Why Use Raised Beds in Your Garden
Raised beds have the ability to ease a number of common gardening woes. Not do they allow you to grow more plants in a smaller amount of space, they can also help reduce the aches and pains that come from too long spent crouching over ground-level beds!
While it’s easy to see what raised-bed gardening can offer in terms of accessibility and ease of maintenance, raised beds can also positively impact the health of your plants and produce. Whether you’re growing fruit, vegetables or flowers, raised beds can help to extend your growing season and lead to a more impressive display each year.
Let’s take a look at some of the top advantages of raised bed gardens.
1. Better Access
Arguably one of the best reasons to incorporate raised beds into your garden is because they make accessing your plants a lot easier. Tending to an in-ground bed requires you to either kneel or crouch, both of which can lead to aches and pains.
Gardeners with taller raised beds will need to do a lot less crouching to tend to their plants. Those who use a wheelchair or have mobility issues should find using a raised bed much easier and more comfortable. Even those in peak physical health will find their back, knees and neck thank them later down the line!
Provided your raised beds aren’t too large (the recommended size is no more than 4 ft across), you’ll find you’re able to easily access all areas without disturbing the surrounding soil.
2. Improved Soil Conditions
If you’re feeling frustrated with the poor native soil in your garden, a raised bed could be the answer to your woes. One of the huge advantages of raised beds is that they allow you to add good soil from scratch, meaning you can tailor the conditions to suit whatever you’re growing. You could have one bed for acid-loving plants, and another for plants that prefer a more alkaline soil.
The soil can be easily amended. Instead of tiling your garden soil, you can simply add matter such as compost, mulch and manure to the top of the bed. You could line your bed with straw, fallen leaves, twigs or sticks. These will break down into the soil, leaving a rich, organic matter behind.
As a result of better quality soil, your plants will likely develop stronger and healthier roots. Softer, looser soil makes it easier for the plants to reach down and collect nutrients, while improved drainage can help prevent root rot.
Healthier plant roots will lead to improved resistance to diseases, and a better yield.
3. Soil Drains Better
Good quality soil usually has better drainage than poor quality soil. The soil in raised beds is often looser, with excess water able to drain through.
Good drainage also means the soil dries out faster. While this does mean more frequent watering is required, it also allows you to get a head start on the planting season. The soil should dry out and warm up earlier in the year, which will extend your growing season.
4. Longer Growing Season
One of the main advantages of raised beds is that they can extend your growing season. We’ve already seen that this can be down to the improved drainage. This allows the soil to dry out faster, so you can start planting earlier. Seeds germinate faster in warmer soil, leading to a longer and more fruitful growing season.
The first is that the soil in raised beds is exposed at the top and on each side, while soil in the ground only receives sunlight from above. Once the weather gets warmer, the soil will be exposed to more sunlight, meaning the beds should be ready for planting earlier.
5. Flexibility of Location
Raised beds can be installed almost anywhere, and on most surfaces. If you’re growing a raised bed herb garden, for instance, it can be positioned right outside your kitchen. You won’t need to traipse to the far end of the garden for a few sprigs of rosemary!
Provided the surface is level, raised beds can be placed almost anywhere. Install your raised beds in a spot that’s most convenient for you, or in the areas that receive the most sunlight. Most vegetables prefer a full sun position, and a raised bed offers you this flexibility.
Not only that, raised beds are perfect for those who are renting their home. Those with a base are a temporary addition to your garden, and can be moved to another location if needed.
So, you should think strategically about the location of your raised beds. Large planters can be used to cover eyesores, make the most of unused space or create an entranceway. If you’re growing vegetables, go for an area that gets a lot of sun, while plants that prefer shade can be planted in a more sheltered spot.
6. Fewer Pests and Diseases
Plants grown in raised beds have increased resistance to pests and diseases.
Many gardeners use a liner in their raised beds, which can help to protect the plants from rodents that burrow up from underneath. Raised beds are also easier to cover and protect than traditional garden beds.
The taller sides of a raised bed can make it harder for slugs to access your plants. Dogs are also less likely to urinate in your raised beds due to the height.
The superior soil quality should also mean your plants are better able to fight off diseases. Proper mulching and watering will lead to strong, healthy plants.
Additionally, the improved drainage should mean your plants are less susceptible to fungal diseases and root rot, issues that stem from damp conditions.
7. Improved Space Efficiency
Raised beds are especially popular amongst gardeners with a smaller planting area, as they tend to be more space efficient.
