Starting a raised bed garden is no easy task. It can be expensive and labor-intensive, but it’s a one-time job, and the results are well worth it in the end. My family has grown food using in-ground rows for as long as I can remember, and while this approach is straightforward and economical, it’s also a never-ending battle with weeds and dry, bare soil.
A raised bed garden is a lot of things: it’s pretty, efficient, low maintenance, and perfect for detail-oriented people who want to control all aspects of their garden – from nutrition to plant density to pest control.
Raised beds may be the better option for your garden. The soil structure can be instantly improved by bringing in lots of compost and organic material. In most cases, vegetables can be planted much closer together than the recommended spacing, resulting in abundant harvests all year long.
Here are 15 benefits I’ve experienced since building my raised bed garden:
Raised beds are lazy beds.
If you’re a modern, desk-working person with questionable upper body strength, gardening in raised beds may be for you – because who likes digging and hard labor? Raised beds are associated with the no-dig method, and for a good reason. They’re not designed to have the soil disturbed every single season – the raised sides would make regular digging very awkward.
But saving time and effort isn’t the only benefit to the no-dig method. Charles Dowding has made this gardening technique popular in recent years. Every year, he compares the harvests he gets from two beds that are side by side – one is dug, the other is no-dig, and the one with no soil disturbance wins every time.
No dig is beneficial for most plants because, despite the soil’s compacted appearance, its underground structure is balanced – with earthworms and plant roots digging tiny channels and microorganisms creating undisturbed ecosystems.
Once you’ve built the raised beds and created the starting point for a great soil structure, the hard work is done, and you can enjoy your lazy, low-maintenance garden.
You can have great soil wherever you are.
My property is built on ground that used to be a river bed. Our native is soil is nothing but rocks, sand, and occasional clay. A raised bed garden made perfect sense in my location.
You can improve any type of soil, but it’s a process that takes a lot of time, and it isn’t easy to do in-ground without raising the soil into mounds. The great thing about raised beds is that you can have your soil delivered, and in just one day, have your beds filled out with the rich soil of your choosing.
There are many “recipes” for filling up your raised beds. A popular soil mix is the one from the “Square Foot Gardening” method, with one part peat moss, one part vermiculite, and one part compost. I’ve used this and found that by the second year, the ground became too dry and compacted, despite my area being quite humid and rainy. Using peat moss is not very environmentally friendly, and many gardeners are starting to avoid this product.
I’ve found that the most fluffy and efficient filling for my raised beds is pure compost. It’s light, but it retains moisture well and provides all the necessary nutrients for plants to thrive. Layer your native soil with cardboard and fill the beds with compost. Continue to amend them with 4 inches (10 cm) of compost on top every year. This should give you a nice structure to work with, and the plants’ roots will love it.
You can easily amend your soil inside raised beds.
Since all your growing space is clearly defined inside the raised beds, it’s easy to focus your attention and take extra measures to make your soil as fertile as possible. Here are a few things you could do to amend your soil for better structure, minerals, and nutrients:
- Amend with a new thin layer of compost after harvesting your crop and before adding new plants;
- Sprinkle your beds with minerals such as rock dust, dolomite, or zeolite;
- Enrich your soil with worm castings or composted animal manures;
- Fertilize young plants with liquid organic fertilizers like seaweed, fish emulsion, or compost tea.
Another thing you could do to preserve the soil’s humidity and light structure is protecting the surface with organic mulch. In most cases, the compost acts as mulch and is enough by itself in rainy climates. But if the weather gets hot and leads to water evaporation, you can use materials like straw, woodchips, grass clippings, and even sawdust to mulch the soil.
Raised beds have good drainage.
The soil inside raised beds is elevated from the ground surface, giving the beds excellent drainage. This is an added benefit for those areas with heavy clay soil that retains water or places where it rains a lot. Drainage is important because the plant roots need oxygen, and too much water will suffocate them.
You don’t need to add vermiculite or sand to create a better draining raised bed, as the elevation itself will do the job. However, keep in mind that while good drainage is great in rainy springs and autumns, it can turn into a nuisance in dry summer weather.
The best thing to do is pay attention to your climate. If you need more irrigation than you need drainage, raised beds may not always be the best option.
You can build your raised beds to retain moisture.
