What exactly is a raised bed garden? It is a garden area that is elevated anywhere from a few inches up to 2 or 3 feet above the soil level. It can be as simple as a rectangular plateau of soil or a more elaborate bed framed in sturdy material.
Not only can it add visual interest to your landscape, raised bed gardens also have several other benefits, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist.
“Gardeners tend to reap higher yields due to raised beds allowing more garden space for growing plants. Also, you’ll have better soil since amendments and fertilizer are applied only to the growing area,” he said. “There’s little need to rototill, and the soil drains better. As an added bonus, plants grown close together will shade the soil, which decreases evaporation and keeps roots cooler. You’ll water only the beds, not the walkways, which in turn also decreases water use.”
Avid gardeners usually are itching to get to work in the landscape and raised beds can get you outside a bit earlier in the season. Soil in raised beds can be worked earlier in the year because it warms up faster than soil in traditional in-ground gardens.
In addition, rainy weather is less of a deterrent for working in the garden because mud likely would not be an issue. Another benefit is plants planted closely together in a raised bed help keep weeds crowded out. Consider covering pathways between the raised bed with landscape fabric to choke out weeds in those areas.
Something gardeners hate to see is a garden damaged by pests. Raised beds are very easy to cover with insect screening fabric. Rotation of crops also is easier, which helps prevent buildup of pests.
Hillock said raised bed gardens also are great for individuals with physical limitations.
“If built tall enough, they eliminate the need of weeding on your knees, as well as making harvest easier,” he said. “Raised beds can be accessed from all open sides, which is great for gardeners who may use assistive walking devices.”
While a raised bed can be any shape you can imagine, it’s recommended not to exceed 4 feet wide. This helps ensure gardeners can reach to the back side of the bed if it’s adjacent to a structure.
Gardeners who would like to incorporate raised beds into their landscape should take some things into consideration. For best light exposure, build beds in a north/south orientation. Make sure paths between beds are wide enough to walk comfortably, push a wheelbarrow or accommodate an assistive walking device or wheelchair. Before beginning construction, stake out the beds and walk through them to make sure it is a workable arrangement.
Decide whether an unframed or framed bed best suits your needs. For an unframed bed, eliminate weeds and turf from the area, then dig a furrow on both sides of the area and pull up the soil around the edges to create a mound.
If building out of wood or other hard materials, level the area and put the basic frame in place before preparing the soil. Materials can include treated lumber or landscape timbers, concrete blocks, rocks or bricks, snap-together plastic blocks, hay bales or even recycled materials.
“Be creative with your materials for the beds and the plants you select. Raised beds are a great way to add visual interest and texture into your landscape,” Hillock said.
Story by Trisha Gedon