7 Common Mistakes in Raised Bed Gardening
Updated November 8, 2022
Many beginning gardeners plan to grow their vegetables in raised beds — and for good reason! Those of us who have been raised bed gardening for years testify to how much we enjoy it! What’s so great about gardening in raised beds?
- Better harvests
- Less weeding
- Sharp aesthetics
- Better Control Over Soil Fertility
- Uses Less Water & Mulch
- Easier to work in
- Less compaction = more airspace in soil = healthier plants
What’s not to love?
But as in any venture, mistakes are common. The problem with making mistakes in a raised bed garden is they aren’t easily corrected. I know this first-hand!
Had I known as a beginning gardener what I know now a decade later, I would have done many things differently. But thankfully, I’ve been able to correct many of my own raised bed mistakes. Others I’ve learned to live with, but now I know!
From both my own experience and from hearing the experiences of others, I’ve compiled these mistakes raised bed gardeners commonly make. (Number four is the biggest one, in my opinion.)
If you’re planning a raised bed garden for the first time or adding to your existing beds, this article will help you avoid many of the mistakes I and others have made.
And if you’re already gardening in raised beds but are seeing lackluster results, you may find some reasons why here.
*some links below are affiliate links, which means if you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission.
1. Raised Beds are too wide.
One of the biggest benefits of raised bed gardening is avoiding soil compaction. You want to be able to work in your garden beds without stepping on them.
Most beginners don’t realize this, but healthy soil needs air as much as it needs water! But when soil is trampled upon by either machines or foot traffic (or both!), the air between the soil particles is pushed out.
To avoid this problem, we want to make every effort NOT to step on our garden beds. This promotes a better soil structure and ultimately healthier plants.
But if the width of your raised beds prevents you from working all sides within your reach, you will find yourself stepping inside the bed, defeating this major benefit of a raised bed.
For this reason, raised beds should never be more than four feet wide.
Most people can comfortably reach into the center of a four-foot-wide raised bed without any problem. But as I’ve experimented with different sizes, I’ve found a three-foot-wide span is even more comfortable for me.
When choosing the width of your raised beds, you also must consider the placement of the bed. I made the mistake of putting two 4′ by 12′ raised beds up against a fence. Not only did weeds and grass grow between the beds and the fence, but I could not reach into the back of my bed to easily plant, weed, or harvest.
This was such a pain we ended up moving the fence.
Learn from my mistake here: if you situate your raised beds next to a fence, I recommend the width not exceed thirty inches. This way, you can work your bed from one side only with ease.
2. You don’t plan for irrigation.
Unless you want to hand-water your raised beds with a watering can (and that will get old quick), you need to plan ahead of time how you will irrigate the beds.
First, I recommend placing raised beds near a water source. Whether you plant to hand-water your beds or use a more efficient system of soaker hoses or drip lines, having water easily accessible will save you much time and headache.
In my early years of gardening, I placed a lawn sprinkler near my raised beds to overhead water my garden. But this proved entirely inefficient. Not only did overhead watering waste water, but it also exacerbated many of the fungal diseases common in my area like early blight and powdery mildew.
Over the years, I’ve tested a variety of raised bed irrigation options — soaker hoses, drip lines, drip tape, and even an all-in-one solution called the Garden in Minutes Garden Grid. You can read about my experiences with each one, including pros and cons of each one, in this article: Irrigation Options for Raised Beds.
Most gardeners start out with an inexpensive soaker hose or a drip irrigation starter kit. But if you want an easy, all-in-one setup, I highly recommend the Garden in Minutes Garden Grid. (If you decide this is right for you, you can use my affiliate code JILL10 to get $10 off your purchase of $100 or more.)
The bottom line, however, is this: decide on which irrigation method you’ll try. This is best done sooner than later. Trust me when I tell you, adding any kind of irrigation after your plants are growing is a pain. It’s best to have the irrigation in place before you plant anything.
3. Wood (or other material) is Unsafe.
Though you will find a myriad of speculation about the safety of certain pressure-treated wood for use in raised beds, most experts agree on this: do not use pressure-treated wood manufactured prior to 2003.
Pressure-treated wood manufactured prior to 2003 contains chromated copper arsenate, and you don’t want that near your food garden.
What kind of wood should you use for your raised bed?
If you want to build your raised beds out of wood, these are the three most common options:
- Pressure-treated pine
- Untreated pine (or similar)
- Rot resistant wood (like cedar)
First, let’s talk about pressure-treated pine. Full disclosure, this is what I use. Modern methods of pressure-treated wood use safer practices than those used prior to 2003.
After researching this topic at length, I believe any risk in using pressure-treated wood for raised bed gardens is minimal. Copper is the main substance used in modern pressure-treated wood, and copper is actually a nutrient plants need in small amounts.
Therefore, in my opinion, if enough copper leached into the soil to pose a health hazard, we would see it first in the health of the plants. The plants themselves would suffer. In my decade of gardening in raised beds using pressure-treated wood, I’ve never seen a plant suffer in this way.
But what about leaching that does occur? The studies that have been done (and admittedly, there are few) on pressure-treated wood in raised gardens have shown a larger amount of copper leached near the wood itself than is present in the rest of the soil. Though it’s a minimal amount, I plant my crops several inches from the side of the bed.
Using pressure-treated wood in raised beds is definitely a personal choice. Personally, I choose it because I can build more raised beds and grow more food with the same amount that I would pay for a more expensive rot-resistant option (more on that below).
But, not everyone will come to the same decision. If that’s you, what are your other options?
Some gardeners choose to purchased untreated pine, mainly because it’s less expensive than other untreated wood.
Though I’ve never used this, from what I understand, the life of untreated pine is very short — perhaps a few seasons. This likely depends on the amount of rainfall your location receives, as rainfall will contribute to the breakdown of the wood.
This may be an option for you if you plan for your beds to be temporary and you want to save money.
Many people choose to use rot-resistant and chemical-free woods such as cedar or redwood. These beds are truly gorgeous, and they can last many years.
The problem? All good things come at a price. When I prepared to build my elevated raised bed, I compared the price of pressure-treated wood to cedar, and the cedar would have cost me (at the time) two to three times as much.
For one small bed, the difference in price may be worth it, especially if you still have concerns about pressure-treated wood. For me, though, and the size of the bed I was building, the difference in price was in the hundreds of dollars, if not nearing the thousands.
One thing to note — the price and available of rot-resistant woods depends on your location. You may have a ready source of rot-resistant wood nearby, so it’s worth looking into and pricing yourself.
Cheap Raised Bed Option
If you’re looking for cheap raised garden beds, you might want to repurpose wood that was used in a different capacity. Perhaps you have an old fence you are taking down, for example. To be safe, just make sure it wasn’t manufactured prior to 2003.
My brother-in-law called me when he took down his old fence and asked me if I wanted the wood. Before I took it, I confirmed the fence was only 10 years old. Then, I repurposed that old fence into three new raised beds. You can see my process of building these raised beds from that old garden fence here.
Other Materials for Raised Beds
These days gardeners are getting innovative and are using a variety of materials to grow their vegetable gardens. While you always want to stay away from old tires or railroad ties, here are safe options to consider:
- Raised Beds constructed from steel panels (like Jill Winger’s raised beds here).
- Metal raised beds (like Birdies raised beds – get 5% off with code JOURNEYWITHJILL)
- Rocks (like Elliott Homestead uses here)
- BPA-free polyethylene pre-built raised beds (from Good Ideas, Inc. – get 10% off with code JILL10)
These are just a few options, but as you can imagine, the options for how to frame your raised bed are virtually endless. Just be sure to do your research and choose a material you’re comfortable with.
4. Raised Bed Garden Soil Lacks Nutrients ⬅
Insufficient nutrients in raised bed soil is probably the most common mistake I see. But when you get it right, the vegetables in your raised beds will thrive.
Many soil combinations will work well with raised beds, but some do not. Potting soil, for example, drains too quickly. Unless your raised bed sits on concrete or rocks (and thus acts more like a container), skip the potting soil. You need more substance than what potting soil can provide.
Potting soil also often lacks nutrients to sustain a raised bed garden all season. Raised beds aren’t containers that need constant fertilization; instead, raised beds function best when filled with organic, nutrient-rich soil from the beginning.
Another caution: When I conducted a raised bed soil test, I found that plants grown in a raised bed filled only with bagged soil grew much slower than those beds with some amount of organic material mixed in.
What is the best soil for raised beds?
Personally, I’ve found the best success in my raised beds by using a combination of native soil (or topsoil) and organic material like compost, but depending on what you have available and your budget, you have many options to choose from.
The possible combinations of raised bed soil can get overwhelming, especially if you’re on a budget. That’s why I put together a free guide to help any gardener — on any budget — discover the ideal soil combination for them. Download the free guide by clicking below.
5. Raised beds are placed too close together.
Working in raised beds can be the joy of any gardener. That’s why you want to create the most comfortable working area as possible.
