flowers growing in raised garden beds

DIY Raised Garden Beds: Ideas and Instructions

There are few sights more beautiful and satisfying than walking out your back door and gazing over your well-tended flower and vegetable gardens. Your eyes glance over the neatly manicured rows of tomatoes, beans, and peas. Flowers are bursting with color, bringing life to your backyard. Your weed-free plants sparkle as the early morning sun glimmers in the dew drops. All of your long hours of hard work are finally paying off. Those hot afternoons spent hunched over, pulling out every little weed, are suddenly worth it. Your garden goals have become a reality. Raised garden beds can help make this reality for you!

The truth is, it can take months or even years of hard work to achieve a beautifully growing garden. The process of tilling, adding nutrients to the soil with compost, planting, and weeding can be extremely satisfying. If you’re new to gardening, starting a large, in-ground garden can be a rather daunting task. You may not have the hours to spare that are required to start a full garden. Raised garden beds might be a great option for you!

What are Raised Garden Beds?

Raised garden beds are essentially, an enclosed garden that sits above ground. They’re typically constructed of wood, plastic, or recyclable materials. This type of gardening is ideal for growing smaller beds of flowers and vegetables. Community gardens in large cities often use this style of gardening, as well as individuals who have limited green space in their backyard. Raised garden beds are easily customizable to your space restrictions.

Cut Back on Weeds

If you hate to weed, you might find raised bed gardening more enjoyable. The enclosed bed space keeps pathway weeds from invading your vegetables, which significantly reduces the amount of overall weeds you’ll have to deal with. Raised beds also provide good drainage for your crops and serve as an extra barrier for invading creepy crawlies like snails and slugs.

Use Healthy Soil

Most natural soil tends to be overly acidic, full of clay, or simply not properly balanced for an optimal crop yield. You need soil that is jam-packed with nutrients in order to have a garden that produces well. You can purchase a ready-to-plant, fertilized soil blend that is already rich in nutrients. Your fruits, vegetables, and flowers will find it easier to grow and produce a beautiful product.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to make sure your soil blend matches with the type of fruits, vegetables of plants that you’ll be growing. Some plants require a higher nutrient level in the soil, such as tomatoes. Plan your crops to be included in the same box with soil that’s best for their growth.

Longer Growing Season

In many areas around the country, using raised garden beds allows gardeners to plant their crops earlier in the season. Because the soil is raised from the ground, it drains better and can gather and retain heat. This environment is perfect for vegetables to thrive.

Better for Your Back

One thing that many gardeners complain about is the stress on their back after long hours of planting and weeding. Raising the soil level even a few inches from the ground can take a significant amount of stress off of your back. If the raised garden beds are built properly, you might even be able to sit on the edge of your bed while weeding. This is especially appealing to people who suffer from chronic back pain or are older in age.

Raised beds vs. Planters

Some people mix up the concept of raised garden beds and planters. They are not one and the same. Planter bottoms are always enclosed, to keep soil from escaping. They typically have a cloth lining or other drainage system installed to allow water to properly drain from the planter. Traditional raised beds do not have a bottom. They’re open and exposed to the ground. This allows the roots of the fruits and vegetables to grow deeper.

Best DIY Raised Garden Bed Ideas

So you’ve decided to build a raised garden bed in your backyard. Congratulations! You’ve made the first important step in providing delicious, healthy, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables for you and your family. There are a wide variety of DIY raised garden bed ideas. You’ll be able to decide which one is best for you and what your green space allows.

Before You Begin

It’s true that raised beds are not a completely permanent construction. However, they’re not easy to move once they’re in place. You’ll want to answer a few important questions for yourself as you build your raised garden bed plans.

Where Do You Want to Plant?

Find the sunniest spot in your backyard. If you have a lot of options, a spot that gets south-facing sunshine is best. This will make sure your fruits and vegetables receive the longest amount of sun each day.

How Many Beds Do You Need?

If you’re on a tight budget, one larger bed can be the easiest on your wallet. However, they are more difficult to tend. Smaller beds are easier to take care of and give you more opportunity to plant a wide variety of crops. You’ll want to plant similar plants in the same area, which we’ll discuss later on.

How Big Should Your Beds Be?

Consider your space requirements, making sure you don’t make your raised garden beds too large. It’s best to keep the beds on the thinner side. However, length doesn’t matter so feel free to build the bed as long as you want. You won’t need a lot of space if you’re planning on growing a few tomato plants or some smaller plants like herbs and peppers.

