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How to build a basic raised-bed garden

Patricia Conte has a background in marketing communications and works as an independent writer. In 2010, she was given the opportunity to combine her love of writing and food when she started as a contributing writer for the Food channel...

The benefits of giving your garden a lift

Even if you live somewhere with just a small backyard, you can enjoy your very own garden. A raised-bed garden is great for small areas and can be put together without a lot of effort.
Raised garden bed

Find your growth potential

Raised-bed gardens (sometimes called boxed gardens) are great for different types of plants from flowers to herbs to vegetables. These gardens sit on top of the ground (with no bottoms) with "walls" that help keep the soil from being washed away. The good drainage properties of these types of gardens help provide the needed water without making things soggy for your plants. They also help the roots of your plants grow better. Maintenance of a raised-bed garden is easier than that of a traditional garden, and you can build one in even a small space.

Shovel

The dirt on raised-bed gardens

There are several components to building a raised bed garden. From the frame to the soil to the seeds or plants, it can be as simple as purchasing a kit from your local garden or hardware store, or you can customize your garden and build your own. Keep in mind that there are many different ways and methods to build a raised bed garden. Do your research before you decide what will work best for you. We'll focus on the most basic here.

Most raised beds are anywhere from 12 to 16 inches tall but you can make them taller (though if they're taller you should plan to put supports in place for the surrounding walls). It's recommended to keep the beds at about 4 feet wide to make it easy to reach your plants from either side. The length is up to you, depending on your available space. However, supports also might be necessary for long gardens to keep the bed from bowing.

If you're building your own basic raised-bed garden rather than using a kit, cedar, composite and recycled plastic are common choices for the walls. If you use wood, try to use lumber that hasn't been treated.

The basic building blocks

  1. Consider what types of plants you want to grow and find out what you can about their needs (how tall they will get, best type of sun, how much water they need, etc.). Earth Easy has good background information on various plants. Also consider the amount of space your plants will need, so you don't overcrowd them. Pick an area for your garden. Consider things like access to sun (you'll need at least six to eight hours if you want to grow vegetables and many flowers) and your water source.
  2. Build your frame. These directions from the DIY Network are easy to follow: Place four 1" x 12" boards so that the ends meet to form a square box. Mark the locations of the four corners of the box; then move aside the lumber and dig 1-inch deep holes for the 4" x 4" posts. Place a post in each hole and backfill the soil. Firmly press the soil around each post to stabilize it. Put back the 1" x 12" boards into the square box shape and attach them to the posts with screws or nails.
  3. Before you add your soil, lay down gardening plastic to help keep weeds out of your area.
  4. Fill your garden with a good gardening soil with some organic nutrients included (ask at your garden store if you're not sure what to use). Add enough soil to almost reach the top of your walls (to allow for settling).
  5. Plant your seeds or plants at the proper depth and enjoy the fruits (or veggies) of your labor!

Purchase power

If you prefer to purchase a kit for a raised-bed garden, many are available, including:

  • Sam's Club. For about $60 you can buy a raised-bed frame kit of composite wood that easily snaps together with minimal tools. The bonus: If you move, you can easily disassemble it to take with you.
  • Burpee. Kit sizes and prices vary from about $80 for a single-level bed framing kit to about $250 for a double-level framing kit. Burpee also has a wide variety of seeds and plants available.

Does the idea of a raised-bed garden grow on you?

You don't have to have much of a green thumb -- or a lot of space -- for a lovely garden. Raised-bed gardens are easier to maintain than traditional gardens, and your build-out options range from basic to elaborate.

More garden inspiration

Five tips for transplanting your garden
How to landscape for your region
Creating an indoor herb garden

Sources: University of Missouri Extension, DIY Network, Gardening Channel, Earth Easy
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