Skip to main content

How to Plan a Raised Garden Bed

I'm a gardener and nature lover. I enjoy writing articles and how-to guides that help people learn new things.

Spacing plants properly makes a huge difference.

Spacing plants properly makes a huge difference.

Your New Garden

If you are about to enter the hobby of raised bed gardening but need to know how to plan a raised garden bed to achieve success, the tips on this page will serve you well. Raised bed gardening is very popular for good reason. When this method is used, production per square foot is increased and effort is decreased.

Advantages of Raised Garden Beds

There are a few very good reasons to grow plants in a raised bed garden. These are some of the most compelling.

Avoiding Soil Compaction

A raised bed garden should be built to be no wider than four feet. This allows a gardener to reach the middle of the garden bed from either side, and it means that no stepping on the soil is needed. This makes a very big difference over time, since the soil will remain much lighter, allowing water and nutrients to pass through easily. It also will help a young plant's roots get off to a fast start.

Controlling Garden Soil Amendments

When you garden in a raised bed, the soil mixture is your own creation. This offers total control over the soil. It doesn't really matter if you have clay or sand on your property. Your raised bed will be made up of whatever you put into it. That means the perfect mix can easily be maintained at all times.

An Attractive Garden

You might live in a city where a traditional tilled garden would just not fit in, as this can look a bit messy. With a raised garden, this is not a problem. There is no limit to how attractive you can make this type of garden. A simple garden with cedar plank sides looks neat and clean, but for even greater style, corner posts and finials can be added, or finish trim may be included to really polish the look.

How Much Sun Does a Garden Need?

One primary thing that must be determined when planning a raised garden bed is the location. As a general rule, a vegetable garden will perform best with lots of full sun. At least eight hours of direct sun is preferred, but don't be discouraged if your property cannot support this. Even a site with 5-6 hours may do fine. Here are some things to consider.

Full Sun

If you have a bare spot that gets full sun, this is a great choice. While cool-season crops like lettuce might not appreciate it for long, the true summer vegetables will love the extra light.

Can You Grow a Garden in Partial Sun?

Yes, you can! In fact, there are very few vegetables that cannot be grown in a spot that does not get full sun. What may happen, however, is that production could be lower. For example, a tomato planted in full sun is likely to be more productive than a similar plant in partial sun. Don't be discouraged, however, since a little extra pruning of the tomato can get plenty of sun to the fruit and still give you a nice crop. Several other vegetables actually enjoy getting out of the hot afternoon sun, especially cool-season crops like peas or lettuce.

Splitting Crops Based on the Sun

If you have room for two raised beds, but one gets way more sun than the other, split up your crops so that the sun lovers get the extra light and the plants that don't really care get some of the shade. Here is a chart to help you decide which vegetables to plant where.

Which Vegetables Prefer Full Sun and Which Don't Mind?

Full Sun PreferredPartial Sun Will Do

















Wood For a Raised Bed Garden

When it comes time to pick the material to use for building your raised garden bed, there are some options that are worth considering. The truth is that nearly any material that holds dirt will do the trick, but it's a very good idea to stay away from things that may leach chemicals into the soil. This is especially true of a vegetable garden since people eat the crops grown in the soil.

Materials to Avoid

In general, any material that is chemically treated or that has been used for some other purpose should be carefully considered before being used. Pressure-treated lumber is one example of wood that one should avoid. Railroad ties are another.

Best Wood for Raised Bed Garden

If a wooden garden is desired, untreated wood is the way to go. Keep in mind that this wood will not last forever, but it will last a very long time. For a long-lasting wood that is naturally resistant to rot and can handle contact with the ground better than most, choose untreated redwood or cedar. Both are easy to find, beautiful, and will last and last.

Other Wall Options

For a harder garden wall, retaining wall blocks or even bricks will do. Both will hold up to the weather basically forever, and they can be matched to your existing landscape. If you add a nice top rail, you'll even have a comfortable place to sit. Boulders are another fine choice, but it may be a bit of a pain to get them somewhat level to hold the soil properly.

These beds are spaced three feet apart, making it easy to walk between them and reach all sides.

These beds are spaced three feet apart, making it easy to walk between them and reach all sides.

3 Keys to Soil

Use equal parts of these three ingredients in your garden bed:

  1. Peat Moss
  2. Vermiculite
  3. Compost

Soil to Use in Raised Garden

Before you fill a raised garden with ordinary soil, read this! The "soil" that you use in this type of garden is as important as any decision there is. In fact, it is precisely the soil mix that allows vegetables, especially root crops, to do so well in a garden bed.

How to Make Good Garden Soil

For starters, it's best to create your own soil. A great mix will be made up of ingredients like peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. If you use equal parts of these ingredients it will accomplish three things. First, the peat moss will hold moisture without compacting, making better use of water. Second, the vermiculite will keep the soil loose so that roots and root crops can grow quickly and easily. Finally, the compost will add nutrients to the soil that garden plants love.

How to Maintain Garden Soil

Once you have this mix working in the garden, an annual routine is a great idea. The soil will settle over time, and roots of plants removed each year will carry a bit more away from the garden. To replenish the area as well as the nutrients, follow this annual routine. Use the same mixture above any time more volume is needed due to settling. If the soil level is fine, just go with the compost, adding some new compost each year to keep the nutrient levels up. Even just a little bit will make a difference.

