Whether you have a sprawling lawn that stretches for acres or a humble concrete patio for a yard, chances are you've incorporated some plants and greenery into your landscape design. Small additions to the garden like hanging plants, potted bouquets, garden vegetables, shrubs, and herbs all boost the interest and diversity of your yard. Another feature that offers both visual appeal and function is raised beds. Made from any variety of materials, raised beds offer improved soil conditions and convenience. Raised beds are easy to make and most do-it-yourself types can handle the task.
What are They?
Raised beds, also known as garden beds or garden boxes, are exactly what the name implies--a garden bed that is raised off the ground. Raised beds can be slightly elevated, meaning not more than a few inches, or quite high bringing them to waist height. How much you elevate your garden box will ultimately depend on your needs. For example, if you live in a wet climate and often experience mild flooding, getting your precious plants just a few inches above soupy groundwater may be all you need. If you're someone who has mobility issues or gets fatigued in the garden, raising a garden bed to waist level is a great way to get some relief. Some gardeners who just can't stay away despite the limitations of their bodies even use garden benches or stools with raised beds so they can tend to their bulbs while remaining comfortably seated.
Materials vary, but an open bottom is one thing that all raised beds have in common. This is in contrast to planters that have an enclosed bottom in order to contain the soil and root systems. Because garden boxes are nothing more than four sides (typically), building one is straightforward.
There are many advantages to using a raised bed. Firstly, with a frame holding soil in place, you will suffer less soil runoff from watering and rains. Also, raised beds allow better drainage than in-ground planting, a feature that benefits many types of plants. Another advantage of raised beds is the ability to easily amend, which offers a healthier, more balanced soil. Of course, raised beds are also often easier on the back as they are higher up and require less rigorous digging as you work. Another feature of garden beds is the separation they offer from nearby weeds. While your pathways may be overrun by grass or weeds, few will settle inside your raised beds, making your gardening job much easier and offering a less-competitive environment for your plants. Lastly, raised beds offer a barrier from ground-crawling bugs such as slugs.
Raised beds can be made from just about anything that can confine the soil and plants inside it. Most commonly, beds are made from wood 2 x 4s, 2 x 6s, or even pallet boards. Any wood that can be connected to create a side will work, depending on your preference of finished look. Railroad ties are another common material that can often be found in a discard pile and picked up for free. For a more urban rustic look, you could attach aluminum siding to your garden boxes. Eventually the metal will patina, adding a unique finish.
Another popular alternative to wood is various types of stone. For example, pavers or landscaping blocks can easily be stacked to create raised beds. Brick or boulders are other options. To create a statement, you could even use upside-down wine bottles in a tight row to create a border for your garden bed. The options are only limited by your imagination.
For an easy commercial solution, you can purchase pre-cut garden boxes or go with a synthetic material from your local garden center, such as a resin divider.
A raised bed doesn’t have to be a box. This is the traditional design because a square or rectangle makes for efficient use of space, is easy to design and build, and allows ease of access to the plants inside. If you’d like to map out a curved raised bed, simply lay your garden hose along the outskirts to use as a visual template. Then rattle can some spray paint along the edge of the hose to outline the border of your beds before you dig or build.
If your raised beds are made from wood, simply decide on your dimensions, cut four sides, and screw them together. For a triangle, be sure to cut the ends at 45 degrees so they meet up properly. If your bed is made from stones, create a flat surface and lay the stones along the cleared area, slightly below the surface of nearby grass. Stones will stay in place better if you apply a layer of sand between the soil and the stone materials.
Raised beds offer some protection against nearby weed invasions. However, if you plan to use your bed for an array of specifically-chosen plants that will stay in place, it will benefit you to apply weed blocker before the planting begins. Weed blocker helps keep weeds from poking through the soil to crowd out your plants.
Basically any variety of plant can grow in raised beds. Since the bottom is open to the earth, plants are not confined regarding root depth. Most commonly, raised beds are used for gardens, but could easily house bulbs, flowers, and most other options. If you’ve applied weed blocker, place your plants where you would like them and then cut through the paper. Leave the plants in place or use another marker so that you know where you want them once the bed is full. This step is contingent upon how deep your bed is and what type of plant you are planting. If the soil is 12” deep and your selection only required 8” there is no need to cut through the weed blocking paper.
With your boxes built and your plant layout complete, add the proper amount of soil. Anywhere from 6” to several feet deep can suit your requirements. Plant your garden bed and then add a layer of mulch as needed to protect your plants. Mulch options include straw, bark chips, leaves, grass clippings, and even newspaper. Mulch will help the soil retain moisture during the warm summer months and keep the roots from freezing during the bitter winter.