How to Plan Your Garden Space (Raised Beds, Containers, Ground Beds, Layout, & More)

Garden Planning · In the Garden · Raised Bed Gardening · The Beginner's Garden Podcast

The idea of planning a garden seems simple. Just plant in dirt, right? But before you can ever get to that point, you have to make several decisions. Each year, you should think about what worked and what needs to change.

How to Plan Your Garden Space

Land

The first decision we need to make is whether we want to plant in a plot of land (a ground bed), raised beds, containers, or a combination. There are pros and cons to each space. I personally use a combination of all three, since certain crops fit each of these options better in my garden.

Plot of Land (Ground Bed):

Ground Bed Garden at Sunset

There are many great reasons to plant your garden in a ground bed. You’ll have a cheaper start-up because you don’t need to purchase many supplies. There is a greater flexibility in the kind of crops you can grow. Larger crops like corn and potatoes do better in a plot of land. It’s also easier to irrigate a ground bed with a drip system (my favorite).

But, the ground bed does have its drawbacks. Unless it’s an established garden plot, you have to decide how to clear it. You can till it by machine or hand-till, scrape the grass off the top, or cover it in the fall to kill off the weeds and grasses (which requires advanced planning). It’s also more difficult to control its fertility and composition. In my opinion, a soil test is a must so you’ll know how to amend your soil if needed — if your soil is too acidic or alkaline or if it shows deficiency in key nutrients.

A ground bed also presents difficulties when it comes to drainage. In clay soil, water drains slowly, whereas in sandy soil, water drains too fast. Either way, amending the soil is necessary to find the ideal medium. In most cases, this is a process that takes years.

The soil in ground beds also suffer from impaction caused by stepping, which isn’t great for the soil structure.  This is even worse if you till it frequently with heavy machinery.

Raised Beds:

raised bed with cabbage

I have to admit, my raised beds are my favorites. I have better control of fertility, which equals more productive harvests. In general, I fight weeds less than in my ground bed, and let’s admit it. Raised beds are just pretty.

But, there are limitations to growing in raised beds. You can grow a limited variety of crops. Corn, black-eyed peas, and pole beans really need more space, although a good workaround with pole beans is to trellis them between beds.

Then there’s the cost. Each raised bed costs about $50 in materials for treated pine, but that cost will be more with different wood or if you purchase raised bed kits. And this doesn’t count the cost of the soil.

Raised beds also need watering more frequently due to their propensity to dry out more quickly.

Containers:

Although I don’t grow my vegetables and fruit in containers anymore, this method does have its benefits. Besides watering, planting in containers usually equals less labor. You can better maintain soil fertility, and their mobility allows you to relocate the plant if needed.

The limitations include the types of crops you can grow. While most people can grow tomatoes, peppers, herbs, squash, lettuce, spinach, greens, and carrots, it’s harder to grow larger crops. Container-grown plants also overheat quickly and need consistent watering — sometimes multiple times per day! And of course, you have to consider the cost of containers and soil.

Location

After we’ve decided on the type of garden space we’ll utilize, we need to determine the location. The two main factors in location are the amount of sun the space receives during the growing season (6+ hours minimum) and its proximity to a water source.

Layout

Once we have our location settled, it’s time to start planning our layout for the season. There are a couple of different methods to layout planning. The most popular types are planting by the row and square foot gardening.

Planting by the row is the most common. Square foot gardening is another method where you take each square foot and, depending on the crop, plant to fill that square, depending on the size of the plant. For example, for one square foot you might plant one pepper plant and in another square foot you plant 9 onions. One tomato plant requires four square foot blocks, while a squash plant might require nine.

Just like in choosing my garden space, I utilize each of these methods depending on the crop.

Simple Garden Planner

I have found that utilizing my Simple Garden Planner has made layout planning much easier. The layout grids allow me to pencil in the location of the crops, and the companion planting guide gives me the basics on what crops do best next to one another or far away.

In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, I talk more about the Land, Location, and Layout to help you plan your garden:

Click below to listen.

(If the above player doesn’t show, click here.)

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5 Comments

  1. Your pin mentioned we should do research before deciding to use tires as plant holders. What dangers are they?

    1. The concern is that chemicals will leach from the tires into the soil — chemicals you don’t want in your food. However, some sources say this is a huge danger and others say it’s not as long as the tires aren’t shredded. To my knowledge there hasn’t been any scientific research saying one way or the other, so in the absence of that, it’s going to be a personal decision. If you do an internet search on the safety of tires in raised bed gardens, you’ll find lots of information (and opinions) on the subject.

  2. Hi! I have a bed in my backyard that used to have a massive palmetto tree and some areca palms – all of the trees and stumps have been removed, and the soil was treated with weed killer a couple months ago. I want to turn the bed into a garden area with herbs and vegetables, but I’m nervous that all the chemicals from the weed killer is in the soil and going to contaminate the vegetables… is this accurate? And if it’s an issue, how do I fix it? Or is it not so much of an issue anymore because the weed killer was used so long ago?

    1. I’m sure it depends on the weed killer and how persistent it is in the soil. I recommend you find out exactly what was used and contact your local county extension agent and ask them. Some weed killers can persist in the soil for years, and in that case you might have to consider alternatives such as elevated garden beds. But I’d defer to your local county extension agent to be sure.

  3. I have 36 double dug, raised beds 4′ wide by 20′ long. I use the term “raised beds” in the traditional sense in that they are above ground level. They aren’t enclosed. I’ve had a garden wherever I’ve lived at the time, every year since I was 10 for the past 60 yrs.

    I’ve used nearly every technique for gardening from row gardens, beds, chemical fertilizers/insecticide/fungicide, etc. I now garden organically with no chemicals nor framing and grow enough to can/freeze/dry/ferment for a 3 yr ongoing food supply for family. At this late date, if I err it’s going to be on the side of caution so no chemicals touch my soil including treated wood whether it be the arsenic treatment or the new copper/fungicide treatment.

    I’ve enclosed my beds at one time or another with treated wood, old untreated wood, concrete blocks etc. In my experience, enclosing a bed with anything is unnecessary. It’s not only a waste of time, money and labor but a waste of materials and growing space. It cuts down on usable planting space by preventing planting in the sides of beds.

    All of the drawbacks given for having a “ground bed” apply equally to framing in the beds in my experience. Weeds, fertility of soil, compaction, tilling etc. are equal concerns for both even if solved differently.

    I’ve learned that the drawbacks for framing in beds surpass unframed beds. The primary reason given by most who frame in their garden beds is cosmetic. They’re prettier. However that’s matter of taste which is neither pragmatic nor necessary for a healthy garden.

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