To do this, you want enough room to be able to work between the beds comfortably — two to three feet at least. I made this mistake by only allowing about a foot between my raised beds, and it’s always a challenge weeding, planting, and harvesting from those edges.
One thing we all forget is that not all of our plants will stay in the lines of our raised beds. Many plants spill over the edges (like squash and pumpkins), and others just grow so wide they reach over the walkways.
With all that in mind, then, when you place your raised beds on the ground, ensure you can get your garden cart or wheelbarrow in between them. When you have enough space to do that, you can sit a stool beside the beds for a comfortable working area.
6. Pathways grow up with weeds and grass.
There are few things more frustrating than going out to my garden, planning to enjoy some time working in my raised beds, and discovering the grass has grown up beside them.
Weed and grass overgrowth always has the potential to harbor snakes, and overgrown grass causes my legs to itch. My husband and I both try to keep the area trimmed with a weed eater, but with three acres to maintain, sometimes we can’t always keep it tidy.
If you don’t want to keep mowing or weed eating the grass and weeds around your raised beds, place a barrier down before the weeds and grass emerge for the season.
Options for the Paths Around Raised Beds
To keep the area around your raised beds tidy and easy to work, you have several good options. Here are just a few:
- cardboard boxes
- pine needles
Broken down cardboard boxes with a light layer of mulch on top works great! But an even easier method I’ve begun to use is rolling brown kraft paper between beside my beds and covering with mulch.
My husband is also a hobby woodworker, so I spread sawdust between my beds. I don’t recommend sawdust as mulch because it can retard plant growth. But that makes it a great barrier where I don’t want nuisance grass and weeds to grow. The key is to lay it on thick — 4-6″ is ideal.
Another option is pine needles if you happen to have pine trees nearby. Pine needles are my favorite for pathways because they break down more slowly than other materials. Like other organic mulches, lay it on thick, and a layer of cardboard or kraft paper underneath helps as well.
Though expensive, a layer of gravel is an option many gardeners choose, especially when their entire raised bed space is in one area. Like the other options, I recommend putting down a barrier first. Without it, grass and weeds will grow between the gravel, and you don’t want to have to pluck weeds out of gravel (trust me).
What about landscape fabric?
I know we’ve all been tempted to use landscape fabric to line our pathways (even as a layer underneath some of the options above), but I don’t recommend it. In my experience, weeds will eventually get through anyway. If you do choose a more permanent barrier, I recommend a greenhouse-grade plastic sheeting instead of permeable landscape fabric.
7. Neglecting to Mulch Raised Beds
Mulching your raised beds is just an important as mulching in a ground garden bed, and perhaps even more so.
Though weed pressure is usually less in raised beds, it isn’t non-existent. Weed seeds from native soil find light and sprout. Seeds floating in the wind and deposited from birds love the rich soil of raised beds. For these reasons, mulch will dramatically reduce your weeding time.
But more importantly, mulch regulates the soil temperature and retains moisture — both critical needs of raised beds in the hot summer.
One huge advantage of raised beds is how the soil heats up quicker in the spring, allowing for faster planting. But it also heats up as the season goes on. Mulch helps regulate that temperature more than bare soil would.
Mulch also regulates moisture. In wet seasons, it acts like a sponge, absorbing excess rainfall. In dry times, it keeps moisture from evaporating in the heat of the summer. You will find your mulched raised beds much healthier than those without it.
I prefer to mulch with wood chips, and in this post, I talk about the pros and cons of four common types of mulch — all of which I have tried in my raised bed gardens.
Update: here are 9 organic mulch options you can consider as well.
Hopefully, by avoiding these 7 mistakes, you will be on your way to an enjoyable raised bed gardening experience with abundant harvests!
Do you have anything to add to my list?
More Raised Bed Gardening Resources
How to Troubleshoot and Revive a Raised Garden Bed
If you’ve had problems with your raised bed soil, this post explains what the problem might be and how to fix it: Problems with Raised Bed Soil
3 Raised Bed Soil Mixes Tested
What is the best soil blend to fill your raised beds with? I put three common raised bed soil mixes to the test, and the results may surprise you.
What do I Put on the Bottom of Raised Beds?
When you’re building your raised bed, should you line it with anything? How can you fill it in the least expensive way and still provide fertile soil? This post gives your options: What do I put on the bottom of raised beds?
Raised Bed Garden vs. In Ground Garden
Jill Winger of the Prairie Homestead talks with me about why she changed from an in-ground garden to a raised bed garden to help others decide if it’s right for them in this post.
FAQs of Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening
I’ve received many follow-up questions to this post, and I addressed the most common ones here: Raised Bed Gardening FAQs: 9 Common Questions
Raised Bed Soil Options Free Download
Don’t forget to download my free Raised Bed Soil Options for any budget guide below:
I discuss each of these seven mistakes in even more detail in this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast. Listen here or on your favorite podcasting app.
How high should the raised garden bed be? Depth?
Mine are 10 inches high, and I think that’s probably about the minimum. You might be able to get away with 8″ but I recommend 10″ or deeper.
Mine are almost waist height! Love them!
Did you fill them completely with soil or put some other filler in the bottom?
I usually put sticks and pinecones at the bottom of my beds to try to help ease the amount of soil needed. This is most helpful in taller beds. For the smaller heights (my 6-8″ beds), it’s not helpful or necessary, as you need all that space for soil.
Im having a u-shaped raised bed built this year thats 24″ high. However, the cost of the soil is going to be a fortune.
Those U-shaped beds are gorgeous! But yes I can see how soil cost will be quite high.
I think it depends on your age, the older you are, the higher the raised beds. I’m 62 and really don’t like bending over, all my beds are 2′ high. I am the envy of all local seniors.
I’ve found that straw bale gardening has been a God send to me as I’ve gotten older. Less bending, more productive garden and no weeding. If you haven’t heard of it you need to check it out.
I’m a senior citizen (late 70’s) and unable to kneel so our raised beds are waist high. The first 2 or 3 feet is sand, then a layer of small rock, and then the actual garden soil is between 2 or 3 feet deep. I live in coastal Oregon and in this area sand is plentiful. The rock layer is used to add drainage. The beds are 4′ wide and between 5′ and 6′ long. This allows me to continue to raise crops even though I can’t kneel. Recommended for senior Citizens.
To take up space either fill up the bottom with plastic bottle filled at least half full of water, or sticks and straw which will slowly turn into compost. This allows me to add more soil over time
Hi Jill. After mowing the lawn I have a lot of grass clipping i put weed and feed from the bag and spray the lawn with pest control few times through the growing season, would Putting the grass clipping in my vegetable raised beds to break down for compost be safe considering the grass clipping contain the stuff I put on the lawn through the year. Thank you
That’s a great question and I’m so glad you asked. No, I would not use those grass clippings. Weed and feed contains elements that prevent sprouting. Even though that’s meant for weed sprouts, it could inhibit vegetable seed sprouting as well. Not knowing what pest control you’re using, I wouldn’t use grass clippings with pest control residue in your garden either. It could harm your plants but more importantly, it could harm beneficial insects you want in your garden. You want ladybugs, ground beetles, earthworms, and other insects in your garden to help control the pest insects, and lawn pest control solutions could harm them.
For a raised bed planter box do you need to put a plastic sheet before topping up the soil
It depends. If your raised bed planter is made of a questionable material, using a food-grade plastic liner will protect your soil and plants from any toxic leaching. If you’re concerned about ground-dwelling rodents coming in your beds from the ground up, I’d recommend laying chicken wire along the bottom and extending several inches beyond the bed to protect it.
Chicken wire screen is not small enough to keep voles out. You should put metal screen. We have a vile problem and solved it with the small screen for our boxes.
Well, if it is any help of sorts, for others out there..
I actually use half cut 44 gallon drums ‘long ways’ ( washed out/burnt off with a straw pile or fire pit’m for a few weeks ? ) then using the bung holes i collect my used water in buckets too !
Filliing then with a mix of Pindan,hay bail and potting mix & clean white sand…
as with, when i need deeper root spacing i cut them in half [ do as above clean and fire pit’m ] then install a cheap tap fitting into where the bottom hasn’t a bung hole to collect water from… this also is my compost worm bin system as well ? to get the juices of life to share back to my veggies and plants i grow .. it works out perfect, for us. In a area of monster white ants/ termites live in downunder Oz..
This sounds great but I live in town and can’t get many of those items. But I really want to thank you for explaining what a bung hole really is!!
You mentioned having mulch to conserve moisture. What is a good mulch and can it be reused?
I prefer wood chip mulch. It stays on the garden all year and slowly breaks down into the soil, building the soil’s tilth and overall health. I rake it aside in the early spring to help the soil warm up and to plant seeds, and then I have to add an additional layer each year because of how much it has broken down over the year. There are other options, too. Here is an article that explores my experience with each of them. https://journeywithjill.net/gardening/2016/05/16/4-types-mulch-can-use-garden/
Can you use pine or cedar shavings?