A traditional raised garden bed measures roughly four feet by eight feet. Obviously, you can adapt this to fit your space properly. Just keep in mind that if you build the space wider than four feet it will be more difficult to maintain. You’ll have difficulty weeding the middle of the rows. It’s better to build multiple smaller beds if you need a space with more than four feet of width.

What Materials Do You Want to Use?

Wood is one of the most popular materials to use for raised beds. They’re durable, relatively cheap, and easy to work with. They also tend to look nice in your backyard! Some people use recycled wood pallets or untreated recycled lumber from old barn structures. However, you’re not limited to wood! There’s a wide range of other material options you can choose to use for your raised garden bed.

Tree Logs

This is one of the simplest ways to build a raised garden bed. If you like the natural, outdoorsy look, you might find this one particularly attractive. You’ll want to choose logs that are as straight as possible. These should be about 10 inches to a foot in diameter. If you don’t have access to large logs, you can use smaller logs and stack them on top.

Obviously, logs can be difficult to move. To make it easier on yourself, chop the logs into shorter one-to-two-foot sections that you can lift more easily. This will allow you to build the bed in the shape, length, and width that you prefer.

Wooden Planks

Building a raised bed with wooden planks is a great way to use up any leftover lumber or wood scraps that you have laying around. You’ll want to make sure the lumber is untreated for best results. Dimensions don’t matter much, just use whatever you have.

To build, put the wooden planks on their side. Use steel posts or rebar to keep the planks in place. Pound a post into the ground every one to two feet.

Sandbags

Sandbags are one of the ways to build a raised garden bed. Traction sand works best to outline a bed. Stack the bags two-to-three high around your entire bed. If you purchase the longer bags of sand, you’ll need about 15-20 bags to line a standard sized bed.

Concrete Blocks

If you’re a fan of the industrial look, you might want to consider concrete or cinder blocks to line your raised bed. Line the sides of your bed with the blocks, making sure the open ends face up. Filling these openings is a great place to plant a small herb garden. Simply fill the holes with soil and plant your favorite fresh herbs. This keeps the herbs in an enclosed space so they don’t grow too large and take over your other plants.

Landscaping Timbers

Landscaping timbers are trendy in raised garden beds right now. They’re an inexpensive way of containing your beds. They add a natural, rustic beauty to your backyard.

Installing landscaping timbers is relatively easy, you’ll just need to ensure that you cut them to fit the measurements of your bed. Simply stack the timbers on top of one another to reach the top of your bed.

Wooden Fenced Bed

If you have problems with deer, rabbits or other pesky animals, you might need a bed with taller walls. You can build this like you would a traditional wooden plank bed. Simply add a layer of chicken wire around the top to add an extra challenge for the pests to access your hard-earned fruits and vegetables.

If you continue to have problems with pests, you might need to raise your bed an extra few inches off of the ground so things like squirrels and rabbits can’t hop inside.

Wattle

To build a wattle-style raised bed, you’ll need rebar and a large quantity of tree trimmings or branches. Smaller branches work best for this. To begin, hammer rebar into the ground to outline where the bed will be. Make sure that 8-10 inches of the rebar are still exposed above the ground.

Next, take your small sticks or branches and weave (also called “wattle”) them through the rebar. You’ll essentially be forming a basket around your bed. Continue weaving and piling the sticks until they are secure and cover the entire perimeter of the bed. Use lengths of weather-proof twine or thin rope, tie the branches together every two feet. This will ensure your wattle stays in place during inclement weather. Before attempting to build the structure, you’ll need to “wattle” your sticks

The possibilities for materials to use for raised garden beds is truly endless. Whatever materials you choose, make sure they are not treated with harmful chemicals that could be absorbed by your vegetables. You’ll want to choose something waterproof and sturdy to avoid having to do a lot of regular maintenance.

So now that you’ve chosen your raised bed idea, you’re ready to plant! What plants are best for raised beds?

Raised Garden Bed Plant Ideas

The most important thing when deciding what to plant is choosing foods you enjoy eating. Don’t plant three types of hot peppers if you’re not a huge fan of spicy foods. If you love to cook hearty, flavorful meals then you might want to think about foods like potatoes, peppers, onions and a variety of your favorite herbs. If salads and fresh, raw veggies are more your style, plant the ones you’re most likely to snack on like cherry tomatoes, carrots, or lettuce.

You want to keep in mind that your primary goal when growing vegetables, flowers and plants in raised beds is to maximize your space. You’ll want to pack in as many varieties as possible while still giving your plants room to grow and thrive. If your plants are overcrowded, they’ll struggle and won’t yield a good harvest. You don’t want your plants to compete for nutrients in order to grow well. Here are a few plant ideas to help you in your planning.

