The first two raised beds in my backyard were built to neaten up a lumpy, in-ground veggie patch. I’ve since discovered many benefits of raised garden beds, from accessibility and opportunities for a variety of materials and customization, to planting and harvesting advantages.
A three-year study at Dawes Arboretum in Newark, Ohio, found that the harvest from a raised bed almost doubled per square foot compared to a traditional vegetable garden.
Raised beds allow you to plant more closely together, you can start your growing season sooner when the soil warms up in spring, and the soil remains loose and friable, because it’s not being compacted by stepping in the garden. And the best part? You can place one anywhere that gets the requisite eight to 10 hours of sun a day. You don’t even need a patch of earth. Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of raised garden beds.
One of the best benefits of raised garden beds: Garden anywhere
Raised bed gardens allow you to grow anywhere—provided your chosen area gets at least eight to 10 hours of sun a day. You need that sunshine for the heat lovers, like tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, peppers, etc.
This is actually part of the tagline of my first book, Raised Bed Revolution: Build It! Fill It! Plant It… Garden Anywhere! You can put a raised bed on a driveway or patio, and overtop of asphalt or flagstone. If you have hard-packed or clay soil, or an area where there are too many roots to dig, you can place a raised bed overtop and fill it with your own special soil mix. If you have issues with drainage, you can add gravel to that space and then install a raised bed overtop. Put a raised bed on wheels so it can be moved easily. There are lightweight fabric containers made from post-consumer recycled materials if you’re concerned about weight. You can build a vertical raised bed if space is an issue.
There are so many possibilities from easy-to-assemble kits, and pre-fab options for those who need help with construction to lots of woodworking plans for those who are handy with the power tools.
You control the soil in a raised bed
Another one of the benefits of raised garden beds is you control all the organic matter you put into them. In a raised bed, the soil remains loose and friable as you are reaching into the bed to weed, plant, and harvest, rather than walking through it or stepping in to do something, which can compress the soil.
Sure, you can amend your in-ground garden soil over time. However f you’re looking to plant right away, a raised bed is a worthwhile choice. Here is some advice about the best soil for a raised garden bed.
I get a lot of questions about what to do with the soil in a raised bed at the end of the season. The soil stays in my raised beds, but after a season of supporting all that plant growth, it needs to be replenished with nutrients. You’ll also find that the soil levels go down throughout the season after a few heavy rainfalls, and as you pull spent plants. I amend all my raised beds with compost in the fall and/or spring, depending on what I’m planting.
Tailor raised bed designs for accessibility and to garden in limited spaces
Raised beds can be absolutely any size or shape. If we’re talking the standard rectangular raised bed, plan to build them six to eight feet long by three to four feet wide, and at least 10 to 12 inches high. If you have trouble bending down or kneeling, you can raise them up to thigh level or waist height.
That brings up another point. When you are building more than one raised bed for an area, space them out so you have room to walk between each one, can easily bend down to garden, and that you can wheel a wheelbarrow through with a load of compost as needed.
My friends at Bufco, a company that builds raised bed kits, among other gardening services, offers a wheelchair-accessible raised bed for those who require mobility assistance. I love customization aspect of raised beds that opens the joy of gardening up to more people.
Choose your own materials
Building new raised beds means you can choose whatever materials you’d like to use. All of my raised beds are built using untreated cedar, but I’ve also upcycled a washbasin and an antique table to create raised beds, added galvanized metal to the side of another, and love the fabric options I can more easily move to different parts of the yard if I need to. You can also buy fancy finishing nails. Or paint the outside of the wood to add color to the garden.
The soil warms up sooner in a raised bed
The soil in a raised bed warms up more quickly in the springtime. This means you can sow seeds for cool-weather veggies, like peas, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, carrots, and other root veggies a bit sooner. I usually have a few crops on the go before the heat lovers, like peppers, melons, cucumbers, and tomatoes are planted later in the spring, after all threat of frost has passed.
Add accessories for pest prevention, frost protection, etc.
If unexpected weather is in the forecast, turn your raised beds into mini hoop tunnels. I use Pex pipe for the hoops and conduit clamps to secure them in one of my raised beds. Niki uses PVC conduit pipe and rebar stakes in hers. These allow you to add floating row cover for protection in case of a sudden spring frost.
Use garden covers for pest prevention, to delay lettuce from bolting, and as season extenders, so you can garden well into fall or even the winter. Niki outlines all the ways you can use various garden covers in her book Growing Under Cover.
Contain spreaders and limit weeds
For plants that like to take over the garden, a small raised bed can help to contain them. Mint is a great example of a plant that needs to be contained. You’re not going to fill a four by eight raised bed with it. However you could use a smaller raised bed to limit its spread.
With raised beds, you can get away with planting veggies a bit closer together. You can also interplant with greens or flowers, like alyssum, that will attract beneficial insects. This helps limit the spaces where weeds can make themselves at home. Adding a layer of mulch can also help to keep the weeds down.
Articles that expand upon the benefits of raised garden beds
- Accessibility: Elevated raised bed gardening
- Lightweight: Fabric raised beds: The perks of growing fruit and vegetables in these versatile containers
- No-build options: Galvanized raised beds
- Soil: Garden soil amendments: 6 organic choices to improve your soil
- Planting: 4×8 raised bed vegetable garden layout ideas
- Garden covers: Row cover hoops for frost and pest protection