You can go about creating new garden beds any time of year as long as the ground isn’t frozen or too wet. The most obvious time to do this is in the fall or early spring to get ready for spring planting. As you ponder the design of your garden, consider creating raised garden beds as they have a number of advantages over ground level beds. While building raised beds requires some extra effort, there will be a payoff in terms of eased maintenance and a potentially more bountiful harvest.
Why Build a Raised Garden Bed?
Most vegetable plants are not hard to grow as long as you take care to meet all the plants’ needs. This includes plenty of direct sunlight; warm, circulating air; just the right amount of water; and rich, well-drained soil containing the essential nutrients for your particular crops. Unlike other types of plants, such as common varieties of flowers, for example, many vegetable plants are unforgiving and won’t thrive in marginal growing conditions.
While you can’t control the weather, you can increase your chances of success by siting the garden in a favorable, sunny spot and creating a raised bed to provide a superior growing ecosystem. An important function of a raised bed is that it allows water to be absorbed into the soil, with any excess able to drain away. That means water is unlikely to accumulate around the plants’ roots, causing them to rot. Standing water is a common problem with ground level beds, especially where the soil is made up of heavy clay and/or it rains a lot.
Enriched, Custom Soil Mix
Another important function of a raised bed, related to the above, is that it provides an opportunity to create a custom soil mix containing just the right proportions of compost, screened topsoil and any other amendments appropriate for your plants and climate. For example, if you live in an arid part of the country, you’ll want to create a heavier soil mix designed to retain moisture—and vice versa in a wet climate. You can also amend the soil mix to adjust its pH to your planned crop(s). And, given that the soil is contained within the bed walls, the possibility of erosion is eliminated.
Given the raised bed’s position off the cold ground, a nice side effect is that the soil warms up more quickly in the spring and stays warmer longer in the fall, effectively extending your growing season. Many vegetable seeds germinate only when the soil temperature is above 70° Fahrenheit, which may only be achievable in early spring by use of a raised bed.
Ease of Planting, Mulching, Weeding and Pest Management
Raised beds are also user-friendly! Obviously, they make it easier to plant, weed, and mulch because they’re easier to reach. But, they also result in fewer weeds since they can’t easily encroach from the surrounding lawn the way they can on a ground-level bed. Similarly, they make it harder for certain pests, such as slugs and snails, to reach your crops.
Raised Bed Garden Design Considerations
While a raised garden beds can be any size or shape, there are practical considerations to their layout: you should be able to easily tend to your plants from either side of the bed. For this reason, 4 feet is a common width. Length, of course, can vary, but 8 feet is also common. And, if you have the space, you can create multiple beds to grow more crops.
The depth of the raised bed is of paramount importance in order to give your plants’ roots the space to grow. Depending on your crop selection, the bed should be at least 8 inches deep; 12 inches would be ideal. But, keep in mind, the deeper your raised bed, the more soil you need to fill it. By the way, it’s a good idea to break up, loosen and weed the soil underneath before you put the raised bed to reduce competition from weeds growing up from below. Laying down a base of weed-suppressing landscape fabric provides additional insurance.
As for your plants’ layout within the garden, there are some other practical considerations. For example, it’s advisable to plant taller plants on the north side of the garden so they won’t block sunlight from reaching the smaller plants. Similarly, if you’re planting a crop that requires trellising or support, such as beans or tomatoes, it would be better to place them north of lower-profile crops.
On the other hand, if you’re planting cool-loving leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach or chard, you might want to strategically place taller plants such as corn on their southside to block scorching late afternoon summer sun.
Easy Raised Garden Bed Ideas
There is a variety of material you can use to create raised garden beds; a quick look online will confirm that gardeners have come up with a number of creative ideas. Of course, the most obvious solution may be to use rot-resistant lumber boards joined together with screws or bolts. But other common materials such as cinder blocks, bricks, logs, and large rocks can work as well. Use your imagination! But remember, whatever material you use should be long-lasting and safe.You don’t want to use anything that might leach dangerous chemicals into the soil that could be absorbed by your crops.
To fend off ravenous animal pests, you may want to incorporate some protective fencing into the garden bed’s design. To keep out burrowing critters such as moles and gophers, raised beds should be constructed with a bottom layer of wire mesh netting material. To protect your crops from birds and insects you can easily attach some PVC pipe ‘hoops’ to your raised garden bed walls as a framework for netting. You can use this same framework with clear plastic sheeting, to turn the bed into a cool weather ‘hoop house’ in order to extend your growing season.