What Kind of Compost to Use in the Garden

Don' get too concerned about exactly what type of compost you use. Just try to add more than one kind. If you compost scraps from the kitchen, they will do nicely. Check out the local garden center to see what the options are. Some common types of compost that will work well in a garden include composted manure, leaf compost, or mushroom compost. The best bet is to mix them all in and benefit from all at once.

How to Grow Vegetables in a Raised Bed

When a raised bed garden is used instead of an expansive and more traditional tilled garden, the manner in which crops are raised should be considered. To really get the most productive garden possible, follow these tips.

Growing Vegetables Vertically

Remember that it's important to be able to reach the center of any garden bed so that no steps take place in the soil. This keeps the soil from being compacted. However, some plants need some room to grow. For these, grow them up instead of out. Nearly any vine crop can be grown vertically, even if they won't attach on their own. Even tomatoes and squash can be grown up with a bit of care. Some plants like peas or cucumbers will attach with no issue. For others, you may need to use soft ties or weave them through netting or string as they grow. Imagine the difference in even a small garden if the only space you need is for the roots, instead of the normal spread of the plant.

Try Square Foot Gardening

There is a popular method used to space seeds and seedlings known as square foot gardening. Basically this just means that a raised garden bed is divided into 1-square foot sections, and the number of plants in each section is fixed to maximize productivity. This type of garden is easy to operate and looks pretty neat. If you just have no clue how to space plants, give it a try.

Be Mindful of the Sun

Since plants tend to be grown closer together in a garden like this, the sunlight direction is more important. Consider this when planning how to plant vegetables in a raised bed. For example, if most of the sunlight will hit your raised bed in the afternoon, short crops that need sunlight should be on that side of the garden bed with taller plants behind them. Likewise, if there are cool-season crops that hate hot sun, put them in a spot where a taller neighboring plant will give them some shady relief in the afternoon. This makes a huge difference.

Go vertical in the raised bed to get the most productive garden possible.

Go vertical in the raised bed to get the most productive garden possible.

Annual Garden Maintenance

Like any garden, some maintenance each year is necessary to keep your garden bed in tip-top shape.

Replenishing Garden Soil

As was discussed earlier, at a minimum, some new compost should be added to the garden each year. Vegetables are demanding for best results, and compost is natural and easy to find. When more soil is needed, mix in some more peat moss and vermiculite to keep the ratio to about one-third each.

Clean Up in Fall

Don't let winter come before you clean up the garden. Remove all old crops so that they don't sit in the garden. Some soil diseases are more common in gardens where old plants are left to rot. When a vegetable is done for the season, remove it and keep the soil clean. The only thing that should be left in the garden at the end of the season is a crop that will grow or survive the winter, like garlic. Everything else should go.

Turn the Soil in Spring

Before planting time, turn the soil to mix it up. This is a great time to amend the soil with some extra compost. Most people won't believe how light this soil mix is and how easy it is to turn the soil in a raised bed. It is nothing like the traditional tilled garden. The job will be done in just minutes.

Recap of the Plan

So here's the plan.

  1. Find a spot with enough light for the crops you want to grow.
  2. Pick a safe material that will look good in your landscape.
  3. Make a soil mix well-suited for a raised bed to fill it in.
  4. Go vertical!
  5. Keep the garden clean and amend the soil each year.

If you follow these tips, your new raised bed garden will be a big hit. Enjoy!

Questions & Answers

Question: Can you make a raised garden bed from the fake wood they make patio decking out of?

Answer: You can, but I suggest that you stay away from any unnatural sources when building a garden to grow food. What it important is that no chemicals will leech into the soil and impact your harvest.

Question: What flowers are good for a raised bed?

Answer: I have grown so many I can't remember, but I think what looks best depends on the size and height of your raised bed and how many inches the soil is below the top of the wood border. If you are building a raised bed for short flowers, you want to keep the soil level higher so the flowers can show off more. For larger or deeper beds, taller flowers look better in my opinion. I'm a big fan of petunias (which will fill in the space) as short flowers, profusion zinnias (which are not good for cutting but look amazing) when I want a foot or more of height, and traditional zinnias (which you can fill a vase with all season) when I want more height.


David Figarotta on May 19, 2019:

How about a raised bed 2-4 feet off the ground

Lady Bee on March 15, 2018:

Great information, ready to get started.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on June 08, 2016:

I love gardening. I am thinking to raise a garden bed and I found your very informative hub. Thanks for the tips.

Patsy Bell Hobson from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on June 16, 2014:

Great Hub. Lots of good information. I Love raised beds. Voted up, U, I, Tweet.

LongTimeMother from Australia on May 01, 2013:

Another advantage to having a raised garden bed is that you can create various types of shelter to cover it when winter threatens, extending your harvest season. :)

Great hub. Voted up+.

Catherine Taylor from Canada on May 01, 2013:

What a fantastic hub. This was so well written and organized and I got a lot from it. I have been thinking about doing a few raised garden beds this year and your step by step instructions are great. Voted up and sharing.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 01, 2013:

Hi there landocheese. This is just what I was looking for. I am considering putting in a raised bed garden and now I know exactly what I need to do. Thank you for sharing this information. I was going to use pressure treated wood but now I know not too. You spelled this all out in very easy to follow steps. A really great hub here. Voted up, shared, etc...

Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on April 15, 2013:

Raised beds are one of the ideas I have in mind for my garden. I am also a gardener by heart. Gardening is my hobby and I enjoy it so much.

Jenna Estefan from Seattle, WA on January 22, 2013:

very informative and great pictures!