Most of my wood chips are pine bark. So pine is fine for the garden. Just make sure not to work it into the soil at all — just add it to the top. I don’t have personal experience with cedar shavings so I can’t speak to it, though people used cedar wood in raised beds all the time.
Do you put the soaker hose under the mulch?
You can do either. Putting it under the mulch helps the water get directly to the soil and roots, but you also run the risk of slicing through the hose inadvertently if you use a hoe. I tend to put it on top for that reason.
As high as you want. I used 4″ boards to build mine because that’s what I had. It makes no difference how high it is as long as it works for you. The roots will grow down into the soil below so it will be kind of a hybrid in-ground/raised bed. The borders around my 4 beds is what is important to me, not the height.
Should holes be drilled in garden beds?plastic or cardboard?
Do you mean holes in the wood?
Not enough sun, too much shade. Planting too early without frost protection.
What do you do at the end of a season with raised bed soil? Do you recycle it or start over? What does the prep look like?
My raised bed soil stays in place, and I just add a new layer of compost each year (sometimes twice per year, depending on what’s growing). If there is any mulch on top, I’ll rake it aside first, but usually, by the end of a growing season most of the mulch has broken down into the soil.
I use cinder/cement blocks for my raised garden. Before one does anything, plot out the area where the garden will be. Mine is 8’X4′ (roughly). Put down heavy cardboard (I break down shipping boxes) which will be a barrier between the soil above and beneath (weed control). Extend the cardboard beyond the perimeter of the 8 x 4 a wee bit , and place the blocks on top of that. I place the blocks with the holes facing up. Place them as close to each other as possible. I plant marigolds in the holes for pest control and last year experimented planting green beans in a row of cinderblocks, with satisfactory results. Needed to be watered more often but not bad. In the past I have used one level of blocks for the wall. This year I will try 2 levels. And that’s my 2 cents.
I have heard of this but I’ve never tried it. It does sound like a great idea! And it’s a good point that the plants in the cinder block holes might need more water. Thank you for sharing this tip!
What is “cinder” and is it safe to plant vegetables in? Will it leech into the plants?
From what I’ve read, modern concrete blocks don’t contain “cinder” anymore; instead, they contain fly ash, a byproduct of coal. The gardening and environmental world seems to have mixed opinions on this, and I haven’t found any hard scientific research. But, from the limited research I’ve done, it appears that they only leach unsafe substances if they’re chipped or broken. Again, that hasn’t been proven or disproven scientifically to my knowledge. If in doubt, I’ve found recommendations to seal the bricks somehow or use a food-grade plastic liner. Or just make sure not to plant edibles in the holes of the blocks, and use them only on the borders of the raised beds and plant edibles several inches away from the blocks.
Fly ash in cinder blocks should only provide potash and be a little acid which helps neutralize the highly alkaline lime used in cement manufacture and which is therefore less likely to burn plants roots.
Thank you for the insight!
In the south the cinerblocks bake the plants. Our hot summers just are not compatible with planting in the holes.
H there are heavy metals in the ash that is used in the making of cinderblocks. Personally I would recommend using another method.
I agree – there are a lot of materials that you should not use. https://www.ramsburyraven.com/life/home_and_garden/diy-raised-garden-beds/
Fly ash is radioactive. The main reason to use raised beds is to keep your vegetables away from the posibility of lead in your soil, which doesn’t generally absorb into plant growth but is a real factor in root crops. Also as you work in the soil and touch your face the possibility of it absorbing into your body is a real threat. Older neighborhoods can have really high lead levels from old chipped paint. Also consider the factors of previous use and whats uphill. Was your yard filled, or is it natural soil? Did the previous owner work on cars there or other activities that might have used hazardous or petroleum products. Plastic or petroleum based weed barriers degregate, into your garden soil. Raised beds are like dirt pancakes, unless they are 18 inches high all you are going to do is water. Fill the bottom with sticks, rocks, raw compost, whatever you got that’s not treated with anything. Consider just throwing a couple layers of cardboard, get free mulch or wood chips from a safe source, leave spaces or cut holes and go from there. Maybe make your own biochar and add it before the cardboard. I’ve had a lot of success with this method.
Great post! Thanks.
I would recommend laying chicken wire or some other barrier in the bottom before filling. I oversee a youth therapy garden and gophers invaded our boxes this winter. Now we are working to empty 20 beds, lay the wire and refill. Not fun!
That’s such a great suggestion, Christie! I’ve never had problems with that (knock on wood) but I know many who have. I have, however, moved my raised beds, so I understand how much work it is to empty and start again. Thank you for sharing this tip!
I think chicken wire is not needed for the woodchucks can climb over the blocks and also they jump up and over. Also this summer I put my small plants on top of my table and they still got up there and are ate all the veggies I was some upset
I find that groundhogs won’t climb a plastic mesh fence if the top is left floppy. My garden has 3ft metal rabbit fencing on the bottom & 4ft plastic mesh deer fence, bottom slightly overlapping the rabbit fence. Do not secure the top edges to posts leaving the top 1-2 feet to flop
Woodchucks just ate big holes in my plastic fencing and walked right through!
We use the ‘floppy top’ fence to keep the hens in or out of an area. After several weeks (yes…weeks…they were very persistent) of trying (boy did they try…it was comical to watch) attempts to fly over the ‘floppy top’, the hens have finally conceded defeat and have given up trying. They don’t seem to be able to judge the distance/height and, it is wire-mesh so, they may not be able to see it well enough to gauge a ‘fly-over’. A MUST for the garden plot or the hens would decimate everything. (plants, bugs, mulch…stuff in the soil…EVERYTHING!) I give them access to the garden when the season is over tho’. They clean things up, aerate the soil and leave lots of fertilizer for next season. : )
We had a “salad table” raised bed about 30 inches high with each leg made of two 2x4s. I saw a ground hog climb one of the legs to get into our food. My next outing was to buy a trap.
I hate ground hogs.
Instead if emptying the bed, putting down the wire, and refilling it with the dirt, build another bed! Lay the wire in the new bed and transfer the dirt from any old bed to the new bed adding any amendment you deem necessary. At the end you’ll have one extra empty bed which you can always fill!
This is a terrific summary of the issues I see when people try raised beds ~ thanks for posting!!! I would include the chicken wire/hardware cloth base as #8 (especially for those with gopher and ground squirrel challenges) and then add #9: Line the raised bed with cardboard, like you’re making a bowl, then add your soil mix. The cardboard will break down over time but will keep the soil from seeping out the bottom of the bed when you water, especially when the bed is first created. That happens a lot around here, in our dry, low-to-no grass, high desert climate. And when you do water, the cardboard will retain moisture and attract earthworms from the soil below the bed. Win-win! (also fyi in hot climates, portulaca/moss rose is about the only thing that will do well in cinder blocks. Very pretty, good for pollinators and can take the reflected heat.) Thanks again ~ happy gardening! 🙂
Great tips! Thank you for sharing these!!
hello, we are trying cut rock barrier to our raised garden. The moles do not like the sharp rock and has saved my Hostas.
I suggest having a slag of concrete in the bottom. Not as big as your bed but enough that water wont go out the bottom. I did this in 1/2 my 2′ raised bed and i wish i put some in the other 1/2. Concrete was a 1-1/2′ by 1-1/2′ and my bed is 2’x8′. The half with slag doesn’t drain fast the other side is more dry. I’d recommend cedar as a box material.
I’ve seen this product that goes along the top of a fence to keep cats in or out of a yard. It’s a small pipe attached to the top of the fence with a larger pvc pipe over it. So anything trying to climb over gets to that point just spins the pvc pipe and they can’t get over. I think I saw it on Pinterest.
What what do you use to get rid of all past the bugs that will sometimes eat your garden like stink bugs and other bugs
Hi Gloria, I have worked hard at creating an environment in my garden where “good bugs” take care of “bad bugs.” I wrote about it in more detail in this blog post: https://journeywithjill.net/gardening/2016/05/29/successful-garden-without-pesticides/
That’s not to say I haven’t had bad bugs in my garden, but for the most part they haven’t done critical damage (so far). It took, for me, eliminating my use of non-organic pesticides and greatly avoiding even organic ones (because organic methods also kill beneficial insects. Hopefully the article above will give you some ideas. It’s not an overnight thing, but I have seen improvements each season.
I love close to a creek and made a small spot in my garden that is from friendly. They have helped keep the but population down.
