Raised bed vegetable gardening takes very little space and allows vegetables to be grown closer together. It’s also a great solution for areas with poor native soil. Discover how to make the best use of your raised beds.
Raised bed gardening is a great way to grow vegetables — especially if the native soil is poor or compacted or has poor drainage. And there’s no bending over to pull weeds or harvest vegetables.
Hortus, Ltd./P. Allen Smith
Garden designer P. Allen Smith incorporated formal raised vegetable beds into the landscape at his Garden Home in Little Rock.
Choose a location that gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, preferably more. If the site is not level, it will need to be leveled before building your raised bed. Ideally, the site will not be shaded by trees or have competition from tree roots in the soil. Remove lawn in the location before adding soil to the bed.
The ideal width of a raised bed is 3-4 feet, so that veggies will be within an arm’s reach from either side. If you’re siting a raised bed against a fence, wall or other backdrop, the width should be more narrow so you can reach to the back of the bed. The ideal length of the bed is limited only by your space and materials.
Drainage in a raised bed is superior to that in an in-ground garden bed. A 12-inch-deep bed provides ample room for most vegetable roots.
The soil in raised beds warms up more quickly in spring so planting can be done earlier. And if the bed is narrow, 3 feet or less, there will be no need to step on the soil and thus it prevents compaction. It’s much easier for roots to grow in loose soil.
If the raised bed sits directly on the soil, line the planting bed with hardware cloth or chicken wire at building time to prevent visits from burrowing animals such as gophers and moles.
Fill a raised bed with good quality raised bed soil, which can be a mix of native soil, compost and lightweight amendments such as peat and perlite that improve drainage.
Don’t build a raised bed on a wooden deck: When the bed is full of soil and water, its weight could cause structural damage.
How to Start Raised Beds 02:24
Materials for Raised Beds
The bed may be made of wood, stone, brick, metal, cinderblocks or any other material from which you can build a base at least 12 inches deep.
Almost any type of vegetables can be grown in raised beds, though most gardeners limit their raised beds to annuals only. Annual vegetables include most of the top crops for vegetable gardening, such as:
How to Plant a Raised Bed Garden
- Fill the bed with good-quality garden soil and compost, and rake the surface smooth and level. Remove any rocks or debris.
- Plants in raised beds may be spaced a little closer together because there’s no need to allow for walking space as in a row garden.
- Plant lettuce by poking holes in the soil with your finger at 6-inch intervals, and sprinkle a few seeds into each hole. Once the seeds germinate, thin to one seedling per hole.
- You can also broadcast seeds over the surface of the raised bed. If you plant carrots, apply fine-textured potting soil over the top of the seeds. Carrots will attract some species of butterflies to your raised beds.
- Cucumbers may be planted along the edge of the raised bed, where they can trail over the side.
- Water the garden well immediately after planting and apply mulch around plants to limit evaporation and control weeds.