How to Build a Raised Bed for Gardening

  • 01 of 05

    Build the Frame of the Raised Bed

    Photo © Lauren Ware

    What is a raised bed? A raised bed is simply a box on the ground that holds soil for plants to grow in. It can be used where the ground is too difficult to work with for growing, where space is at a premium (with the right mix you can grow plants in a raised bed in a much greater density than in the ground), and where weeds can be a problem (because it can keep them out).

    Size. A raised bed can be as big or as small as you want, although you'll need access to the center of the bed for planting, weeding, and harvesting. A popular bed size is 4 feet x 4 feet. Other common sizes are 4x8 and 3x8.

    Depth. This bed is about ten inches deep, but you can make a raised bed as shallow or deep as needed. Consider the root system of the plants you're growing and the method of gardening you're using. Some methods, such as square foot gardening, require less depth than others.

    Materials. Choose a rot-resistant material for the frame of the raised bed. Also, if growing food for eating, avoid any treated lumber. We used cedar logs since we had some from our own land. Definitely use the resources at hand if at all possible. Stone is another possibility. Cedar and redwood are popular types of wood for raised beds, as they are naturally rot-resistant.

    Once you have your dimensions and your materials, lay cardboard on the ground on the site of the raised bed. If weeds are an issue, consider using 1/8" hardware cloth (woven wire mesh) as the bottom of the bed as well. That's what I did in the picture above, since I'm trying to grow strawberries in an area full of quackgrass and other heavy weeds that would take over a strawberry bed.

    Then, cut and fasten the four sides together in place on the site of the bed. The specifics of this will depend on the material you have chosen. For wood, use a 2x2 piece on the interior corner and screw each side into that.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Build a Raised Bed - Cover Bottom of Bed

    Photo © Lauren Ware

    Now, adjust the hardware cloth and use a staple gun to staple it all around the bottom of the raised bed. This seals out weeds and tunneling animals and insects.

    If you want to apply a finish or sealer to your wood, do so now. Stick with natural finishes such as linseed oil for food crops.

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Build a Raised Bed - Line the Sides

    Photo © Lauren Ware

    Depending on the material you used to construct your raised bed, you may need to use weed block to line the sides of the bed as well as the bottom.

    I made sure to overlap with the hardware cloth and stapled weed block around the inside edges of the cedar logs. I had some irregularities and little gaps and such at the corners and between the logs, and this way I know my precious soil mix is going to stay put. Plus, weeds can't start growing in the cracks between the logs.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Build a Raised Bed - Fill With Soil

    Photo © Lauren Ware

    Now the fun part! You get to fill the raised bed with your soil or soil mix. But what to use? And how much?

    The quantity of soil needed to fill your raised bed can be determined by calculating the volume. A 4 foot by 8 foot bed, one foot deep, has a volume of 32 cubic feet. I multiplied length by width by height to get volume, making sure all my measurements were in the same unit of measure (feet).

    Many bagged soils and mixes give their volume in cubic feet, making it fairly easy to calculate how much to buy to fill a raised bed. If you're building raised beds on a larger scale, use an online converter to change volume to cubic yards, which is the number you'll need when you call local nurseries and soil suppliers for your order. If you are lucky enough to own one or can borrow someone's pickup truck, you can pick the soil up yourself, saving often-hefty delivery fees.

    What to fill it with? Topsoil is a simple choice that works for most situations. Another option is to choose a soil mix, such as the 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite mix used in square foot gardening. (That is what fills the bed in the photo.) There are also some soil/compost companies that offer premade mixes specially for raised beds.

    If you're making a mix, spread a tarp, and don't try it on a windy day. Use rakes and shovels to combine the ingredients, mixing very well. With a helper, lift the tarp and dump the soil into the raised bed.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Build a Raised Bed - Plant It Out

    Photo © Lauren Ware

    Now it's time to get to the most fun and satisfying step after all your hard work building a raised bed. Plant whatever it is you're growing! Here, I've planted 100 bare-root Jewel strawberry plants using the square foot gardening spacing. You can start seeds, or transplant starts, in your raised bed.

    Reap the benefits of few weeds and the perfect soil mix when you use a raised bed to grow vegetables or berries. For those wanting to grow as much food as possible in a small urban or suburban space, raised beds can be a huge ally in the effort. Enjoy!