We’ve just established that raised beds have great drainage – how can they hold moisture too? It all depends on the right soil structure. Ideally, you want a raised bed that wicks away all excess moisture and only holds the water it needs inside a sponge-like structure. This way, the moisture gets released slowly and optimally.
There are a few ways to accomplish this. One is using plant-based compost, rich in fiber and bits and pieces that haven’t yet broken down. Another method is creating a straw core in the middle of the bed. This core will act like a sponge in the summertime and release moisture slowly directly to the plants’ roots.
And lastly, if you’re planning on building tall raised beds, you can use a method called Hugelkultur and fill the bottom of your raised beds with lots of organic material – branches, leaves, tree trunks – that will break down over time, and hold constant humidity levels at the base of your vegetables.
Raised beds prevent soil erosion and flooding.
Soil erosion is a naturally occurring process that takes place when water and wind wash away the top layer of soil. This isn’t something we want in our gardens because the topsoil is usually the most nutrient-dense part of the soil structure. It’s also the part that we’re working on constantly amending and improving.
By building raised garden beds, we create permanent sides that don’t allow our soil to be eroded or washed away. During the growing season, we usually plant vegetables close together, which helps in holding the soil in place and creating a canopy of leaves for shading and protection.
At the end of the season, most gardeners cover their raised beds with either mulch or compost. All these steps combined keep the soil structure intact, compared to a field or an in-ground bed that’s at risk of being damaged by heavy rainfall.
If your garden is in a low spot where water tends to accumulate, raised beds are the perfect solution for keeping your vegetables from being flooded and ruining all your hard work.
Raised beds need less weeding.
There’s no such thing as a completely weed-free garden with no work involved, but you can easily keep weeds from overtaking your garden if you have raised beds in place. Often, the weeds will come from your garden paths, as many gardeners keep them grassy instead of mulched. The raised beds act as a barrier from invasive weeds such as bindweed from creeping into your growing area.
If your garden paths are made of grass, make sure to keep the grass short – this will discourage any weeds from growing too tall and setting flowers. By the time weeds go to flower, it’s already too late – it means you’ve allowed them to reach maturity, and it’s already too late to take any measures besides weeding aggressively the following year.
What you should do instead is keep a close eye on weeds when they’re just seedlings. Using the no-dig method and deeply mulching your raised beds and pathways are great ways to make weeding sporadic and effortless.
Gardening in raised beds is more comfortable.
Raised garden beds can come in all shapes, sizes, and elevations. You can build them in a bench style to facilitate access for people in wheelchairs or make them tall enough, so you don’t have to bend over if you have a bad back.
My raised beds are only slightly elevated, but I still find them more comfortable because I’ve allowed for wide-enough paths so I can kneel or sit by the raised bed and not feel constricted like I would in a traditional garden. With traditional gardens, the paths between rows are often so narrow that you have to constantly pay attention not to accidentally step on your plants.
Raised beds make weeding, planting, harvesting, and unloading mulch and compost a child’s play, not to mention it’s clean and tidy. Make sure you build them the right width – you have to be able to reach the middle from both sides of the bed. Otherwise, you’ll be stepping on them, and that defeats the whole purpose of having a raised bed. My favorite width is about 4 ft (1.2 meters), and the length is really up to you.
Raised beds are ideal for intensive gardening.
Intensive gardening is all about pushing the limits of what you can grow inside a small area, as well as striving to grow as many succession crops as possible in the same bed during one season.
This often goes against the advice we find on our seed packets or reputable gardening websites because it means packing the vegetables close together and paying no attention to plant rotation or ideal spacing.
We can practice intensive gardening inside our raised beds because we pay so much attention to soil structure and nutrition. By constantly amending and enriching our soil, it becomes overly generous in nutrients and has the vigor to produce much more abundantly than regular gardening methods.
You often get bigger harvests per square foot.
Getting bigger harvests is a consequence of taking proper care of your soil and using the intensive gardening method. Many gardeners start their plants indoors, inside modules, and transplant them outside later in the season. The benefit of this is that you can control each plant’s exact location and fill any empty spots.
You can use intercropping: planting short, shallow-rooted vegetables in between taller ones or leverage vertical growing on trellises and other vertical structures. You can make use of shade offered by larger plants such as tomatoes and peppers and plant lettuce or leafy greens that don’t typically thrive in the heat of summer.
