  • Raised beds help keep the soil in place so that rain and wind do not wash or blow it away.
  • Raised-bed gardens heat up faster than soil in the ground does, which means it can be workable earlier in the season.

CONS

  • Too much heat in a raised-bed garden can cause the plants to become stressed and dehydrated.
  • The exterior barrier of the beds prevents air from getting to the plants, locking moisture in and increasing the chance of plant diseases.
  • It can be expensive to purchase the materials and tools required to build raised-bed gardens.

Tips for Your Raised-Bed Garden

Feel like you’re ready to start a raised-bed garden? Here are a few additional quick tips to get your raised-bed garden started off on the right foot:

  • Avoid placing your raised-bed garden on a wooden deck. When the raised bed is filled with soil and water, it may be too heavy for the wooden deck to support.
  • If you are building your raised bed directly on a soil, line the bed with a metal mesh like chicken wire to keep rodents from burrowing underneath.
  • If you are using a raised-bed garden with the intention of growing edible plants, make sure the raised bed is approximately 12 inches deep. This will give the roots of the vegetable plants plenty of room to grow.
  • Water your garden on a daily basis. Should any weeds make a surprise appearance, grab them by the base and gently pull them out of the soil to remove the entire root. Prune and harvest your plants as necessary.

Now that you know everything there is to know about raised-bed gardens, you can put your planting knowledge to the test and watch your garden grow!

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