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How to Build and Install Raised Garden Beds
For the experienced gardener or the novice, raised garden beds take the hassle out of horticulture. Here are tips on planning, building, protecting and irrigating raised bed gardens.
Published in the April 2009 issue.
Experienced gardeners use raised beds to sidestep a long list of gardening challenges. These controlled experiments in plant parenthood are so easy, in fact, that they’re also well-suited to novices picking up a shovel for the first time.
Bad dirt is out, because you fill a raised bed with a customized soil-and-compost blend. Drainage is built into the bed walls, which hold the soil in place to keep erosion in check. Greater exposure to the sun warms the bed, which allows more plant diversity and extends the growing season. Plants can be spaced closely together, so yields go up, water-use efficiency is maximized and weeds are crowded out. Finally, raising the soil level by even a foot reduces the back-bending effort needed for jobs such as planting, weeding and harvesting.
Beyond the ease is the control—as you grow your favorite foods, you feed and soak your plants with just what they need for optimum growth.
A raised bed is most productive and attractive as a bottomless frame set into a shallow trench. The sides can be almost any durable building material, including rock, brick, concrete and interlocking blocks. Watering troughs or claw-foot tubs can work, as long as they have the capacity and drainage.
But by far the most common material for raised beds is lumber. The major caveat, since raised beds are often used to grow edibles, is to steer clear of wood preserved with toxins. Avoid creosote-treated railroad ties; opt instead for naturally rot-resistant cedar or redwood. The EPA considers wood infused with alkaline copper quaternary (ACQ) to be safe for food crops, but if you use this pressure-treated wood you may want to line the bed interior with landscape fabric—an air-and-water-permeable screen—to prevent soil contact. Whether using pressure-treated or naturally rot-resistant wood, put the bed together with galvanized or stainless screws or bolts.