Jill this, creating/maintaining a balance of nature, is what I hope more people will do. It is a good goal and can be a achieved over time. Can’t wait to learn more about weeds. We have maintained organic gardening, avoiding anything like fertilizers and pesticides, on our family farm of 30 years, in the Piedmont of N.C. This works beautifully everywhere: throughout the perennial garden surround of our house, in containers, and our 1st raised bed gardens. A friend has helped me tremendously with this, as she is a landscape designer w/ degree in horticulture and advises me what will work here. First learn more about your location, including the soil, native plants, and weather information so all will more easily flourish. Support local nurseries that sell organic, local plants and usually staffed with folks with a lot of knowledge. Choose native plantings, include flowering ones for the pollinators and birds, (they also will pollinate our tomatoes and more!), trees and shrubs as space allows to provide shelter and host plantings for pollinators as well as for nesting and migratory birds. We encourage all wildlife. I learned how to easily make and use this toxin-free mix for all gardens that a lot of people know about already: equal parts of organic top soil, composted mushroom, peat moss,(or a mix of it and/or a substitute ? for precious peat moss), and composted “black kow”, which will hopefully be replaced by the composted stuff from our chicken house. I mix and keep this soil in my garden wagon so it’s easier on my back to roll it around to the raised bed and perennial gardens. It feeds the gardens, no need for fertilizer miracle grow, etc., but it may take time to enrich the soil for some. It has worked beautifully, especially in raised beds, and feeds and creates rich, great topsoil that builds and grows over time. Earthworms will show up! Use it to backfill and top out new plants. Avoid fertilizers in gardens and use it like the true nurturing soil that it is. Keep up the good work, and look forward to reading your comments.
Hi, I am soon planning on moving into my pent house which has 2 huge terraces (8th and 9th floor of a building). I intend to create my veggie garden in raised beds along the wall all around. What would be the best material to use to build the raised beds? And what would be the best way to fill up the beds?
I plan to have these beds at least two feet tall. With a depth of a max of 2 feet.
I have another question.
I want to create a built-in auto-watering system. My Husband and I have created one timer based system that works beautifully in my current minuscule balcony garden. It waters my plants twice a day.
Would it be better to have the water come in at the bottom that goes directly to the roots or is it better to have it coming from the top (surface level).. I will have to do water proofing of the walls and flooring before I put up the beds. Would there be leaching that is harmful to plants?
I live in a country near the equator. Temperatures between 18-35 degrees C.
I don’t have personal experience with that kind of gardening, so I would just be guessing on the materials. I’d think you’d need raised bed materials that are lightweight but sturdy, but I don’t know what you have available. Since they won’t be accessing any soil beneath, I recommend a loose potting mix of some sort mixed with organic materials like compost — maybe a 50/50 blend. For watering, I’d suggest a drip system on top because most of the plants’ roots are in the top 8.” And I don’t know anything about leaching from waterproofing.
Can you explain the best way to mulch or suggest an article to help? Weeds have always been my greatest nemesis. Thanks!!!
Hi Bridget, YES! I have a podcast and a blog post both that address some options for mulch based on my experience.
Here is the podcast episode: https://journeywithjill.net/gardening/2017/01/18/weed-control-starts-early-4-types-of-mulch-you-can-use-other-weed-control-methods/
And here is the blog post: https://journeywithjill.net/gardening/2016/05/16/4-types-mulch-can-use-garden/
Hope these help!
I currently have a ground bed that has very poor drainage and has developed a moss problem. I am thinking of putting a raised bed on top of this but I am still concerned about the drainage. Any suggestions?
My native soil has very poor drainage as well, and building raised beds helped tremendously. I highly recommend this, as my plants in raised beds consistently produce better than my ground beds, and I think a lot of it has to do with both drainage and my ability to control the soil fertility better.
What is the best soil mixture to use in my beds for vegetables? I live in Southwest Texas where the summers are Hot and Dry.
That’s a great question and one that I think has many answers, depending on your resources (what you have on hand, how much money you have to spend, etc.) as well as your growing environment. Personally, I’ve had the best success using a mixture of my native soil from another part of my property and compost/chicken manure. With your hot and dry climate, you will need to place a big emphasis on organic matter due to its excellent ability to hold water (skip peat moss for the same reason; once it dries out it can repel water). Also, it’s even more critical for you to mulch well for the same reason. Here’s an article that gives more specifics that might be of help: https://joegardener.com/podcast/raised-bed-gardening-pt-2/
I use rubber mulch because it dosen’t have to be replaced, doesn’t blow away. Would it be safe
to use for my vegetable garden, and herb garden? It also provides better heat in the winter, I
From what I’ve read, rubber could possible leach chemicals into the soil with heat and moisture. I would probably keep it on permanent pathways and flower garden just to be safe. The good thing about mulch made of organic material is that as it breaks down, it contributes to the soil’s fertility. Yeah, it has to be renewed, but I notice an improvement in my soil year over year with the wood chip mulch I use.
I use grass chippings. Free fertilizer and does a great job of keeping beds moist.
Can I use straw instead of mulch. it will still retain moisture. Any suggestions please. Thank you!
Yes, many people choose to use straw as mulch and they have great success. Personally, I’ve found it the least effective at suppressing weeds, but many others use it religiously. To get an idea of the different types of mulch I’ve tried and the pros and cons of each (in my experience), this article may be helpful: https://journeywithjill.net/gardening/2016/05/16/4-types-mulch-can-use-garden/
Can you share why potting soil is less desirable than native soil/garden soil? My native soil is awful, like adobe brick clay awful. I can’t help but wonder if my raised bed will function more like a big “pot” for that reason. Is something wrong with using potting soil?
Potting soil is made to drain extremely well, which isn’t ideal for a raised bed. You want nutrients to stay in the bed as much as possible and not leach out. Also, in dry periods, potting soil can get hard and constrict, actually repelling water. For those reasons, I don’t recommend using potting soil alone; however, I wouldn’t mind mixing it with either your native soil, garden soil, or both. I have clay soil that drains poorly, and most of my raised beds are filled with it mixed with some garden soil and compost. Surprisingly, clay soil is actually full of nutrients, but because of its particle makeup, the nutrients don’t get to the plants easily. But when you amend it with other ingredients in a raised bed setting (topsoil, compost, sand, peat moss or coco coir, etc.), the plants can have better access to those nutrients without drowning in the poor drainage.
Thanks so much for the explanation! I appreciate it!
Forgetting to calculate how much soil i would need!
My small garden did so well last year that i went a bit overboard this year. I ended up layering cardboard, soil, compost, and newspaper up to a more manageable height. Next year will net some great soil!
Sounds like a great plan!
Length x width x depth (how many inches of soil) divided by 324 equals number of cubic yards you need.
I have an old deck, can I make raised beds out of the old decking? I believe original deck was done in 1997 and then added on as years went by
Pressure-treated wood prior to 2003 may contain a harmful chemical (chromated copper arsenate) that could leach into the soil. Will it leach after all this time? I don’t think much research has been done to know for sure. To be safe, I’d purchase a food-grade plastic liner and line the bed.
I read somewhere you can paint the inside so the wood is sealed and chemicals wont leach out
I’m not sure about that. You’d have to make sure it’s a safe paint, I assume.
You could use that lumber for the riser portion. I am using a pallet on cinder blocks as a base…to add height only and using other non chemical treated wood for the actual planting portion. I learned the hard way raised beds are great for weed control but still really hard on your back if too low.
Don’t forget weed guard in the bottom of your box, my beds are 8 inches deep and even when the sod was removed the weeds are growing up through the soil.
Great tips! I just pinned this article to my Pinterest board titled “gardening” for future reference. Thank you!
Voles dug under my raised bed garden where I planted potatoes and ate parts of every potato! This year I put down hardware cloth, then old wide tires and filled them with compost. The plants look healthy and I hope to find lots of uneaten potatoes when I tip over the tires.
I have planted my vegetables in used car tyres and have had great success for many years. you can put as many tyres on top of each other as you like to make a planter a little more raised, making it easier to tend your plants. .. Each season I renew my soil before planting. I also always place the tyres onto ground for good natural drainage.
Tried making a raised bed at the back of a flower bed for iris to get better drainage that gets watered with overhead grass sprinklers. Used wood sides about 8″ high, approximately 2′ x 4′, chunks of broken brick along the edges and filled with a mixture of half dirt and half gravel. We have had lots of rain this spring and the water did not drain. Would putting brick with spaces between in the bottom to create drainage, a layer of chicken wire, layer of landscape fabric to hold the soil, use the same soil but adding some compost. Are there any suggestions or have a better plan for drainage for iris only?
I really don’t know much about flowers and their drainage needs, but I have heard recently that studies have shown adding hard materials like rocks to the bottom of a container or raised bed actually doesn’t help it drain better. I don’t know that adding bricks would be any different. Some suggestions that come to mind — could you add peat moss or perlite to the soil? Also, a thick layer of wood chip mulch will act like a sponge during heavy rains, which could help absorb excess water.
The rocks don’t make it drain better. What they do is collect the water to keep the plant from sitting in it.
Don’t put the bricks IN it but UNDER IT. If you line with landscape fabric the weeds will be reduced and it is up enough to let the water drain. The gravel is too small. Rocks work better under..not in the planter.
Mulching has been something that mystifies me. Can I seed to the recommended depth and mulch right away or do I have to wait for my plants to reach a height greater than my planned mulch depth before mulching?
