Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about how to construct and plant a raised bed garden in your yard.
Q: What can I plant in a raised bed garden?
A: You can grow anything in a raised bed, from vegetables and herbs to flowers, bulbs, shrubs, and trees.
Q: Is raised-bed gardening different from regular gardening?
A: Raised beds are dryer than the surrounding soil, so they’ll need more water during summer. There are many advantages to raised bed gardening; but you’ll still need to care for your plants.
Q: Should I build my own raised bed, or buy a kit?
A: Whether to use a raised bed kit or build from scratch is a matter of preference. Building your own raised bed allows you to customize the design, size, and shape and may cost less. However, some kits have cool features, like watering systems and critter-proof linings.
Q: Are raised beds easy to build?
A: Constructing a raised bed can be simple or complicated, depending on the materials used. Lower raised beds are easier to build than high ones.
Q: What materials can be used for raised beds?
A: There are lots of materials to choose from for raised beds, including:
- Masonry: Brick, block, and stone are great choices for raised beds. You can cement with mortar for permanent beds, or use stackable retaining wall blocks for a raised bed that can be disassembled and moved.
These materials are a source of debate:
- Plastic: Because of the possibility of chemicals leaching into the soil, you’ll find gardeners on both sides of the argument over using plastic materials for raised beds. If you do use plastic, make sure it’s BPA-free, food-grade plastic.
Q: How big should a raised bed garden be?
A: The standard width for a raised bed garden is 4 feet – which is narrow enough to reach into the bed from both sides without having to step in it. If you can only access a raised bed from one side, make it 3 feet wide.
The length of a raised bed garden can vary, but very long ones can make walking around them inconvenient. When putting in multiple beds side by side, make the aisles between beds at least 3 feet wide, to accommodate wheelbarrows.
For more information about garden size and yields, check out Choosing the Right Size Vegetable Garden.
Q: How high should a raised bed be?
A: The higher, the better! Higher beds mean less digging in the soil underneath and less stooping. As a general rule, herbs and salad greens need 6”- 12” of soil while vegetables require 12”- 18”. You can either build your bed to the proper height, or till down into the existing soil. Raised beds for wheelchairs or sitting gardeners should be 24” or higher.
Q: What kind of dirt should I put in a raised bed garden?
A: The best soil you can get! One of the benefits of raised beds is the ability to control the soil. If you have a compost pile, mix it into the soil in the raised bed. Potting mixes from local landscape supply yards also work well and can be purchased by the truckload or delivered.
Q: How do I prepare an area for a raised bed?
A: The best raised beds mix the new, rich soil in with the existing soil underneath, to prevent having a sharp delineation between soil textures. To do this, you’ll need to remove the grass, till, and level the ground underneath your raised bed location, then incorporate compost and organic matter into the ground soil before topping off the bed with new soil.
If the bed is higher than 12” you can probably get by putting the new soil on top of the grass, but line the bottom of the bed with biodegradable paper or landscape fabric first to prevent weeds.
Q: Can I adapt raised beds for shade or to keep out pests?
A: Raised beds are very adaptable – the easiest solution is to use flexible PVC pipe or bamboo bent into an arch and tucked into the side of a raised bed to form a frame for shade cloths, frost cloths, or bird netting.