Simplify your gardens with raised beds |
Jessica Walliser

Simplify your gardens with raised beds

Jessica Walliser
Jessica Walliser
Raised beds are a great way to grow herbs and vegetables in your backyard.

If you’re looking to start a new vegetable garden, or to simplify the garden you already have, consider installing raised beds. Raised bed gardening can’t be beat for its ease and efficiency. It also saves gardeners time, space, and money. With little wasted space, raised beds are high-yielding and easy to maintain.

Raised bed gardens don’t require as much effort as in-ground gardens. You don’t need to strip the sod or rototill when installing a raised bed garden. The bed can be placed right onto the ground and planted a short time later. And because raised beds are filled with high-quality soil, gardeners don’t have to deal with the same challenging soil issues that in-ground gardeners do, such as rocks or heavy clay soil.

An added benefit is that, if they’re properly planted and maintained, raised bed gardens seldom need to be weeded. There’s also no need to till or turn the soil in raised beds every spring prior to planting, because the soil isn’t as readily compacted. A light cultivation is all that’s needed, if it’s needed at all.

Another upside to raised beds is that they’re far easier on your back. Raised beds can be various heights, though a minimum of 12 inches deep is needed to support plant roots. Taller beds, such as those designed to be 2 to 3 feet tall, minimize the bending required to plant and tend the garden. Raised garden beds at bench-height even allow you to sit along the edge as you work.

With raised beds, there’s no need to navigate expansive rows to harvest and care for crops like there is for an in-ground vegetable garden. You can choose to have grass paths between your raised beds or cover the area in between the beds with mulch or gravel if you don’t want to mow.

The biggest stumbling block to raised bed gardening is the construction of the beds themselves. The idea of building costly wood frames, buying an expensive DIY kit, or hauling in heavy stone or blocks to create the frames prevents many gardeners from choosing raised beds. The effort required to construct the beds themselves is all-too-often a limiting factor. However, if they’re properly constructed, raised beds can last for many years, making them well worth the investment of time and money.

If you opt for wood, be sure to choose a naturally rot resistant wood, such as cedar, hemlock, locust, or redwood, over pressure-treated lumber that could leach chemicals into the soil.

After your raised bed garden is built, it’s time to fill the beds with a growing mix. For this task, I recommend using a blend of 75 percent high-quality top soil or garden soil and 25 percent compost or leaf mold. It’s best to use soil from somewhere on your property, if possible, rather than using imported top soil from a landscaper which could contain invasive weed seeds or root pieces. But, if that’s not an option, commercial top soil blended with compost or leaf mold will do just fine.

Don’t fill your beds with bagged potting soil, however, as these peat moss-based mixes are far too light for raised bed gardening and will dry out much too quickly. They’re also rapidly depleted of nutrients within a season or two, so you’ll have to use supplemental fertilization beyond that time.

Yearly additions of an inch or 2 of compost or leaf mold will keep the soil in great shape, provide nutrients for the plants growing there, and improve the soil’s structure.

When it comes to caring for a raised bed garden, the biggest factor to consider is their increased irrigation needs. Because they are above ground, raised beds tend to drain quickly, a trait that’s great for early spring plantings but not so great during summer droughts. Irrigate raised beds religiously when the weather is hot and dry.

Mulching raised beds with a 2-inch thick layer of straw or shredded leaves not only cuts down on watering needs, it also limits weeds and adds nutrients to the soil. Be sure to mulch beds soon after planting.

From tomatoes and beans to basil and zucchini, you can grow any crop in raised beds.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.