That’s a good question and one I hear often. I recommend waiting until the plants are well-established. Depending on the plant, usually 6″ in height would be about right. Some seeds, like lettuce, need a bit of light to germinate, so you wouldn’t want to cover that soil with mulch. Other sprouts are pretty weak starting out and would have a hard time poking through. In the spring, I rake all my mulch off to the side of my garden so the soil temperature can rise more quickly. Then when the plants get established I’ll pull the mulch back over for weed control. In the fall, I move the mulch over just enough to seed since the soil temperatures are warm enough for speedy germination already.
My kids built raised garden beds in their yard, in the midwest, and they work quite well.
Our question has to do with composting. Can we put whole vegetable matter, egg shells, etc. in the dirt all winter? Or do you recommend a traditional composting bin?
Some people do find success doing what’s commonly known as “trench composting,” where you basically throw everything in a trench in your garden, cover it with soil, and let it break down directly in the garden itself. The only caution I have is to make sure you cover each application with dirt to deter wildlife and critters. You’ll also need to cease from adding from it a couple of months before planting, to ensure it has a chance to break down sufficiently. Personally, I use a compost bin so I can’t speak from personal experience, but I share based on what others have shared with me and just general guidelines on composting. Here are some articles and podcasts on my site with further information on composting that you might find helpful: https://journeywithjill.net/gardening/tag/compost/
I live where there is wildlife in my garden. I now compost using “worm tubes”.
Wildlife can’t get to it and the worm castings are fantastic for my garden soil.
Research it and give it a try.
Interesting! I will have to look into that. Thank you for sharing.
I would like to make a few comments about raised beds. Before I get started I live now in northern ca , so do not hold that against me. I always wanted to learn gardening. I bought cement stacking blocks to make my raised beds , but here in zone 9 they were making the beds to hot, and besides that there bull snakes and mice everywere. So the next year i made my raised beds out of 2×6 redwood and run all my water lines to each bed and to all my fruit trees . Then i had 2 truck and trailer loads of 3 quarter crushed rock delivered.then i wheelbarowed every bit of the rock between every bed and my fruit trees and around the complete house . Have not had a snake or mouse in the last 3 years. I was also having trouble with tomato worms and every kind of worms and bugs. My wife bought me a dynatrap that covers 1 acre . I have not had a tomato worm or any other bug since .thats my 2 cents, l hope it helps someone.
Great suggestions! Thank you for sharing your experience so others can benefit from what you’ve learned.
Egg shells rinsed and dried around tomato plants helps as well.
It also works with my cukes, peppers, and green beans.
How do you stop creatures from chewing on the soaker hoses to get the water?
I’ve never had this problem, but I do bury my lines below the mulch. Unless the creatures you’re talking about are below-ground, perhaps that would help.
How long do you hook regular hose to soaker hose?
I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.
I’m just wondering what type of mulch you use? I love my garden boxes but never thought to use mulch. Thank you for sharing, I’ve read all the comments and now know what to do when adding additional beds. My two are also too close together. That will be remedied in the spring
Hi Mary, I use wood chips. I’ve gotten them from my local tree service as well as a local lumber mill. I buy in bulk, as for my needs it’s necessary to get two trailer loads per year. But for just a few raised beds, bagged wood chips might be more economical. Just be sure not to get any that have been colored. They will break down into the soil, adding to the fertility over time, so you want pure wood chips without any additional ingredients.
I suggest lining the sides of your bed to retain moisture and put drainage holes in the bottom. Ive has problems with my soil seeping out between cracks and in corners during heavy rains.
Yes, I could see that being the case especially if you stack boards. (Mine is one 10″ piece.) Leaching water also promotes leaching nutrients, which we don’t want. What do you line the bed with to prevent this?
Make sure your putting them where they will get the most sun make sure to consider surrounding trees and other tall objects.
Yes, great advice.
What about useing small plastic swimming pools?
People definitely do it, and it depends on if you are concerned about any plastic byproducts leaching into the soil. That’s really a personal decision. These pools act more like containers than raised beds, since the roots of the plants cannot grow into the ground underneath. I’d recommend planting shallow-rooted vegetables like lettuce, greens, beans, etc., and plant them several inches away from the edge of the pool to limit leaching. Also, make sure to drill holes in the bottom.
So in planning my raised bed garden this year, do I need to make it 24″ so that those veggies with deeper roots will go into the earth? I have planned on lining them with cardboard, but was afraid I might not have enough space for roots unless I make it taller? What are your thoughts? I wasn’t planning on planting my tomatoes or okra in the raised beds because they get so tall, unless I am overthinking that…
Also, you use pine straw mulch in the pathways, and tree mulch in the beds?
My beds are 10″ and I grow carrots and onions successfully in them with no liner. I have never grown potatoes in raised beds though. 24″ might be pretty tall for planting okra in… you may have to get a ladder to harvest! Or you could cut the tops when they get too tall — you can do that with tomatoes, too — and they’ll both continue fruiting on the lower stems.
I have in the past used pine mulch in the pathways and wood chip mulch in the garden exclusively, but in recent years I’ve done a little of both in both places. Basically I let the pine needles fall where they may (we’re surrounded by pine trees). If I’m able to gather the pine needles in the fall, I’ll use those for pathways since they don’t break down as fast.
I will be using 2’ x 4’ x 2’ tall stock tanks this year. They will be in full sun and raised up off the ground on blocks . I Purchased a kennel and have put the stock tanks inside and I will be covering the ground around them to prevent weeds or grass from coming through . I have read many articles on Pinterest where people really like these because you don’t even have to bend over to weed them and they don’t really get a lot of weeds my question is full so I’m going to make the tank so hot that maybe I should line it with something ?
I personally have never used this method, but I have heard this concern with overheating. I think it depends on where you are located and how hot your summers get. Some things you can do if you’re concerned: (1) Mulch well, I’d recommend 4″ – this will help regulate soil temperature. (2) Consider using a shade cloth in the heat of the summer. (3) Keep the bed well-irrigated; it will dry out quicker than other kinds of beds. I’m not sure if lining it would make a big difference.
If you don’t mind, getting back to using cement blocks, instead of lining the garden with food grade plastic, what about painting them? I’m planning on using old blocks that was used in a basement bathroom/shower area. They’re only about 5″ wide and have been painted white. I’m also thinking about using a cement caulking to hold them all together. Anway, being they’re already painted, do you recommend paint to stop any leaching or the plastic lining?
I’m new to this raised garden bed thing. I’ve really enjoyed reading this article and everyone’s questions and your answers! Thank you!
I honestly don’t know, Doug. If it were me, I’d have to do some research on paints and what they contain. Perhaps there is a food-safe paint? But even then, would it hold up to the weather and friction of the soil? That is a good question and I wish I had an answer for you.
Is it a mistake to paint the outside of raised garden beds made of untreated timber?
I have not read anything about that in particular. It’s possible the paint could leach into the soil below the raised bed, which roots would have access to, but I’m not sure how much of a risk that would realistically pose.
I painted the outside of mine and the paint pealed the first year. I have heard of people charring the inside of the boxes to provide a bit more rot resistance.
What should I do to get rid of weeds around (outside) my rais beds? Is it ok to kill them by spraying a weed killer? OR shall I put cement and cover them so, there won’t be any weeds growing.
I am from Sydney Australia. I am a beginner and reading all your newsletters.
Hi Susil, I don’t recommend any type of commercial weed killer near your garden beds — it could leach into the soil and eventually the plants. An alternative for weeds outside your raised beds would be a vinegar solution, which is known to kill vegetation. I’m not sure how permanent that solution would be, though, and would be more of an option for a small space. Personally, I’ve had the best success laying down cardboard from broken down boxes between my beds. Then I cover them with mulch like pine needles (my favorite for walkways) or wood chips. Hope this helps!
If you are constructing from wood, make sure to not have any exposed end grain. I see too many raised bed plans which have an upright post to secure the corners together. When the top of that post gets saturated with water and usually also gets dirt on it, it will rot and then your whole bed will fall apart.
If you do use this construction design, you need to cap the post with another piece of wood which is hard to do when it is on the inside of the bed.
When constructed of wood using a /post with end-grain facing up, couldn’t you have post above
the level of the top of the side-members? Then cap that post-end with purchased caps — a little “fancy” or a homemade wood cap or flashing made of tin cans? Is there any metal one should avoid? Also, if one trips the top of the post on a slant, one encourages rub-off and discourages
water soaking down through the grain of the posts. Please comment?
I am sorry, but I am not understanding your question. I have never had the need to cap the posts in my beds, so I don’t have any advice on that. Perhaps someone else can share their experiences in this comment thread. I also have never made raised beds out of metal, but there are many who do.
Ann, what you suggest would work and would actually look quite attractive. It is a bit more work of course and uses more wood. You could also cap the posts with the solar post lights and then you would have some light if you are harvesting after work in the dark in winter, which I often end up doing (with a flashlight!)
Jill, she is saying to cap the posts with metal to keep the rain off. And depending on where you live, if you don’t get lots of rain, you might not have a problem with rotting. But you will if water continues to sit on top of the posts year after year. That is why on fence posts you usually will see caps – they are not just decorative.
