Everything You Need to Know About Gardening in Raised Beds

Are you embarking on a new gardening venture or planning to revamp your current garden setup? Perhaps it’s time to consider the benefits of growing in raised bed gardens this season. Here’s why we’re enthusiastic about raised bed gardening:

  1. Extended Growing Season: Unlike in-ground beds, raised bed soil warms up and drains faster in spring. This translates to a few additional weeks of growing for garden enthusiasts.
  2. Superior Soil: The beauty of raised beds lies in the ease of amending soil to meet your specific growing requirements.
  3. Increased Harvests: Intensive planting and vertical support structures contribute to a more productive garden.
  4. No Competition: A defined growing space ensures that weeds, pets, and kids stay out of your garden!
  5. Healthier Soil: By avoiding soil compaction due to foot traffic, raised bed soil remains airy and well-aerated.
  6. Convenient Access: Elevated raised beds and planters bring your garden to a comfortable height, eliminating the need for excessive bending.
  7. Versatile Gardening: With a vast range of raised bed materials, styles, and sizes, you can garden anywhere—over heavy clay soils, in front of an unsightly fence, or directly on your deck.
  8. Plant Protection: Row fabrics, covers, and cloches provide essential protection from pests and inclement weather, and they’re effortless to install on raised beds.

Selecting a Raised Bed for Your Garden: Gardener’s Supply offers a diverse selection of raised beds, from DIY-style setups to complete kits crafted from cedar, composite wood, recycled plastic, and galvanized steel. Consider elevated raised beds for a no-bend gardening experience.

To assist in choosing the right raised bed, consult our Raised Bed Buying Guide.

Sustainable Raised Beds

Our Sustainable Raised Beds, composed of recycled wood and plastic, can be assembled quickly and will last for decades. They boast the attractive appearance of aged cedar without splintering or rotting.

Raised beds come in varying heights, with a minimum starting height of about 6 inches. In general, more soil depth allows plant roots to grow freely and hold more moisture, reducing the need for frequent watering. If you’re installing a raised bed on poor or compacted soil or concrete, opt for the deepest bed you can afford, ideally with a depth of 10-12 inches. Be aware that deeper beds require more soil for filling, so use the Soil Calculator to determine the necessary amount of soil.

How many raised beds you should have depends on your available space and time. If you have limited space or time, start with one raised bed. If you aim to produce a significant quantity of fresh vegetables, you’ll likely require at least three or four beds. Utilize the Kitchen Garden Planner, a free online garden design tool, to plan the placement of crops in each bed, helping you determine the total number of beds you need.

Siting and Preparing a Raised Bed Garden

Now that your raised bed is assembled, and you’re eager to start planting, remember that proper site selection and preparation are crucial for a successful garden. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider when choosing a location for your raised bed:

DO Consider Sunlight: Most herbs, vegetables, and annual flowers thrive in full sun, so select a location that receives approximately 8 hours of sunlight per day. If your garden area is shaded, research plants that thrive in partial shade for your specific microclimate.

DON’T Choose a Wet Area: Raised beds require good drainage to prevent waterlogged soil. Avoid low, wet spots and consider planting moisture-loving native plants in such areas.

DO Think About Water Access: Since you’ll need to water your garden during the growing season, make sure there’s convenient access to a hose. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems are efficient watering methods.

DON’T Skimp on Soil: High-quality, nutrient-rich soil is essential for your garden’s success. Raised beds offer an advantage over in-ground gardens because you can fill them with superior soil. Familiarize yourself with soil and fertilizer terminology and make any necessary amendments to improve soil texture, pH, or drainage. Compost is always beneficial; you can either make your own or purchase ready-made compost to enhance your garden.

Raised Bed Soil

The choice of soil for your raised bed is crucial. If you’re new to gardening or dealing with a small bed, consider using a pre-mixed bag of raised bed soil that includes compost and organic matter. For larger beds, buying soil components in bulk and mixing them yourself may be more cost-effective.

