Gardening With a Raised Bed

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Pepper plants perform well in a raised bed garden.
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For added comfort in the garden, raised beds can include benches.

Raised beds allow gardeners to overcome poor soil by creating the ideal growing mix. In addition, they also make gardening more comfortable, because raised beds mean less bending and kneeling.

Whether you decide to purchase a kit or build your own, there are a few things to consider when creating a raised bed garden.

Location & Design

Construct the garden in a sunny area if possible. Most plants require at least six hours of sun, and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and melons produce best with a full day of sunlight.

Choose a long-lasting material, such as interlocking block, fieldstone, plastic lumber or naturally long-lasting cedar. The material selected will influence the shape and size of your garden. Some materials allow for curved beds, while others are limited to squares, rectangles and other angular shapes.

Design your raised bed to fit your space and your individual needs. A width of three or four feet makes it easy to reach all parts of the garden for planting, weeding and harvesting. Raising your planting bed at least eight to 12 inches improves drainage and provides an adequate space for most plants to root and grow. If you want to minimize bending, go even higher. You can also add benches to increase your gardening comfort and ease.

Prepare Your Beds

Roughen or loosen the existing soil surface if your bed is built on compact, slow-draining soil, which will allow water to readily move from the raised bed into the soil below. Cover the bottom of the bed with newspaper or cardboard, if needed, to suffocate existing weeds and grass.

Line the bottom of your raised bed with hardware cloth to reduce the risk of animals burrowing into the garden. Lay the hardware cloth over the ground, and bend it up along the inside of the raised bed walls.

Fill the bed with a quality growing mix that’s well-drained but also able to retain moisture and nutrients. This may be a mixture of quality topsoil and compost, a high-quality potting mix, or a planting mix designed specifically for raised bed gardens.

Grow any plants that you’d normally grow in an in-ground garden. Just make sure the plants are suited to the growing conditions, such as sunlight, heat and wind, in your area. Since the soil mix and drainage is ideal in a raised garden, you’ll be able to grow more plants per square foot. Just be sure to leave sufficient room for plants to reach their mature size.

Maintain Your Plants

Keep your plants healthy and productive with proper watering. This is critical for growing any garden, but even more crucial in a fast-draining raised bed. The simple act of raising the garden height increases drainage, and a raised bed filled with planting mix means more frequent watering. Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses for watering ease. Always water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry.

Add mulch to help reduce watering and the need for other garden maintenance. Spread a layer of evergreen needles, pine straw, shredded leaves or other organic matter over the soil surface. This helps conserve moisture, suppresses weeds, and adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes. You’ll spend less time watering and weeding throughout the season.

Add an organic fertilizer at planting if your planting mix doesn’t already contain one. Apply again midseason if the plants need a nutrient boost. Always follow the label directions on the fertilizer container.

The time and effort invested in creating raised beds will be returned many times over with years of healthy and productive gardens.