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Planning and Planting a Raised Bed Garden

Posted by ECOgardener on

When should you plant in raised beds rather than in typical garden plots? If the soil on your property is poor, poorly drained, or just Portland cement-hard, raised beds will raise your gardening game to a whole new level, since you can fill them with a better loam than what naturally is available to you.

Because they aren’t walked on, their loam won’t become compacted and will continue to drain well. It also will heat up more quickly in the spring than lower ground does, allowing an earlier start to the gardening season. Finally, since paths aren’t necessary in raised beds, you can set plants more closely together so that their foliage shades out weeds and helps keep the soil moist. That reduces the amount of labor required from you.
If you want to try raised beds, select a location with level ground. Unless you plan to grow shade-loving plants, that site should receives at least eight hours of sunlight per day and be near a garden hose or rain barrel, so you easily can water the plants when necessary.

Whether their walls are constructed of wood, stone, plastic or fabric, raised beds ideally should be no more than 4 feet wide—so that you can reach everything in them from the sides—and 1 to 2 feet deep. If your raised bed is a frame with no bottom to it except the ground itself, cover that ground with landscape fabric or a couple layers of newspaper to suppress weeds before filling the frame with soil. That soil should be a fertile mix, such as that suggested by Garden Design magazine of 1 part topsoil, 1 part compost, and 1 part sand.

Whether their walls are constructed of wood, stone, plastic or fabric, raised beds ideally should be no more than 4 feet wide—so that you can reach everything in them from the sides—and 1 to 2 feet deep. If your raised bed is a frame with no bottom to it except the ground itself, cover that ground with landscape fabric or a couple layers of newspaper to suppress weeds before filling the frame with soil. That soil should be a fertile mix, such as that suggested by Garden Design magazine of 1 part topsoil, 1 part compost, and 1 part sand.

Handicapped or elderly gardeners may want to try elevated beds instead. Those often consist of planting boxes with heavy-duty legs attached, which lift the plants high enough that they can be tended by someone comfortably seated beside them. Alternatively, planting bags or boxes or ready-to-use raised beds can be set atop sturdy weather-resistant tables to boost them to a convenient height. Because wet soil is heavy, whatever supports you select for your elevated beds must be strong and stable enough to prevent collapse or tipping. The upper rims of the grow bags or boxes should be 2 to 3 feet above the ground to allow easy access to a gardener in a chair or wheelchair.

Wooden boxes will need drainage holes drilled in their bases. To prevent soil from seeping through those holes, you can line such boxes with landscape fabric. Grow bags which are constructed of permeable material don’t require drainage holes. If you wish to add a trellis to your raised or elevated bed to support climbing plants, position it on the northern side to avoid shading other plants. When setting out your vegetables or flowers, consider which ones can grow closely together without adversely affecting each others’ health.

Shallow-rooted lettuce, for example, makes a good companion for taller vegetables such as tomatoes or peppers, helping to suppress weeds around them. In addition, the partial shade cast by the taller plants should keep the lettuce cool, causing it to last longer before bolting. For flowers, you may want to include climbing plants at the back, mid-sized upright ones in the center, and danglers at the front edge. When your neighbors marvel at your newly lush plantings, you can tell them that you’ve raised your sites!


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