Raised beds hold benefits for plants as well as gardeners. They allow you to overcome poor soil by creating the ideal soil and nutrient mix and make the time spent gardening more comfortable because there's less bending and kneeling.
Whether you purchase a kit or build your own, here are some tips for creating a raised bed garden.
Locate the garden in a sunny area. Most plants require at least six hours of sun, and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and melons produce best with a full day of sunlight.
Select a long-lasting building material such as interlocking blocks, fieldstone, plastic lumber or a naturally long-lasting wood like cedar. The selection will influence the shape and size of the bed because some materials allow for curved beds while others limit the choices to angular shapes, such as squares and rectangles.
Design your bed to fit your space and needs. A 3- or 4-foot width makes it easy to reach all parts of the garden for planting, weeding and harvesting. Raising your planting bed at least 8 to 12 inches improves drainage and provides adequate space for plants to root and grow. If you want to minimize bending, raise the bed higher. (Bonnie Plants has free plans at www.bonnieplants.com/library.)
Loosen the existing soil surface, especially if the bed is built on compacted soil, to allow water to move readily from the raised bed into the soil below. Remove existing weeds and grass, or cover the bottom of the bed with newspaper or cardboard to smother unwanted plants.
Line the bottom of your raised bed with hardware cloth to reduce the risk of animals burrowing into your garden. Lay the hardware cloth over the ground and bend it up along the inside of bed walls.
Fill the bed with a quality soil mix that drains well but also retains nutrients and moisture. Choices include high-quality commercial potting mixtures, a combination of topsoil and compost or a planting mix designed specifically for raised bed gardens.
Plant any flowers, vegetables or other flora you normally would grow in the ground. Since the soil mix and drainage are ideal in a raised garden, it's possible to grow more plants per square foot; just leave adequate room for plants to reach their mature size.
Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses to make watering easier. Proper watering is key to keeping plants healthy and productive in any space, but raised beds need more frequent watering. The simple act of raising the bed height increases drainage, and so does filling a bed with planting mix. Always water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry.
Add mulch to help reduce the need for watering and other garden maintenance. Spread a layer of evergreen needles, pine straw, shredded leaves or other organic matter over the surface soil. This helps conserve moisture, suppresses weeds and, as it decomposes, adds nutrients to the soil. You'll spend less time watering and weeding throughout the season.
Mix an organic fertilizer into the soil when you fill the raised bed if your planting mix does not contain one. Apply fertilizer again mid-season (or as indicated in the fertilizer directions) if the plants need a nutrient boost.
The time and effort invested in creating raised beds will be returned many times over with years of healthy and productive gardens.
— Gardening expert Melinda Myers hosts the nationally syndicated Melinda's Garden Moment TV and radio segments and has written more than 20 gardening books. She also is a contributing editor and columnist for Birds & Blooms.