Five Steps for Successful Raised Bed Gardening

Benefits of Raised Beds

First, you might be wondering why not just stick plants in the ground; why bother with raised beds? Raised beds are an excellent design for a number of reasons.

  • Raised beds improve drainage. In general, while plants need moisture, they don’t appreciate “wet feet”. Raised beds ensure good flow and drainage.
  • Raised beds improve aeration. An important component of good soil structure is air. Indeed, air comprises 25% of an ideal soil composition (25% air, 25% mineral soil, 45% mineral soil, and 5% organic matter). A raised bed allows you to fluff up the soil each season.
  • Raised beds add a sense of containment and order. Whether or not you have a raised bed within a structure, or with a natural border, they add a sense of order and organization to your landscape.

Raised Bed Inspiration

Next, let’s get some raised bed inspiration. As you can see, you can create a raised bed out of many materials and in a wide variety of shapes and sizes depending on your space and needs.

raised bed_0822

These raised beds, in the center of a community space, are thigh-high to keep animals out and ease harvesting of vegetables.

raised bed_1966

These raised beds, along the Fraser River in British Columbia, have benches around them to sit and enjoy the scenery.

raised beds within lawn

Not all raised beds have a border; these backyard beds were mounded up within the existing lawn.

This raised bed full of tasty herbs is located just off of a kitchen, making it easier to grab a fresh sprig of rosemary, thyme, sage, or whatever flavor is required.

This raised bed full of tasty herbs is located just off of a kitchen, making it easier to grab a fresh sprig of rosemary, thyme, sage, or whatever flavor is desired.

5 Steps for Creating a Raised Bed

Now that you recognize the benefits and are inspired, how do you go about creating a raised bed garden?

1. Pick a spot.

Full sun, or a mix of sun and shade, typically works best.

2. Pick your design / material. 

Use materials that are locally available to you. Wood (cedar typically lasts the longest), bricks, pots, and poured concrete are some ideas; the material should make sense for your space (and wallet!).

3. Fill the Space with Top Quality Soil

Generally speaking, a raised bed is at least 6”-10” higher than the existing soils. Also, you’ll want a soil blend that has both mineral soil (the existing soil) mixed with organic matter (e.g. compost or some other form of soil amendment). Harvest offers pre-blended mixes, such as Garden Soil in Connecticut, Garden Blend in British Columbia, and a range of bagged soil products (Potting Soil, Potting Mix, Soil Amendments, Peat Moss, and compost-based products) available from our retail partners.

4. Plant

Seeds or starts, veggies or flowers, plant what makes sense for you! Your local garden center will have tips. Our advice:

  • Start out small and build from your successes.
  • Have fun! Grow what you know. Also feel free to experiment! Gardening is a forgiving activity that provides an endless opportunity for exploring and learning.

5. Maintain

ON THE SIDE: It can be nice to maintain the border of your raised bed by applying a 2-3” layer of mulch, or rock, gravel, or pavers to keep down weeds.

SEASON TO SEASON: Your soil will get depleted over time. We suggest adding a 2-4” layer of soil amendment, such as compost or a potting mix, and mixing it into the top 6” of the bed every couple years. Of course, as with everything, remember to water.

NOTE: With watering, plants typically prefer a few long drinks (a couple deep water sessions per week) over short sips (many short sprays of water per week).

Let’s get back to some raised bed inspiration.

This raised bed is outside of a school: each class gets one plot. Also, check out the easy-to-maintain mulch that keeps the weeds at bay.

These raised beds are outside of a school: each class gets one plot. Also, check out the easy-to-maintain mulch that keeps down weeds.

Looks like the garlic (with a light mulch of straw) and kale (background) overwintered in these beds.

The garlic (in the foreground with a light mulch of straw) and kale (in the background) overwintered in these beds.

Yum: Strawberries, a great, simple snack on the way to class.

Yum! Strawberries, a great, simple snack on the way to class.

Ahoy! Who says raised beds need to be square.

Ahoy! Who says raised beds need to be square.

Looks like this gardener is going to try out square foot gardening.

Looks like this gardener is going to try out square foot gardening.

A raised bed at a Harvest site in Connecticut.  It's like a blank canvas waiting for gardening art.

A raised bed at a Harvest site in Connecticut. It’s like a blank canvas waiting for gardening art.

Note the weed deterrent strategy: cleared ground, covered with cloth, covered with a layer of mulch.

Note the weed deterrent strategy: cleared ground, covered with cloth, covered with a layer of mulch.

Simple, productive, orderly, and beautiful raised beds. What fun!

Simple, productive, orderly, and beautiful raised beds. What fun!

Do you have a raised bed?  If so, what style worked for you? What have you grown?

4 replies
  1. Kyle Wayne
    Kyle Wayne says:

    My wife is planning on implementing a garden bed at our home but wants to do it in the best way. I like what you said about design and what materials to use. I didn’t know that cedar typically lasts longer. Do you have any other tips for the decorations that should accompany the garden?

    Reply
    • Meredith Sorensen
      Meredith Sorensen says:

      Not knowing the size, space, or motivations, it’s hard to be specific. In general, I’d say A) follow your passions, and B) start small and build from your success. Gardening can fall along a broad spectrum of work and play. If the garden space is interesting, you and your wife will be more interested in spending time in it and maintaining it. For example, if you hate carrots, don’t plant a bed of carrots. (And vice versa, if you love cooking, you’ll love an herb garden where you can step outside for a sprig of parsley or bunch of chives). Also, gardens want to grow – which is great! – but can get overwhelming. As you start out, consider starting small and gaining confidence. For example, instead of growing every vegetable, perhaps go with a few basics like a leafy green (lettuce, or kale or chard plants), a couple tomato starts (maybe a cherry and a beefsteak), some basil plants (to go with your tomatoes), a few rows of a root vegetable like carrots or beets, and round it out with a geranium. I’m assuming you’re angling for veggies… but the same holds true if you’re aiming for a perennial garden. The garden is a WONDERFUL teacher and has lessons for all of each year. Be patient. Have fun. Dig in. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  2. Rex
    Rex says:

    This has given me some inspiration for the off cuts that we have lying around at the workshop and I know just the friend that could use them. She has a couple of beds going at her church but these look even better. Thank you!

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] should I make my raised bed? Check out “5 steps for successful raised bed gardening” post that includes tips and […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *