If you’re thinking about starting a garden, your best bet is to do so in a raised bed.
Learning how to build a raised bed isn’t complicated, and it can save you quite a bit of money. A store-bought raised garden bed will be pretty expensive, with many options costing several hundred dollars.
However, you can save money and grow your food by doing a DIY-raised garden. These sorts of projects are easy to build and will only take a few hours of your time. There are no special skills required!
If you’re ready to learn how to make your own raised beds for your garden, consider these tips.
But wait! Before you start building, be sure to check out this list of the most common raised garden bed mistakes.
What Exactly Are Raised Garden Beds?
If you’re brand-new to gardening, you might be wondering why you should grow in a raised garden bed – and what a raised garden bed is!
The term “raised bed” refers to a freestanding garden box that has no top or bottom. Usually, it’s positioned in a sunny spot and then filled with high-quality gardening soil.
Plants can still use their roots to access soil nutrients in the ground, but you’ll have more control over other variables when you are planting.
Technically, a raised bed can even be constructed without the frame. You have to mound soil a few inches off the ground and flatten the top.
Why Should I Grow in Raised Beds?
There are countless benefits associated with growing in a raised garden bed.
For one, these beds drain well, preventing soils from becoming waterlogged and eroded.
They warm up far earlier in the spring than the soil directly on the ground. You’ll get a longer growing season since you can plant much earlier in a raised bed than you would be able to otherwise.
Weeds are less likely to infiltrate raised beds, too. Although you will still need to stay on top of weeding your raised beds, you’ll find that the weeds are less aggressive and prolific because the seeds have a more challenging time getting up to the elevated beds.
As long as you don’t walk in your raised beds, you shouldn’t have any issues with soil compaction, either. You won’t have to till or dig at the beginning of the spring.
For the most part, raised beds are easier to work in and around than traditional gardens.
You won’t have to bend and stoop to reach your plants because the raised beds are elevated so much higher than the ground.
With raised beds, it’s easier to engage in revolutionary and beneficial gardening techniques like companion planting, square foot gardening, and crop rotation.
They’re also perfect for spaces in which a conventional row-based garden might not be practical.
Drawbacks of Raised Garden Beds
There aren’t many disadvantages of growing in a raised garden bed. Some gardeners prefer in-ground planting because they allow for larger plot sizes, and if that applies to you, then no worries!
Raised beds aren’t for everyone. They can be costly to build, even if you DIY your project, than in-ground planting that requires zero infrastructure. Plus, raised beds are permanent, so if you decide to move your garden, you’re out of luck later on.
Raised bed soil can dry out faster than other soil. While it warms up more quickly, too, meaning you may be able to plant earlier in the season than you could otherwise, it will require a bit more attention when it comes to irrigation.
Finally, raised beds to require more space between the beds to move around them. If you have limited space in the garden, to begin with, you might want to reconsider raised beds because they’ll limit that space even further.
What Materials Should My Raised Bed Garden Be Made Out Of?
There are several types of materials you can use to build your raised bed garden. Choosing the best type will depend on how big you want your garden bed to be, what kind of materials you already have on hand to build DIY raised beds and your budget.
If you can, steer clear of pressure-treated or painted wood. It can leach chemicals or lead into the soil.
What Kind of Wood Should Be Used for Raised Beds?
You can use any wood you want to build your raised bed garden, but untreated, rot-resistant wood is the best bet for a garden bed.
Pine is cheap but will rot after several years. Instead, locust, redwood, or cedar are recommended. Although they can be expensive, making them cost-prohibitive if you grow multiple garden beds, they’ll last much longer.
Recycled wood is another option, but it can also be pricey. Some people use pallets, but you will want to make sure they weren’t treated with chemicals like methyl bromide. These can harm your health.
There are even ways you can learn how to build a raised garden bed out of things like railroad ties! All you have to do is lay out the spikes to form the frame of your raised bed garden, then pound in iron spikes.
Other Materials to Use in Raised Beds
One popular alternative to wood in raised beds is brick. You can place bricks from end to end around the edges of your mattress. You can also stand them on back to build a raised garden bed that’s a bit taller, too.
If you use brick, consider burying them a bit to help stabilize them and to prevent seeds from growing in through the cracks.
You can also use cement blocks. Cement blocks are great for a DIY raised garden that you will use to grow heat-loving crops since they retain heat.
