A Simple Guide to Building a Raised Garden Bed

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You’ve finally got the motivation to get outside and get that garden started, but for many people, their growing areas are rocky, have poor soil, or there are drainage issues that cause the soil to stay wet for extended periods. These are not ideal conditions for a new garden space.

Even if you are lucky enough to have good soil, cultivating it for a garden could require expensive equipment, like a gas-powered tiller that may end up sitting in the garage for most of the year while the gasoline goes bad.

Building a raised garden bed isn’t that difficult and will resolve all of these issues if done correctly.

Getting started with building your raised garden bed

Plan out the location and materials for your new garden

First, you’ll need to pick a location. The location you select will depend on what you intend to grow. If, for example, you’re planning to use your bed to grow vegetables, you’ll need a location that gets at least six hours of sunlight daily.

If you intend to use the bed for decorative plants, choose the plants you want to grow before selecting a location and do a little research to determine how much sun they need.

The shape of your bed will depend on what materials you plan to use for construction and how much work you’re willing to do.

  • If you intend to use rocks, bricks, or blocks, your bed can easily assume whatever shape you want to make it.
  • If you plan to build with landscape timbers or pressure-treated lumber, angular shapes like squares and rectangles would be the easiest.

Clear the area of existing vegetation and debris

Once you’ve chosen the location and the building material, you’ll need to eliminate any existing vegetation from the area to be covered by the bed. If you don’t, and the area has grass or weeds, you’ll spend more time than necessary weeding your garden from that point forward.

Clearing a Garden Area of Vegetation and Debris

A glyphosate-based herbicide eradicates a broad spectrum of grasses and broad-leaf weeds and is safe to use in locations where you intend to plant vegetables. Just be sure to follow the directions.

Glyphosate breaks down in a few days or weeks, depending on the environment and the mix, but its effects are long-lasting. If you choose not to use glyphosate, you may want to remove several inches of existing soil from your chosen location in order to remove the root systems of most existing vegetation.

If you’re considering laying down weed barrier matting, these are somewhat effective, but they typically allow some growth to penetrate from underneath. Also, if you’re planting anything that grows deep roots, the weed barrier may cause some problems and make it necessary for you to construct a deeper bed.

Constructing your raised garden bed

Determine the depth of your garden bed

Raised garden beds can be only a few inches deep or several feet, depending on location, intended use, and perhaps the quality of the soil below. For example, if the ground beneath your raised garden bed is rocky and you intend to plant shrubs with deep roots, your bed will need to be deeper than it would if you were planting a vegetable garden.

If you plan to go shallow, know that beds less than six inches deep may not help much with providing good drainage in low-lying areas. You may want to find someone at your local home and garden supply to assist you with determining the proper depth based on your area and the plants you would like to grow.

Gathering the required materials

Once you’ve determined the appropriate depth and chosen your building materials, it’s time to do the math. Based on the total length and height of your bedroom walls and the size of your construction materials, you should be able to calculate with reasonable accuracy how much material you’ll need. You can also use an online soil calculator to help determine your soil needs.

  • If you intend to use wood, make sure the wood is pressure-treated and rated for ground contact. If it isn’t, plan on building a new bed in a few years. Alternatively, you can order a cedar-raised garden bed kit.
  • If you choose to use flat rocks, blocks, or bricks, you can usually get by with dry-stacking them, meaning you probably will not need to use concrete or some other bonding material.

Home supply stores often have pre-cut lengths of steel reinforcement bars or re-bar. These come in handy to hold cinder blocks and other materials in place.

For cinder blocks, just select the lengths you need and drive them through the holes in the blocks and into the ground.

And lastly, you could take the easy route and use plastic edging or other prefabricated bed wall materials.

Time to fill ‘er up!

Now that you’ve finished building your beautiful, professionally designed, and constructed bed, it’s time to fill it up.

Raised Garden Bed with Soil
Working in a raised garden bed full of fertile soil.

Once again, the soil you select will depend on what you’re planting. For vegetables, a rich, organic raised garden bed or potting mix, preferably heavy with cow manure, is a great choice. But you don’t necessarily need to fill the bed with this mix from bottom to top unless your bed is very shallow.

If the bed is a foot or more in-depth, you can save some money by partially filling the bottom with some topsoil or landscaping mix, then putting the good stuff on top.

How much of the less expensive soil you use is again determined by the bed depth and intended use.

  • If, for example, you are growing carrots that grow to about six inches long and you want the best possible results, you don’t want those to reach the cheaper dirt underneath.
  • If you are planting landscaping vegetation, you can probably get good results by using landscaping soil to completely fill your beds.
  • If they are exceptionally deep, you could put in some cheaper topsoil first, then layer the landscaping soil on top.
  • If your beds are large and require so much soil that buying them in bags is too expensive, contact bulk soil providers in your area. They probably offer delivery along with better prices.

Going the extra mile with your raised garden bed

If you’re familiar with PVC and want to take on this project, you could design your own irrigation system for your raised garden bed, complete with a garden hose connection, on/off valve, and tiny holes to distribute the water where it’s needed.

Alternatively, there are irrigation systems available that you can install.

If you’re growing vegetables and live in an area that drops below freezing during the colder months, consider building a frame and using it to support plastic sheeting to create your own temporary greenhouse.

This would allow you to plant earlier in the Spring and yield an earlier harvest. Your neighbors will be envious as they watch you eat the freshly-picked, vine-ripened tomato you just retrieved from your garden while theirs are still small and green.

The rewards of having your own raised garden bed

Vegetable Garden with Raised Beds

Outdoor gardening is fun, is good exercise, and can either add beauty to your landscaping or provide you and your family with freshly-picked vegetables that taste better than store-bought. You’ll also know that your veggies have not been handled by multiple strangers and were not exposed to pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals.

You don’t need much room to install a raised garden bed or two. Whether you made this a cinder block, brick, or wood project, it’s easy to start, so why not give it a try? Otherwise, you could give it a go building your very own greenhouse.