I still prefer to have the boxes not rely on internal posts at all. You will end up having them in the way when you are cultivating and weeding. Best to have the insides nice and clear. And bracing from the outside makes more sense since you are trying to brace against the pushing forces of the soil. Harder to try and pull the boards inwards from the weight of the soil. Think of pushing something heavy to keep it from moving vs. trying to pull something heavy to keep it from moving.
Thank you, Marc! Most of my beds do not have those end posts, though a few do (I prefer a box design as well). And I certainly hadn’t thought about the potential for rotting. Thank you for sharing this advice!
Hi 🙂 Thanks for the info! This year I’m going to try container gardens for the first time. I plan to continue vermicomposting in my garage and adding to soil as required. That being said, my question is how long can one use the dirt in a raised bed? Can it be used for years to come? Do you recommend replacement or partial refreshing or??? It would lay dormant in the winter.
I have never changed out the soil in my raised bed (this will be my 7th season), but it does need to be amended with nutrients each year. My older beds definitely don’t produce as well as my newer ones, which shows you need to replenish as much as possible. Most sources I’ve seen recommend a good 2 to 4 inch layer of screened compost applied to the top of the bed yearly (I don’t see a need to work it in, since earthworms will do that for you, and most “feeder roots” exist in the top few inches of the soil anyway). Then put a layer of mulch on top of that. (Never work fresh mulch into the soil.)
question, my son got me raised beds (they are on legs)(I cant bend over), how do I keep the soil in them healthy? this will be the third year for them
I would add a new layer of compost each season — 2-4 inches if possible, plus mulch after you plant in the spring.
When would you add the compost? In the late fall, so the nutrients infuse into the soil over the winter, or in the spring, before planting? Maybe both?
Fall is generally considered the best for the reason you stated, but you can really add it anytime! Many people (including myself) add it in the spring before planting, and I’ve also added it in the winter to give it time to settle before planting. So really, as long as you’re adding compost — anytime is good!
what does your compost consist of?
I use both my homemade compost and I purchase bulk compost from a local landscape company. My homemade compost usually consists of poultry manure, wood shavings, kitchen scraps, weeds/grasses, and shredded paper.
Iv’e read your article on raised garden beds and have grown vegies and herbs successfully for years out of raised beds and I only use fresh mushroom compost that is very affordable from a mushroom farm after their crop has finished. I fill the beds about eight to ten inches high and also use a hand full of worm casting out of my worm farm for each seedling. Plants thrive at 100% till maturity. I love your article helping all keen gardeners as its a great life medication; plotting around in your garden, getting your hands dirt, enjoying and sharing the company with all the bees and red lady bird. Love to hear from you with more gardening ideas. Cheers, Orlando
I’m trying a new method this spring to combat the hot dry summers in the South. Before filling the beds with soil, toss in some hardwood logs that are a little past their prime from the wood pile. Then fill the beds as directed. As the logs break down they provide nutrients for the soil and act like a sponge soaking up rainwater that would normally drain out the bottom of the bed. Plants will develop deep root systems reaching for this moisture, as opposed to shallow roots with surface watering. Not only will this conserve water, but everyone knows plants prefer rainwater. I have even heard of covering a downed tree with soil and planting on top of it, omitting the bed all together. Makes sense. In the woods, the most beautiful foliage is always near a fallen tree.
This is excellent! I’ve never heard of it but it does make so much sense. I usually put sticks at the bottom of my beds so I guess I’ve been doing a variation of this method without realizing it. 🙂
In response to Kay Emanuele and your comment, Jill, that technique Kay describes using wood in the base of garden beds is called Hugelkultur and has a long history in gardening. Very useful for deep (or tall, depending on how you look at it!) beds as filling such beds requires far more soil/compost than most people are willing to use. In this method, wood, including newly sawn logs, old stumps, anything that is naturally grown can be used to fill most of the bed and the soil/compost sits on top (to whatever depth you want) and the natural wood breaks down over time forming composted material. The bed will thus (over the years) require topping up, but if you are adding mulch each growing season, that solves that problem. Google ‘Hugelkultur’. It’s well worth it.
You say that using mulch to keep the weeds out of your garden.. if you were planting carrots, for example, would you wait for the carrot tops to come up through the soil before you add your mulch?
Yes, you’re absolutely right. In fact, I just planted my carrot seeds today. It will be a very long time before I add mulch because they take so long to germinate and establish themselves. I usually add all of my mulch to all of my garden at once — for me that’s in late April. Until I do that, I will have to hand weed around early plants like carrots, but it usually isn’t a big task like it would be mid-summer.
I have raised beds (8 beds 8×4’) and I found that the soil I had purchased and filled them with 3 years ago has lost its nutrients. My first year the vegetables grew amazing, but grew smaller and smaller every year after that. I think you need to change the soil every 2-3 years. I added lots of compost and organic fertilizer and soil additives but it didn’t really help. I’m going to replace the soil this spring or lower the beds so I can till into the native soil.
Great post, thanks!
Hi! I am new to gardening and want to use livestock troughs (like big metal baskets!). What should the drainage situation be? Drill holes? Knock out the whole bottom? Any help would be greatly appreciated. 🙂
Good question. I’ve never used those before so this is an educated guess. I’d evaluate your soil underneath and use that to decide how much to drain. If your native soil is sandy, I think drilling holes would be fine. But if it’s heavy clay, I’d probably either drill more holes or take out the bottom. Also, how hot is your climate? Those troughs will dry out quickly in hot summers, requiring more watering. In that case, you may want to stick with the drainage holes so the soil can hold more water in the hot days. But again those suggestions are pure speculation.
What direction do you run your beds N/S or E/W? Cant find much info about this . I ‘m putting in 4 2x 6 ft beds this week.
My beds run both ways. I really don’t think it matters. The more important thing is how you place your crops. You want to try, if possible, to keep your taller crops to the north or east side of your garden so they don’t shade out smaller crops.
Hi Jill! How do you make a ‘tall’ raised garden? I’m 67 and it would be nice not to have to crawl on my knees! This will be our first year to try the raised gardens. Thanks for the tips.
You can make your bed any height that is comfortable. Many people like 18″ although 24″ is also an option. If you go any higher than 18″ you will likely need to provide a vertical brace or support of some kind in the middle of the bed to prevent the weight of the soil from causing the wood to bow out. Just know that going 18-24 inches will require much soil. Any height will help you from bending; even my 10″ beds are much easier to work than my ground beds.
Do you have any suggestions on getting rid of Johnson grass? My raised beds (4×8×12″deep) are infested! Even though I used cardboard in the bottom and mulched. I have dug roots like crazy, but every little bit left behind grows a new generation. Help!
I don’t have any experience with this, but here are some ideas for organic control. Seems this is a hard thing to eradicate! http://integratedweedmanagement.org/index.php/question/organic-control-of-johnsongrass/
My favorite tip is to use newspaper as mulch. It keeps the weeds down and helps keep the moisture in the soil. I use only black an white print, not colored inserts
Great tip! Yes, newspaper is a great option for weed and moisture control!
Nice article Jill. TY
Where are you located?
I built 15 or so raised garden beds 2 x 6 for the Mount Sinai (NY) Garden Club and we were wise enough to place these just as you described, about 10 years ago. Lots of happy neighbors.
Thanks, Chuck! I’m in Arkansas. I bet a 2×6 garden bed would be very convenient. Though I enjoy my 4′ wide beds for the garden space it affords, I’m finding that it’s not always fun stretching to the center! Thanks for sharing your experience!
I once had to dig mine out and put chicken wire under the whole thing to keep gophers from devouring my garden. So I recommend doing that right from the start too!
I am so fortunate this hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve heard of it happening to others. What a pain that must have been for you!
I read most of the comments on here and everyone seems to be concerned with animals coming into the beds from below. I do not have a problem with animals but with tree roots. I have placed landscaping material into the bottom of the beds and the trees just ignore it and push feeder through it and populate the beds with roots. This robs the beds of nutrients for the vegetables. Looking for ideas for raising the beds off the ground 6-8 inches. I have five, 4×8, 10 inches deep beds and am concerned with the weight of the soil and the need for drainage and support. Emptying the beds every year to remove the roots is very tiresome and at 65 very labor-some.
That’s a great question, Kevin. The pine trees near my garden creep in as well and I notice my plants closest to those trees don’t thrive like the others. I almost wonder if relocating your beds would be less work in the long run than what you’re doing now. I have heard of raising the beds off the ground but I’m not sure how to answer your question on the weight of the soil. Perhaps someone can chime in when they see your question.
I have the same problem, roots came through landscaping material, and my vegetables yield was very poor. After researching You Tube videos , I am raising my bed 10″, the bottom seating on 3 frames of 2×4 hardwood lumber (redwood/cedar or post 2003 treated wood) by the length of my bed, which is 4×4. 2 of the frames are at each end, and 1 is on the middle . On top of these frames I am using 1×6 cedar boards . The boards run perpendicular to the frames. The bottom can be completed entirely with the boards or with 1/4 inch wire mesh, or both (using less boards). I am using a landscape fabric on the bottom of the box.