When buying topsoil in bulk, seek information about its origin from a reputable garden center or nursery. Examine the soil for a dark, crumbly texture and an earthy scent. Avoid soil that is excessively clayey, has an unusual odor, or feels sticky. For a balanced raised bed soil mix, aim for approximately 50-60% topsoil and 40-50% compost.

The required bed depth depends on the plants you intend to grow. Leafy greens and herbs need at least 6 inches of growing depth, while deeper-rooted crops like tomatoes and squash require 12-18 inches of nutrient-rich soil. In general, deeper beds promote stronger root systems. When installing a raised bed over grass or bare soil, dig down 6-12 inches to remove rocks and debris, incorporating some raised bed soil for additional depth.

How Much Soil Do I Need?

Use the Soil Calculator to determine the quantity you require.

Adding organic matter, such as leaf mold, further enhances soil microbial life and moisture retention. If you plan to grow specialty crops that benefit from specific nutrients or pH adjustments, incorporate the necessary soil amendments into your raised bed.

Planting in Raised Beds

When planting in raised beds, choose plants that bring you joy and that you look forward to tending all season long. Whether you’re a cooking enthusiast or prefer cutting flowers for DIY bouquets, there’s a perfect selection for your garden.

Raised beds are designed for intensive planting, so keep plants close together to retain moisture and minimize weed growth. However, be cautious not to overcrowd plants, as this can hinder their growth due to poor air circulation and competition for nutrients and root space.

Seeding: Starting your garden from seed allows you to explore a variety of plant varieties. Some vegetables and crops, like root vegetables, beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, and squash, can be sown directly into the garden from seed. Soil temperature is an essential factor for successful seeding, with most plants thriving at 60-70 degrees F. The garden layout, including the use of rows or broadcast seeding, can help you maximize planting efficiency.

Transplanting: Transplanting plants into the raised bed can significantly shorten the time to harvest. Cold regions with shorter growing seasons benefit from transplanting since some plants may not have enough time to mature when started from seed. Visit your local garden center or farmstand to find seedlings ready for transplanting into your raised bed.

See more: How to Build a Raised Garden Bed for Just $100

Tending Your Raised Bed Garden

Watering a Raised Bed: Although we hope for ideal weather, it’s essential to monitor and provide water to your plants as needed. Raised bed soil retains moisture better than in-ground soil, and closely spaced plants reduce soil evaporation. Checking soil moisture by feeling the soil with your hands is the best approach. Stick your finger into the soil to a depth of around 3 inches, and if it feels lightly damp, it’s adequately watered. When heading on vacation, consider using a water timer to ensure your garden remains well-watered.

Weeding a Raised Bed

Raised beds typically experience fewer weeds, thanks to their intensive planting. However, when weeds do appear, promptly remove them to prevent competition for nutrients and space among your crops. Use manual weed removal methods rather than herbicides to keep your garden organic.

Fertilizing a Raised Bed

Starting with high-quality, compost-rich soil is crucial, but some vegetables and annual flowers are heavy feeders. Midseason fertilization can benefit crops that take several months to mature. Add a slow-release organic fertilizer between crops if you’re practicing succession planting.

Supporting Plants in a Raised Bed: Certain plants, such as pole beans and tomatoes, require support structures like cages or trellises to grow properly and produce a bountiful crop. Strong supports prevent stem breakage and enhance air circulation, reducing disease spread. Plant supports encourage vertical growth, making it easier to harvest and maintain your garden. Consider the growth habits of neighboring plants when positioning supports.

Protecting Your Raised Bed Garden

Raised bed gardens can face challenges such as unexpected cold snaps, hungry pests, intense sunlight, vine borers, birds, or early frosts. However, you can safeguard your garden by using plant protectors and row covers, which are simple to install. Ensure that young seedlings are planted during mild, cool, and drizzly weather. Water new seedlings thoroughly and cover them with garden fabric in case of adverse weather conditions. This allows the plants to establish their roots before they rely on the soil for moisture and nutrients.

For more in-depth guidance on raised bed gardening, you can also watch our friend Laura from Garden Answer, who provides a comprehensive overview of raised beds, covering topics like soils, fertilizers, watering, and more. Now, you’re all set to start your raised bed garden and watch your garden flourish!

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