You could do many things to get an abundant harvest, but even if you don’t crowd your plants, the main reason you’ll be getting a great harvest from your plants is the excellent soil aeration and nutrition you’ve carefully provided.
In colder climates, you can plant earlier in the season.
Raised garden beds have the added benefit of warming up faster than the native soil below them. The elevation makes it easier for the soil to thaw and become workable weeks earlier. This is a great advantage if you’re gardening in a cold area with late frosts.
During early spring frosts, the raised beds won’t freeze as deeply as the ground surrounding them, which means you can get those cold-hardy vegetable seedlings in the ground without the fear of losing them to hard frosts.
Another thing you could do to ensure you can start as early as possible is to cover your raised beds with tarps in the autumn. This will warm up your soil even more, especially if the tarp is black or another dark color. Come spring, all you need to do is remove the tarp, add some compost and start sowing.
You can add structures on top of your raised beds.
Given their rectangular shape, you can often create structures on top of your raised beds to serve multiple purposes. You can extend your season by adding cold frames – these mini polytunnels work great in spring as well as autumn, and you can easily remove them in summer when the weather gets too hot.
You can use the same hoops and cover them with mesh instead of plastic and protect your precious brassicas or carrots from harmful insects. You can also create cages, cloches, or permanent structures to protect plants like strawberries from birds and other animals that might want to feast on them.
If you’re an organic gardener, you’ll want all these structures in place to keep the pests away as an alternative to harmful sprays and substances.
Raised beds can define vertical growing spaces.
You can install a trellis pretty much anywhere, but it will look much more defined if it’s placed at the edge of a raised bed. Cattle panel arched trellises are budget-friendly and spectacular if you place them in between two raised beds. Stand in the pathway underneath them and enjoy the shade and the ease of picking your harvest.
Place raised beds alongside a tall fence and turn that space into a lush wall of edible greenery. There’s really no limit to vertical abundance – if you’re interested in vertical gardening, check this comprehensive article.
Another thing you could do is get creative with the style of your raised beds – don’t just think horizontal. You could build a pyramid to break up the monotony of the garden or use terraced beds if your garden is placed on a slope.
You can put raised beds pretty much anywhere.
If you have a rooftop terrace or a patio that’s perfect for growing some food, custom raised beds could be a step up from container gardening inside pots. Keep these two things in mind: raised beds and soil can get very heavy, and they also need a way to drain the excess water. Build them higher than normal on-ground beds so that the roots have sufficient depth to develop.
You can place raised beds in a shady part of your yard, like the sides of your house or other surrounding structures. There are plenty of vegetables and flowers that love growing in partial shade. Line the outside of your greenhouse with narrow raised beds and plant flowers to attract pollinators, or create mini-raised beds along the sides of an outdoor kitchen for a fresh supply of herbs and greens.
Ideally, you want to place your raised beds in a place where you can easily access them if you have the space and resources. Seeing your kitchen garden from inside the house will serve as a fantastic motivator to get you outside and gardening on most days.
Raised beds can look fantastic.
Gardens and raised beds can be as wild or as polished as we want them to be. There are so many materials to choose from: treated or untreated wood, brick, concrete, stone, metal, and even composite decking. The paths lining your garden can also be filled with all kinds of mulches or gravel to keep them weed-free.
This will feel like a big investment at first, and it will require ongoing maintenance compared to a traditional in-ground garden, but if you see it as part of your landscaping, it will totally be worth it. You can even find pre-made raised beds to save you some time and effort if you’re not into building things yourself.
When it comes to our house’s exterior and even our lawns, we invest so much time and effort – why should that be any different for a garden, especially an urban garden? Turn your garden into a multi-purpose space by creating a shaded sitting area with a pretty bench and even a fire pit. Put in fairy lights and decorations to create a whimsical atmosphere. It will soon become your favorite space to spend time in.
Raised beds may look like a fad, but they’re here to stay. With all the YouTube gardening channels out there promoting this method, the use of raised beds has spread like wildfire.
There may be a cheaper, more effective way of gardening, but you can’t find a prettier and more comfortable one. But is it worth all the money and time investment? Start small – build a couple of beds and a trellis and see how you like it. You may never want to go back to your old way of growing food.