Building Raised Garden Beds
Planters and flower pots are great ways to garden, but the best way to grow fresh edibles in your own yard is in a raised garden bed. Elevated garden beds make it easier to control the soil and protect against pests.
Raised bed plans and kits come in different styles and sizes and are great for growing your own salsa or salad ingredients. Once you’ve mastered the technique, you can make a raised garden bed to plant crowds of seasonal flowers to add color to your landscape.
This guide will teach you how to build raised garden beds, how to choose a location for your raised bed, how to set it up, and how to plant and maintain your vegetables and flowers.
The Best Placement and Sizes for Raised Beds
You create raised beds by building a large container and filling it with soil, compost, and aerating materials. You can use anything from wood planks to logs, metal panels, purpose-made plastic, and other materials however the most common type is made with wood. Before construction, you’ll need to work out a few things: the situation, bed sizes, number of beds, and the building materials. Choose a sunny spot and if it’s well-drained and had good soil that’s a bonus. Recommended width for a raised bed is four feet (1.2m) by Eight feet (2.4m).
Beds this wide are easy to reach into from all sides which is what you want to help with maintaining the beds. Most of the positives of growing in raised beds come down to their being elevated. Giving the soil a bit of height can help improve drainage, and can also thaw out a bit quicker in spring. The height of raised beds is anywhere from six inches to waist-high. You can have whatever height you’d like since it’s only dependent on your needs. If you’re in a wheelchair or have mobility issues then a taller structure will help you to reach into beds. If you have poor soil, then you’ll want your beds deep enough to accommodate the longest roots. This can be up to two feet. Another positive thing about raised beds is that they help stop erosion.
Raised bed garden layout
Choose a sunny spot
If possible, situate beds away from trees and hedges
Build beds to be 4′ wide or less
Give space between beds to walk, mow, or push a wheelbarrow through.
Use a grid layout for rectangular beds. This makes access easier
Raised garden bed materials
Once you know the size of beds you’d like and the layout, you’ll be able to work out your materials.
2- 16′ planks cut down into 8′
2- 4′ lengths. The planks are 1.85″ thick and 6″ wide.
For the corner posts, 2×2″ stakes that are 2 long. Posts may need to be longer if beds are on a slope so they don't move at all. If you’re on a flat surface, you don’t need to drive the stakes in if you don’t wish. That means they can be as short as the height of your finished beds.
To make wooden raised beds you’ll also need long stainless steel screws meant for outdoor use. They’re usually called exterior or decking screws.
Building Raised Garden Beds
Each bed will have eight planks and four stakes. There are two planks for each side with the shorter sides being 4′ and the longer ones are 8′. The stakes don’t need to be driven into the ground for flat surfaces. For slopes, it’s a good idea to have them 8-12″ in the ground.
To begin, place two shorter planks together on a flat surface.
Attach them to stakes set at the corners. A screw goes through the stake into each plank and it helps to drill a pilot hole first. This helps stop the wood from splitting. With this design, we also left space between the stake and the edge of the planks. This space is where the longer planks for the other sides would slot in. Set the stakes slightly below the edge of the planks (about an inch) so they’re not as visible.
Repeat this process for the shorter planks for the other side of the bed.
Take these finished sides to near the area you’re building the beds.
Constructing The Beds In The Garden
Once those two shorter sides are put together, you can finish building the beds.
Lay two of the longer planks on the ground. Set one of the shorter sides upright at a 90-degree angle to the long planks. Screw through the stake into the longer planks to attach. Repeat this step and attach the other short side to the other end of the long planks.
With the help of a second person, lay the three-sided bed down flat. Attach the last two long planks to form the last side. Make sure the printed side will be on the inside of the bed once again.
Measure where your beds are to be placed and mark the areas where the four corners will be.
If you’re on a flat surface, flip the bed over and set it in its position. Skip the next step.
Raised garden beds on slopes need a bit more stability. It’s to stop movement and give the bed a firmer standing. Driving the stakes into the ground helps the beds and wood to stay put and reduce splitting. Dig holes deep enough for each of the stakes at the four corners and then flip the bed over and put it in its final placement. Fill in the holes and stamp down.
Screw each shorter plank into its adjoining longer plank with two screws. Drill pilot holes first.
Fill the beds with your choice of topsoil, compost, manure, and conditioning/aerating materials. Wait two weeks for the beds to settle before planting up.
Lining Raised Beds
Line the bottoms and sides with landscaping fabric to help stop roots from a nearby hedge or trees getting in. Tree roots tend to hang out in the top 18″ of soil so the raised beds should be free of root-invasion. If you’re planning on building raised garden beds, try to situate yours at a good distance from trees. Everything from shrubs to trees will creep their way near those fertile boxes of nutrients.
Be sure to use a liner that is water-permeable, this will ensure the beds don’t get waterlogged. For that reason, it’s probably not the best idea to line raised beds in plastic sheeting.
Raised Garden Bed Soil
One of the most confusing parts of building raised garden beds is choosing what to fill them with. If you’ve chosen not to line your beds, still put down a layer of cardboard or stacks of newspaper. This will suppress the grass and weeds below.
The general rule is to fill raised garden beds with 40% topsoil mixed with 40% compost or well-rotted manure, and 20% material that adds drainage and water-retaining properties. Organic matter, such as compost should be applied yearly as a mulch. They not only suppress weeds but maintain soil health and productivity.
If you’re using fresh or partially composted manure please be aware of two things. First, weed seeds will not be killed off in it. Secondly, you can’t plant directly into it. It’s high in ammonia and will burn plant roots.
TOP 7 COMMON MISTAKES IN RAISED BED GARDENING
1. Raised Beds are too wide: If the width of your raised beds prevents you from working all sides within your reach, you will find yourself stepping inside the bed
2. You don’t plan for irrigation: Unless you want to hand-water your raised beds with a watering can , you need to plan ahead of time how you will irrigate the beds.
3. Material Used is Unsafe: Do not use pressure-treated wood manufactured prior to 2003. Pressure-treated wood manufactured prior to 2003 may contain chromated copper arsenate
4. Raised Bed Garden Soil Lacks Nutrients: Many soil combinations will work well with raised beds, but some do not. Potting soil, for example, drains too quickly. Unless your raised bed sits on concrete or rocks (and thus acts more like a container), skip the potting soil. You need more substance than what potting soil can provide. Another mistake is using soil with too much nitrogen content, like a bed full of composted manure or a bag of soil filled with chemical fertilizers. Your plants will grow great but fruit-producing plants like tomatoes produce little fruit.
5. Raised Beds are placed too close together: You want enough room to be able to work between the beds comfortably — two to three feet at least
6. Pathways grow up with weeds and grass: If you don’t want to keep mowing or weed eating the grass and weeds around your raised beds, place a barrier down before the weeds and grass emerge for the season.
7. Neglecting to Mulch Raised Beds: Mulch regulates the soil temperature and retains moisture — both critical needs of raised beds in the hot summer.
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