Concrete can be used, but it does increase the pH of the soil over time. Composite wood, made out of a combination of plastic fibers and wood, is a good option, as are rocks, stones, and cinder blocks.
Calculating the Ideal Size for a Raised Garden Bed
Now that you have an idea of what kinds of materials can be used to build your raised bed garden, it’s time to consider which size will be best.
Best Width for a Raised Bed
For the most part, a raised bed should never be any wider than four feet. It will be difficult for you to reach your plants without stepping into the bed if it’s broader than that.
Stepping into your raised bed garden is a bad idea for several reasons. For one, you risk stepping on and crushing your plants. For another, it makes it more likely that you will compact the soil.
So a width of no more than four feet is recommended. If you plan on installing the raised bed against a fence or wall, even narrower will be best since you will only be able to access your garden from one side.
Best Height for Raised Beds
Next, the height and depth of your raised bed garden. Again, you don’t want to make it too tall since this will be more space that you have to fill with soil (which can be expensive).
However, you also need to make sure it’s tall enough for your plants to get their roots fully into the ground.
Most lumber comes in a standard size of six inches tall. It’s also possible to stack the boards for a more elevated bed.
You can go even taller than two boards stacked on top of each other, but the additional soil will add weight and pressure to the sides of the bed, so you’ll want to cross brace a raised bed over 12 inches high to make sure it doesn’t collapse.
Where Should I Put My Raised Beds?
The best place for a raised bed will be in a location that receives lots of suns.
Most vegetables require at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.
The raised bed should be on the ground level and somewhat close to the house for easy water access.
Try not to put your raised bed in a known frost pocket or overly windy location, and make sure it is positioned over well-draining soil.
Even though you will be adding your soil to the raised bed, you should do your best to avoid swampy areas to reduce the work you need to do.
Preparing a Raised Bed for Planting
Before building your raised bed, clear the area.
Mow the grass as short as possible. Then, smother the grass with layers of cardboard and newspaper. This will eventually rot down into the soil, helping to add nutrients as it breaks down.
After putting down the cardboard, add a four-inch-thick layer of compost.
Now you can start to build a raised bed that your neighbors will envy!
Tips to Build Your Own Raised Beds
Building a raised bed is easy, especially when you consider that you’re just making a box.
All you need is the wood, a hand saw, and tape measurer, a screwdriver, screws, and a drill with bits.
If you have two 8-foot longboards, mark the halfway point and cut each in half. This will allow you to build a 4×4 bed. This will give you four planks.
Screw them together with deck screws – all you need is two holes at the end of each plank.
If you want to install bracing for a sturdier frame, use a pine stake cut into four pieces, then use those pieces to nail the boards at the corners for extra bracing.
Then, you can lay out your beds. The walls should be positioned so that each plank overlaps the next, with pilot holes for the screws at the overlapping ends.
Make sure there’s a close fit.
Filling Your Raised Garden Beds With Soil
Once your bed is built, and in place, you can fill the raised bed with soil.
Use a nutrient-rich mixture of compost and garden soil. If you plan to plant immediately, you should also add a layer of topsoil meant to grow vegetables.
This type of soil has a more delicate texture that will make it easier for you to sow and plant immediately.
In general, make sure you have a balance of about 40% compost, 40% topsoil, and 20% aerated material (like pumice or perlite) for extra drainage.
Fill the raised bed to the top. It might seem over-full, but it will settle as you water it.
Planting in Raised Beds
You can grow just about anything you want in a raised bed. Deciding on the best types of plants will largely depend on how tall you are building raised beds.
For example, a raised bed garden that’s a bit shorter will work well with shorter plant roots – think plants like lettuce, spinach, herbs, radishes, strawberries, chives, and marigolds.
If you want to build a taller raised bed, deep-rooted plants like carrots, tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes will thrive.
Again, you should be able to plant a bit sooner in your simple raised bed than you would if you were growing directly in the ground.
Plan your schedule out so that you have your raised beds built and ready to go by the time planting season rolls around – that way, your plants won’t wilt while you’re still getting things assembled!
Caring For Your Plants in Raised Beds
Now that you know how to build your own raised bed, all that’s left is to get started! You can grow plants from seed or starter plants within your raised garden bed.
Building raised beds isn’t hard.
Now that you know the ropes for creating your planting beds, you can keep building raised beds each gardening season until your backyard is overrun with them!