Most beginning gardeners I talk with 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! Better harvests, less weeding, sharp aesthetics — what’s not to love?
But as in any venture, there are mistakes to be made. The problem raised bed gardening mistakes is many times they aren’t easily corrected. I know this from experience!
From my own experience and from the experiences of others, I’ve compiled a list of 7 common mistakes in raised bed gardening. If you’re planning a garden for the first time or adding to your existing beds, this 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.
7 Common Raised Bed Gardening Mistakes
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1. Raised Beds are too wide.
Raised beds should never be more than four feet wide, but in certain circumstances, they should be even smaller than that. You want to be able to work in your raised beds from the side, reaching in, never having to step on the soil.
If you situate your raised beds next to a fence, I recommend the width not to exceed thirty inches.
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), ensure you place your raised beds near a water source. Whether you plant to hand-water your beds or use a more efficient system of soaker hoses or a drip lines, having water easily accessible will save you much time and headache.
3. Material Used is Unsafe.
Though debate exists on the safety of certain pressure-treated wood for use in raised beds, do not use pressure-treated wood manufactured prior to 2003. (More info on how to choose wood for raised beds here.) Also, avoid old railway ties (which contain harmful creosote), and do your research before you use old tires.
4. You Fill the Beds with Less-than-Ideal Soil.
Lots of soil combinations will work well with raised beds, but some do not. Potting soil, for example, isn’t the best type of soil to fill a raised bed because it drains too quickly. Another mistake well-intentioned gardeners make is using soil with too much nitrogen content, like a bed full of composted manure. Your plants will grow great but produce little fruit.
I’ve found the best success in my raised beds by using a combination of native soil (or garden soil) and organic material like compost, but depending on what you have available and your budget, you have many options to choose from. Here are several soil combinations for raised beds depending on your budget.
5. Raised Beds are too close together.
You must have enough room 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.
(Above: I was all smiles with gratitude over my new raised beds, but I didn’t realize how hard it would be to work between these beds during the growing season! Learn from my mistake!)
6. Pathways grow up with weeds and grass.
The last thing you want to do is weed your pathways. Instead, either make plans to mow between them or place a barrier down before the weeds and grass emerge for the season. Broken down cardboard boxes with a light layer of mulch on top works great! I prefer organic mulches, and pine needles are my favorites for pathways because they break down more slowly than other materials.
7. You forget to mulch.
Though weed pressure is usually less in raised beds, it isn’t non-existent. Mulch will dramatically reduce your weeding time. But more importantly, it will regulate the soil temperature and retain moisture — both critical needs of raised beds in the hot summer.
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?
Note: 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
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