Top Tips on Gardening in Raised Beds

Raised beds have benefits for both plants and gardeners.

By Jan Wiese-Fales | Photos By Anna Green

If you haven’t tried raised-bed gardening yet, consider treating yourself and your plants to the many advantages it offers over standard gardening practices. Here are benefits of and user tips for growing vegetables, flowers, herbs and fruits in above-ground beds.

Raised-Bed Gardening Tips

  • Growing vegetables, fruits and herbs in soils that are rocky, high in clay or sand content, or simply nutrient-depleted, is labor-intensive and often frustrating. Raised beds filled with custom soil mixtures of compost, well-aged manure and screened topsoil take gardening efforts to a new level in a rich, fertile growing medium with increased aeration and drainage.
  • Plant roots need oxygen to survive and thrive. Excessive rainfall waterlogs traditional gardens and suffocates roots, preventing nutrient uptake. A raised bed filled with rich, loose-structured soil results in superior drainage. Roots are encouraged to spread out, increasing both the uptake of nutrients and your garden yield.
  • Soilless mixes also are an option. Mel’s Mix—popularized by “Square Foot Gardening” author Mel Bartholomew—calls for equal parts of peat moss, compost and vermiculite. Coconut coir—a byproduct of coconut harvest—is a growing medium that can be used in place of peat moss.
  • Some raised-bed gardeners add worm castings to the soil mix. Full of beneficial micronutrients and minerals, castings help plants adapt to soil pH variations and provide them with resistance to harmful microorganisms and some common sucking insect pests.
  • Plants in raised beds need not be arranged in rows and can be planted closer together than in a regular garden space. This type of intensive gardening does require that soil be amended with compost, worm castings or cover crops between plantings, as an increased number of plants in a small area depletes soil nutrients more rapidly.
  • Another benefit of raised beds is that compaction is eliminated because gardener foot traffic takes place between the beds and not within the growing area. Additionally, watering and adding organic matter become more efficient, since efforts and inputs directly target the growing beds and not unplanted areas.
  • Although raised beds still require some weeding, the loose soil makes it easy to pull weeds and thin out plantings. And the bed’s frame will slow ground-creeping weeds from gaining a toehold in the gardening space above.
  • Because they can be built to any height, taller raised beds can save wear and tear on knees and ease back strain. (See our building plans on the next page.) They also provide gardening opportunities for gardeners with reduced mobility.
  • One of the greatest advantages of raised-bed gardening is the extension of the growing season at both ends. The soil in raised beds warms more quickly than the ground in the spring, allowing for a head start on planting. And after summer crops are harvested, cool-weather greens can be planted and maintained into the winter months by transforming a raised bed into a hoop house.