Raised Beds: A Smart Gardening Choice

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More people than ever are choosing to grow some herbs and vegetables at home. Some don’t have the space or tools to prepare a plot for a kitchen garden. Planting edibles (and even flowers) in raised garden beds is a smart decision for so many reasons. Consider these:

  • If your soil is not ideal, you can fill a raised bed with amended soil for less work and money.
  • Like containers, raised beds tend to warm faster than the ground, which can extend your growing season.
  • It is easier to clearly mark growing areas with raised beds – where the vegetable plot begins and the flowers end, for example.
  • Having sides on garden beds, even a foot or two off the ground, can help stop soil from washing off in heavy rains.
  • A nice, even raised bed makes square-foot gardening or row planting a little easier.
  • Finally, it is easier on gardeners’ backs and knees to bend and reach at raised bed level than at ground level, even if you only raise the bed a foot or two. Raising beds to about kitchen counter height is an ergonomic choice, especially for older gardeners.
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Our vegetable garden has stock tanks, a DIY raised wood bed and an easy raised bed kit.

Raised Bed Types and Materials

There are plenty of types, shapes and sizes to raised beds. Few “rules” govern the material you choose, other than making sure it will hold up to water and weather and is nontoxic. The type you choose depends on space, your DIY skills, budget and purpose.

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These wooden raised beds are in a community garden in Colorado.

DIY Bed from Wood

Probably the most popular is the DIY raised bed made with wood. See this excellent article on how to determine size, the tools you need and other tips from the National Garden Bureau. It’s better not to use pressure-treated wood because of possible chemical leaching; learn more on this article in Fine Gardening. Redwood, cypress or cedar make good choices for edible garden beds. Composite lumber can last longer than natural wood, but it should be rated for ground contact. Wood usually is the least expensive option.

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Raised beds from cement blocks work well for small edibles or fun collections, like these succulents in Pam Penick’s Austin backyard.

DIY With Other Materials

Here, we have lots of rocks. We used them to form a gabion wall in our backyard garden. You also can stack rocks, bricks or purchased pavers to form raised beds, especially against an existing fence or wall. Just be sure the wall of your bed is sturdy with some sort of nontoxic adhesive.

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Pavers, bricks and rocks can hold up a raised bed for ornamentals, separating it from grass or gravel yards.

Plastic is an option, but will crack and break in dry climates of the Southwest and might warp as well. Special hollow vinyl planks are a little tougher than just any plastic and are lighter than wood, but they eventually will get brittle and crack. Metals can rust, but using galvanized steel (roof panels are easy to find and cut to size) helps. Although galvanized metal can eventually rust, it takes a longer time to corrode. Finally, strawbale gardening is a real thing that cuts down on the need for good soil and the amount of weeding required. Just get advice on how to set it up.

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We built raised beds around our circular rock garden and filled the baskets with rocks, of course.
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Here is the same bed from the other side. It’s a great level for deadheading flowers.

Repurpose Materials

We have purchased or repurposed several metal stock tanks (water troughs) for raised beds in our gardens. Some were gifted from a neighbor; we used one to hold ice and beer for a wedding, and it’s been repurposed into a lettuce bed. I love the height of the stock tanks we use; shorter ones are cheaper. Here is a past post on how we prepped our stock tanks for garden use. I’ve seen use of tires (stacked to the desired height), pallets, old furniture, and other materials. Just make sure the material you use will hold up to water and weather, has no toxic materials that can leach into your vegetables and that add drainage holes if the container has a solid bottom.

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I have onions growing now in one stock tank. My clever husband ran the drip system into the tank for easy watering.

Purchase a Kit

If you’ve got the funds, lack DIY skills, or want your raised bed to look nice for front yard curb appeal, there are plenty of creative choices out there. Here is one page of choices from Gardeners Supply Company.  I reviewed a kit that I still use (and love) that took minutes to set up and came with its own watering system. Read the review on the Garden in Minutes kit here.

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Both our DIY raised bed and bed from a kit (top) are holding up well.
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Get creative with raised bed gardening.