I would like to plant strawberries in a new planter. Any hints? I live in zone 3. Is there a danger of them freezing in the winter? Any special soil.? The planter is 3 feet by 6 feet , 16 inches high.
I don’t have any personal experience with planting strawberries in your zone. Mine overwinter in my ground beds, but I do know the soil gets colder in planters. I assume you have snow cover, which serves as insulation for in-ground plants, but I’m not sure if that would provide the same protection in your planter. I would ask someone local to you and see if they have any suggestions.
I live in zone 3. (Alberta, Canada). Strawberries do not over winter in pots here, but they do in my garden?
Thanks for the great read. A lot of ideas to consider before I put together our raised beds.
To fill the beds can I use cheap plain dirt or should I use top soil ? unless I buy a fortunes worth of bagged soil these are my only too options here. I plan on adding bagged compost to it aswell.
Also we will be having deeper raised beds and like the idea of lining the base with older wood logs and sticks and mulching with wood chips. But after reading the article I’m a bit confused over the nitrogen issue…..why is it ok to put wood in the bottom under the soil but should not mix in the wood chips that will be on top? should I take off all wood chips after each season? Your advise would be great.
Great questions here. Topsoil is recommended, as it contains more nutrients and organic matter than fill dirt. Regarding the wood/nitrogen issue: in my understanding, the wood will only deplete nitrogen temporarily as the nitrogen helps the wood break down into the soil — and this only occurs at the location of the wood. So if you line the bottom with older wood and sticks, any nitrogen that is tied up will be limited to that space in the bottom, not the primary root zone of the plants (depending on the depth of your bed). Plus, older logs don’t tie up as much nitrogen as fresh wood chips do and in fact will begin to release more nutrients the more they break down. And no, you do not need to remove the wood chips at the end of the season. They will slowly break down into the soil, giving you a more fertile soil for the next season as well as prevent erosion over the winter.
I have been using metal galvanized water troughs for 15 years. They have a water drain on the side near the bottom. I put a piece of screen over the hole to keep it open for drainage, then pile volcano rock around the screen. I fill with big logs and wood chips, in 30 days the chips sink down 1/3, then top with a foot of good soil, compost, minerals and sand mix. Also been composting for 20 years in plastic drums. Cut out the bottom so it drains, worms crawl in, and l can remove the compost from the bottom. Fantastic success!
Thanks! My raised bed on legs is not doing well. This is my second year with purchased organic soil. We have had a lot of rain and hot sun. The plants are not growing at all like last year. Your suggestion of adding compost is appreciated. Would fertilizer help now? Could it be too much water and heat?
It looks pathetic!
A raised bed on legs acts more like a container than a raised bed, so I suspect last year’s garden depleted the nutrients in that organic soil. I would try adding organic fertilizer as a quick remedy (like fish emulsion or seaweed or kelp emulsion), but you definitely need to add compost, too. Regarding irrigation, I assume your raised bed on legs has drainage holes. If not, I recommend you purchase a soil moisture meter just to make sure the soil isn’t too wet toward the bottom, which can cause root rot. If you do have drainage holes, you will have to water more frequently this time of year due to the heat.
If you have something which lets sun and warmth but stops much UV radiation, then you can cover new plants so they don’t get sunburned. When the plants becoms yellow and almost seethrough. Good luck with your garden.🙂
I’ve been gardening using raised beds for a few decades now. I build my raised beds 2’ – 3’ high and 8-12’ long. I love the ease of use. I put a barrier in the bottom for voles (nasty destructive little critters) and filled the bottom 1’ with cut branches. I topped with compost from our pile the top foot has good clean compost mixed with peat moss, coconut coir to help keep soil moist. Every fall I add a bunch of crushed egg shells can cover with compost. To top it off I cover with layers of cardboard or newspaper. This helps in spring to keep weeds at a minimum and the amendments have had all winter to slowly decompose into the soil. Before I started covering my beds over winter in spring I would have quite a bit of weeding to do prior to being able to plant. Now only the few exposed areas need attention.
Lastly, we added goat panels as an arch between the beds- attaching them to the sides of the raised beds. I planted peas, cucumbers and summer zucchini which are now quickly growing up and through the archway. It not only added more garden space but it looks pretty and once covered will give some much needed shade in the raised bed area.
I have found that to also control weeds between the beds is to put white vinegar (not distilled white vinegar) in a sprayer (hand or pump) and spray the weeds when they are not in stress and it will kill them or knock them down. It may take several sprays, but it works and does not contain any harmful chemicals. Be careful and spray on a calm day with little or no wind.
I just found your Raised Bed Gardening site and have not had time to completely read all of the comments. I would like to tell you about something that worked for me years ago and I have forgotten until now.
At one time in my earlier gardening days, I collected rainwater and stored it in 55 gl. plastic barrels for watering my garden. Because my garden was in an area where elevation was available, I would put the barrels at a higher elevation than the garden. By doing this, I could then gravity feed the water to my garden use a garden hose.
At least one of my barrels had a water faucet with a hose fitting mounted on the bottom, to which I could attach a garden hose and turn if on/off as needed.
I found that I could use gravity by siphoning the water to start the flow or turn on the faucet. Once the gravity feed started, it could be stopped by kinking the hose and temporarily stopping the flow turning of the nozzle. Once you released the kink, the flow would start again.
This same affect can be gained by elevating the barrels a foot or two when no other elevation is available.
I hope that this my be found helpful as it allows you to water your garden when water would otherwise not be available.
Great idea! I know many people are looking into ways to use rain barrels. We used them in the past, and what you said about it being elevated is key.
Thanks for the great info
Hello, I’ve never gardened before but am interested. What are your thoughts on building the garden boxes waist height? I currently live in a rental and thought I could build them taller and on wheels so that I can move it around the yard and avoid killing the grass. Also do you use chicken wire underneath your beds? Is that to help drain excess water?
Raised garden boxes are common, but they function more like containers. If you put wheels on them you’d need a sturdy bottom like wood, and in that case you’d not need to line them with anything like chicken wire. Hardware cloth is usually recommended to keep ground-dwelling pests out, but you wouldn’t need that if you have a solid bottom. If you build it yourself, though, yes, you need to make sure you include drainage holes. That’s very important. You’ll need to follow container gardening recommendations over raised bed gardening recommendations since the bed will be enclosed and not open to the ground.
I read through most of these questions but I didn’t see anything about water quality. We have very iron heavy water. We got a new filter about 3 years ago, but it doesn’t extend to our outside water source so our hoses still have iron heavy water. It would have been a couple thousand more to extend the filter outside. We plan on building raised beds and regular garden beds, I’m worried about how the iron will affect my plants. Any advice or suggestions?
I honestly have no idea. Iron is a needed nutrient for plants, but as with anything, I’m sure there is a toxicity level. I recommend contacting your local county extension agent and asking them. If it’s a local issue especially, I’m sure they could easily advise you.
Try using rain barrels to catch the rain and minimize your exposure to heavy metals.
Hello, I was reading this article and noticed you have irritations with grass and weeds. I went online and found a mixture of 1 gallon distilled vinegar – 1 cup iodized salt and 2 tbs of dish soap. mixed it in a sprayer and sprayed around garden edge. Killed crabgrass and broad leaf weeds such as dandelion and more. It’s safe for the ground and your vegetables. Doesn’t affect the worms or bugs either. Hopefully it helps, you probably already know, right….?
Yes, I have heard of this and might consider it for spot treatment. Unfortunately, this method isn’t safe for toads and other beneficial organisms (I can’t imagine it’s safe for earthworms), so I wouldn’t use it as a broad treatment.
I had plenty of questions before reading the plethora of comments left here. So I will use my space to say this. Jill,, you have to be one of the most patient and kind people I have ever witnessed online. You share great information and a true love for gardening and the people who visit your page can feel that. You are doing a wonderful job here, keep up the informative great work!!
Thank you so much for taking your time to write your comment, Peter. Your kind words are truly touching. If you have any questions not addressed already, feel free to ask. 🙂
I have acquired a 12″ high raised cedar bed, about 3ft X 5ft, with a cedar bottom, as well (I’m not sure what advantage or disadvantage having a bottom in a raised bed may be).
There are drainage spaces between the boards on the bottom, so I hope that is enough.
But my main question is about using a black plastic liner. There are so many mixed reviews on this. Some say it protects the wood for many more years. Some say it warms the bed. Some say it rots the soil. We have a fairly wet climate in the winter, with nice, warm summers.
If I did use plastic, should I line just the sides, and not the bottom? Or, should I line the sides AND the bottom and put holes in the bottom of the plastic?
Or, should I just put landscape fabric on the bottom, and possibly some rock for drainage, and forget the plastic?
Or, maybe I should do none of these things, and just build my garden in the cedar bed with no liner at all:) Thank you in advance for your advice.