There’s a few reasons for this. The first is that you can plant the seeds a lot closer together. As the soil contains more nutrients, plants won’t need to compete with each other like they do in poorer quality soil. With enough nutrients to go around, you can have more plants in a smaller amount of space.
You can also try out different styles of gardening. Add structure to your raised bed by planting in tiers, for instance. Square foot gardening is another popular method, thought to be up to 20% more space-efficient than single row gardening.
8. Fewer Weeds
A correctly maintained raised bed should see far fewer weeds than ground level beds. This is firstly because the beds can be lined easily. Lining materials such as burlap, hardware cloth or even layers of newspaper can be placed at the bottom of the bed. This can help prevent weeds growing up from underneath.
Many gardeners choose to cover their beds with mulch either in the spring or autumn months in order to kill off any weed seeds before they have a chance to get established.
Another reason you’ll see fewer weeds is because you can sow seeds closer together. As there’s less competition for nutrients, you don’t need to leave as much space for each plant. This means there’s less space for weeds to grow between the gaps.
9. More Aesthetically Pleasing
Raised garden beds can look very smart. Those in rows are neat and can make it easier to keep your pathways clean, as the walls keep the soil in place.
Raised beds can be made from a range of building materials and can be fitted to any size and style of garden. You can choose a raised bed based on what looks good in your space, with wood one of the most aesthetically pleasing choices.
10. Easier to Stay Organised
If you’ve got a large garden and you’re growing a lot of plants, raised beds can help you to stay organised. You’ll know exactly what’s growing and where, and you can make a schedule for the watering and maintenance of each bed.
To start, you can grow plants together that prefer the same soil and water levels. Those that like acidic soil can be grown together, while plants which prefer an alkaline soil can be grown in the same bed.
What are the disadvantages of raised garden beds?
We hope that this article will persuade you that the advantages massively outweigh any disadvantages of raised beds. But there’s still a couple of things to consider before you invest in a raised bed garden.
The first is the upfront cost. Raised beds do cost more money than traditional in-ground beds, as you’ll need to source both the bed material and soil.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that raised beds do require more frequent watering, especially if you live in a dry climate. As the soil gets warmer faster, it tends to dry out quicker. This means that certainly throughout the summer months, you’ll need to water more often.
Finally, raised beds tend to get colder in the winter months. As the soil is elevated, it’s more exposed. While this has the benefit of it warming up quicker, it’ll also cool down faster once the colder temperatures hit. Give your beds better insulation by adding a liner.
How deep should a raised bed be?
The optimum depth of your raised bed depends a lot on what you’re planting, as well as your own personal preference.
It’s recommended that your beds are at least 12” deep, although plants with larger root systems will need double this.
Plants with shallow root structures, such as a range of perennial herbs, are happy in soil with a depth of around 6”.
It’s also important to look at your own preferences. Taller raised beds are easier to access and make gardening more comfortable. Wheelchair users will need to be quite specific about the height of their raised beds in order to make access as easy as possible.
Do raised beds need foundations?
Raised beds can be built on any surface and don’t need any foundations. You can install raised beds on the patio, concrete, tarmac, grass and soil.
If you are installing a raised bed on grass, you should take steps to ensure the grass doesn’t grow up into the raised beds. Add a few layers of cardboard or newspaper to the bottom of the bed to smother the grass underneath. This material will eventually break down and help to enrich the soil.
What do I put at the bottom of a raised garden bed?
Many gardeners chose to line the bottom of their raised beds, and there’s a number of materials that can be used.
Lining your raised beds can help insulate the soil, prevent the growth of weeds and improve drainage. A liner is also important if your bed is made from galvanised steel or older pressure treated wood. Galvanised steel can break down after prolonged contact with acidic soil, while pressure treated wood can leach toxins into the soil so should be lined on all sides.
Organic material such as newspaper, cardboard, straw, leaves or grass clippings can be used to stifle weed growth. Simply add a thick layer to the bottom of your raised beds. Eventually, these materials will break down and add valuable nutrients into the soil.
If you’re after more long-term protection, opt for a long lasting fabric. Burlap, landscaping fabric or a plastic lining can work very well. While burlap will eventually break down, landscaping fabric and plastic will protect your beds for years.
You’ll just need to make sure you’ve got enough drainage if you use plastic. Drainage holes can be cut into a plastic lining if needed.