Flower Bed Ideas

The ultimate goal with flowers planted in raised beds is a high yield of flowers balanced with low maintenance. It’s easy to get a solid three seasons of flowers out of raised beds if you’re willing to properly care for your flowers.

Spring Flowers

Tazetta and daffodils are two of the best types of flowers to plant for spring blooms. You’ll need a soil depth of about eight inches or more. Over 2-3 years of growth, they will form clumps that gradually get larger, yielding more blooms. At the end of the bloom season, you’ll simply need to deadhead the blossoms in order to prepare the plants to bloom next season.

If you have shaded boxes, hellebores such as Lenten rose can be particularly beautiful. They thrive in lower sunlight areas so be sure to consider this when deciding where to install your bed. Lenten rose blooms for a long time and needs little-to-no maintenance. Simply trim back the dead leaves at the end of the season.

Summer Blooms

Your possibilities for summer flowers that will thrive in raised beds are almost endless! Try to choose a balance of tall blooms combined with flowers that grow lower to the ground. This will add interest to the bed. Coreopsis lanceolata features beautiful small flowers that resemble daisies. If you trim back the blooms as they die, you’ll promote growth throughout the entire season.

Cosmos bipinnatus is a beautiful bloom that will flower all the way from summer through fall. They tend to grow relatively high. Zinnias will also add that vertical interest to your bed. They’re easily planted by seed and will sprout within 2-3 weeks of planting. It’s best to plant zinnias at the end of spring for end-of-June blooms. These types of flowers will bloom all summer long and can be trimmed back as blooms fade for continued growth.

Fall Flowers

Blooms like Asters are a popular choice for raised bed fall flowers. They have a beautiful blue color and need virtually no maintenance. You can leave the dead blooms on over the winter. They’ll dry beautifully and give an interesting “winter” look to your bed even with nothing growing. Goldenrod is also particularly beautiful in the fall.

Vegetable Garden Ideas

There are so many types of vegetables you can plant in raised beds! As mentioned earlier, you want to choose your favorite types of vegetables. Don’t feel obligated to grow anything you don’t love, even if it’s a standard garden vegetable. You want to maximize your time and garden space with crops you’ll enjoy eating every day.

Leafy Greens

Greens are one of the easiest vegetables to plant in your beds. You can plant these early in the spring and enjoy healthy, vitamin-rich greens all summer long. Varieties such as spinach, baby kale, and red leaf lettuce are favorites. Since your beds are raised from the ground, the soil tends to retain warmth throughout the day, even if the temperature is still chilly.

Onions

Onions are a versatile food that many people use in everyday cooking. They’re extremely easy to grow and can be planted as soon as your soil is thawed enough to dig a small hole for planting. The quick-draining soil in raised beds is an ideal environment for onions to grow. They love soil that’s on the dry side and full of rich nutrients.

Potatoes

Raised beds are ideal for growing potatoes because they’re so much easier to harvest than in a traditional garden. Your potatoes will grow best in loose soil that is well drained. Give them plenty of space to give them room to grow. This will help prevent rot as well. There are so many varieties to choose from, be sure to pick your favorite! Red skin and Yukon gold potatoes are particularly delicious.

Tomatoes

You’ll need soil that is packed with nutrients if you want your tomatoes to grow their best. Homemade compost is especially ideal. You’ll need to support the tomatoes with stakes or cages in order for them to grow properly. Cherry tomatoes are particularly delicious fresh from the garden and tend to produce a higher crop yield early on.

Root Vegetables

Raised garden beds are ideal for growing root vegetables because they do well in loose, rock-free soil. With a raised bed, you’re able to tailor the soil to be best for whichever vegetable you choose. Beets, radishes, and carrots are easiest to grow. Feel free to experiment with different varieties such as multi-colored carrots, or yellow beets. Most root vegetables will need a minimum of eight inches of soil to grow properly. Keep this in mind when choosing which bed to plant in.

Raised garden beds are a wonderful way to grow vegetables in a confined space. Eliminate the headache of spending years of soil maintenance with a disappointing result. Taking a little extra time to plan and properly construct a well-built raised bed will make a huge difference. Remember to consider your soil blend based on the types of flowers or vegetables you choose to grow. You’ll quickly be on your way to fresh foods on your kitchen table!

Craig Scott

I love to spend all the time I can outdoors and find every excuse to leave my house. I write about everything from backyard DIY projects to gardening. If you can’t get a hold of me I am probably on a trail or a boat.

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