Hi Maureen, I personally don’t see the necessity of using a plastic liner at all. I believe most people opt for that when using treated lumber, but with cedar you don’t have that issue. If the reason you’re considering it is the protection of the lumber, then I think your idea of lining the sides would be sufficient. If you’re placing your raised bed on the ground and the bottom layer degrades into the soil, I’m not sure it would be such a bad thing. And if you have a wet climate, I’d avoid lining the bottom — even with holes — to allow for drainage. I don’t recommend rocks at the bottom; that has been proven to impede drainage. And I don’t recommend using landscape fabric at the bottom of a bed; it doesn’t work for weed control in the long run and simply isn’t necessary in almost all cases. I hope this helps!
Hi. I have been reading this thread and it is very informative. I am putting a new bed on a piece of land that has grass that used chemical weed preventer and bug killer on it. How long do these chemicals remain in the soil? Is it safe to cardboard over the grass and place the beds? They will be 8 in high. Will the chemicals Be taken up bt the plants?
Those chemicals will remain in the soil for quite some time. Though I can’t answer your question for certain, I do know that raised beds are typically recommended for this problem, and cardboard on the bottom is a good start. I would probably go higher than eight inches, though, just to be safe. Most of the roots of plants are located in the top six inches, and the higher you can get those roots from those persistent chemicals the better.
We have just built a 4’ x 8’ raised bed out of pressure treated wood. I have heard mixed reviews on concerns with chemicals leaching into the plants. Should I line the panels with landscape fabric or even 1” cedar panels?
Personally, I don’t have a problem with modern pressure-treated wood, based on what limited research I’ve been able to find. That, of course, is a personal decision. I do not believe landscape fabric would prevent leaching of chemicals, since it is porous, and I imagine cedar planks would be the same. If you want to line it, look into a food-grade plastic liner. But here’s a quick podcast episode where I explain why I use pressure-treated wood in my otherwise organic garden: https://journeywithjill.libsyn.com/qa-is-treated-wood-safe-for-raised-garden-beds
I have a major problem! We built a raised garden – 3 feet off the ground….put chicken wire, gardening felt and 1×3 across the bottom of the garden.
Once we put soil and plants in it it was good for 2 weeks and last night the bottom completely came off the structure!
We used cedar per research and screws, etc. What did we do wrong and how do we proceed???
Thank you so much for any insight!
I’m so sorry this happened to you, Stacy! I have no idea! I’ve never done an elevated raised bed. Perhaps a board or two on the bottom would help for stability? Perhaps you used heavier garden soil instead of potting soil? I’m just guessing, but hopefully, you can find a solution!
Question about mulching inside your raised beds: what do you do with the mulch after the growing season? Scrape it off? Mix it in? I have never mulched my beds because I don’t know what to do afterwords.
I keep the mulch on over the winter. Then I scrape it aside before planting and then put it back when the plants are about 6″ tall. It depends on what mulch you use; some breaks down more than others during the course of the season.
I bet this is a first lol
We have bird feeders on the long hooks out off deck. Perfect for bird watching from kitchen table. The hulls, feed drop down into ground and exterminator says bad, bad encouraging mice and squirrels. I cover it with piece of fencing so dogs won’t roll in it but that doesn’t help with bird feed accumulating.
We have large metal trough. What about plants under bird feeders in trough?
Would seed kill plants? Help!
No, I don’t think the seeds would kill the plants, but I do think the feed would just invite more squirrels into your bed, unless you had it completely covered, top to bottom. You may even notice some of that seed sprouting in your bed, causing you more “weeds” to deal with. If you haven’t seen mice or squirrels taking advantage of the spilled seed, you might just keep an eye on it. I have a bird feeder with the same issue but nothing ever bothers the area — probably because we have a cat.
I have a raised bed that I built on a concrete slab with bricks and cement. How do I cater for the drainage issues on this build. Is it simply a case of using water retaining components in my soil mix or do I need to make a plan and get some drainage holes in place?
I do not have personal experience with this, but I would assume that there would be some type of gap (even small) between the bricks and the concrete slab. If so, that should allow the excess water to drain. If not, treat the bed more like a container and use lighter soil, such as a potting soil. Any heavy soil like clay-based soil or garden soil will retain too much moisture and possibly cause root rot in your plants. Don’t add any rocks or anything like that to the bottom; this actually makes the drainage problem worse and will cause the water to collect in the soil above the rocks.
Greetings, a lot of good info. About 25 yrs. ago a friend of mine, a farmer, turned me on to an idea to keep the weeds down. After planting, lay down news paper and cover with straw. The news paper keeps the weeds down @ the straw keeps the paper from blowing away. This works great. It all breaks down by the end of the growing season. This helps with watering by retaining moisture. I also chop up all my dead plants @ lay them on my rows. I grind up my leaves @ my last few mowingsi bag @spread on the rows. By spring 99% of this has broken down. This is a small garden and my tomato plants @ all my veggies are awesome. Just a though.
I have done much of this as well! The newspapers are great, and straw is also fantastic for the soil.
Hello from England! Thank you for your helpful information. My new raised beds are 3′ x 6′ but only 6″ high – I think they will need to be taller to accommodate more mulch over time. Never mind, I can add another row of 6″ planks tomorrow……. We are in Covid lockdown here so can’t wait to get gardening in the spring. Keep safe
I do enjoy my higher beds better, but 6″ will work especially if your beds are on the ground (so root can grow down further into the soil beneath). Hate to hear about lockdown but that does give you an excuse to get in your garden! 🙂
Hi. I recently had to have a portion of my wood fence replaced. I thought about using the old pieces of the fence boards for the above ground garden. The original wood fence was put up around 2002-2003. Should I refrain from using these old boards? Hoping to save some $ due to wood being so expensive lately. Any thoughts?
That’s a tough one since treated lumber changed to a safer kind in 2003. Some companies may have made the switch earlier, but it would be impossible to find out, I’d imagine. The old kind contains arsenic, which you definitely don’t want in your garden soil. You might consider lining the bed with a food grade plastic to be safe.
Thank you for the interesting info.
Can I use the soil from the previous season? My neighbor gave me a raised bed and it has the soil he used previously.
Should I put only new soil or I should mix them?
Thank you 🙂
Yes, you can use the new soil. If your neighbor had any disease problems with any vegetables that grew there previously, just don’t plant the same vegetables for a couple of years. I also recommend adding new compost to the top to freshen up the soil and help add more nutrients.
Beautiful and functional flowerbeds. It is worth doing.
I am new to gardening and will plant my first one this month. This may be a dumb question but when I plant my garden to I place my cover to my raised garden bed as soon as I plant my seeds? Does the cover stay on the whole time my garden grows? I has windows for ventilation if that helps. Thank you!
I’m not really sure what kind of cover you have and why you have it, but how long you keep it on depends on those things. If it’s to create a greenhouse effect, you could take it off when the weather gets warm enough for the plants to grow without it.
thank you for your pictures
What about cinder block?
Concrete blocks aren’t typically made of “cinder” anymore, so they are a good choice. The only risk is if they get chipped, which could release fly ash. Otherwise intact concrete blocks are a good choice.
I had a handy man make a raised bed for me and he didn’t do a great job. On two sides the plants do not go all the way to the ground. On one side he left a gap between two of the planks. I only saw this after I paid him. ;( Is this s a problem? Will small animals get in and burrow in it? Will there be a problem with water and drainage? Thanks.
I am about to create 2 raised beds for vegetables. Can the base have Type 1 hardcore then 2 feet of soil on top?
Would the hardcore be detrimental to the soil?
I’m not familiar with hardcore, but from a quick Internet search it says it’s limestone. Limestone is used in gardens to raise the pH, so my main concern would be its affect on the soil’s pH in the long-term. There may be other issues depending on what kind of limestone it is, but since I’m not familiar with it, I’m just not sure. I’d recommend researching it a bit more.
nice and informative post . yes newspaper is great source for controlling the moisture
I would never ever ever ever use gravel or small stone for a pathway… PLEASE DON’T!!! The weeds come poking up and you will have a forever task of pulling them. I can see if you put stone on TOP of some other reliable barrier (not weed cloth-it doesn’t keep the weeds away for long) but DO NOT USE stone alone as a barrier.
Also, take all these rules with a grain of salt. After gardening for many years and watching endless youtubes, it’s pretty clear that the best way forward is just to TRY. Mostly plants like to grow so don’t get anxious about all the rules, make your own.
Great article. I have 3 active beds, 2 newly made ones and I am creating more raised beds this year. I love to see other people’s ideas and suggestions.
Micronized copper azole used in treating wood is a carcinogen and can cause recurrent bronchitis and prolonged colds according to the SDS sheet. There is not way I would use it in a garden. BPA free Plastics like polyethylene may have BPS. BPS is just as bad as BPA and may now be worse since they replace BPA with BPS. Never use any plastic in a garden, they all leach something bad for us.
The link to the seasonal guide is broken.
Hmm…when I just tested it, it worked. Try this one: https://journeywithjill.lpages.co/seasonal-task-list/
I love this blog post! I’ve been gardening for about 5 years now, and I’ve made a few of the same mistakes. Thanks for the reminder!