Grow a Vegetable Garden in Raised Beds

Raised beds make vegetable gardening less work. Learn why and discover great design techniques in this slideshow.

By Justin W. Hancock

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obleisk tomato support
Benefit: Save Your Back

    Build your raised beds so they're at least 12 inches tall. That reduces back strain because you won't have to bend over as far to reach the plants. If the walls are waist high, you can sit on edges to work the soil and harvest your bounty without having to bend over at all.

Benefit: Grow Longer

    The soil in raised beds typically warms earlier in spring than the surrounding earth. It also tends to dry faster, so you can get cool-season crops planted sooner.

    Test Garden Tip: If you fashion hoops over your raised bed like this one, you can drape plastic over them and create a makeshift cold frame to gain a few extra growing weeks in spring and autumn.

Benefit: Keep Clean

    Spread mulch over the paths between your raised beds and your feet will stay clean, no matter how wet the weather. Because you won't walk on the beds, you'll be able to run out to grab a handful of fresh basil for dinner without worrying about compacting the soil.

Benefit: Overcome Bad Soil

    Raised beds are the answer if you have sandy or clay soil. All you need to do is fill your raised beds with high-quality topsoil and start gardening. There's no need to struggle with poor topsoil.

Benefit: Reduce Weeds

    Once your raised beds are filled with fresh soil, cover the surface with an inch or two of mulch. This reduces weed competition and preserves soil moisture.

Benefit: Stop Grass from Invading

    Lawn grasses, which have spreading root systems, often infiltrate a standard vegetable garden and become a serious weed. With raised beds, nearby turf won't be able to spread into your crops.

Benefit: Stop Pests

    If critters such as rabbits or moles make a mess of your vegetable gardening efforts, thwart them with tall raised beds. Make them 4 feet tall or so for best results.

Benefit: Make Your Garden More Attractive

    Set up a series of small raised beds in tidy rows or a pattern and you'll end up with the most visually appealing vegetable garden on your block.

Benefit: Never Till Again

    Raised beds provide a healthier environment for beneficial microorganisms and earthworms because there's no foot traffic to compact the soil. And you avoid the time and expense of tilling.

Design Tip: Keep It Narrow

    Build your raised beds so you can easily reach the middle from both sides. Most raised beds are 4 feet across because the average person can easily reach about 2 feet.

Design Tip: Space Them Correctly

    If you have more than one raised bed, leave enough space between them for you to easily maneuver a wheelbarrow for adding soil, harvesting, spreading mulch, or other activities. Similarly, if you have grass paths between your raised beds, make sure there's enough space to run your lawn mower.

Design Tip: Use Long-Lasting Materials

    When choosing materials to build your raised beds, choose rot-resistant lumber such as cedar or redwood. Or look for other materials such as brick, stone, or concrete to create attractive beds you won't need to rebuild. Get the wood look with composite materials.

Design Tip: Add Decorative Elements

    Dress up your raised beds to make them an attractive landscape feature. For example, give corner posts a cap or paint wood to match your house.

    Test Garden Tip: You should find wide variety of premade post caps available at your local hardware store or home improvement center. They come in a variety of materials including wood, copper, and glass. Some even have solar lights incorporated.

Design Tip: Come Up with a Pattern

    Raised beds are often set up as squares or rectangles that run parallel to one another. But you can add some fun to your landscape by selecting different geometric shapes or patterns. For example, mimic the lines of an architectural feature on your home.

Design Tip: Grow Up with Vines

    Build trellises, obelisks, or tuteurs into your raised beds or buy one or two to grow vining crops such as peas, beans, cucumbers, and even tomatoes. The extra height brings more visual drama to your plantings, especially if most of what you grow is relatively low.

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