Whether you’re starting a garden from scratch or expand your existing masterpiece, raised garden beds are a great solution for many garden problems including poor soil quality and drainage, slopes, and accessibility issues.
In case you’re not sure yet, I’ve already outlined the benefits of using raised beds here.
Convinced?! Let’s go!
Raised Beds Can Save a Garden
When I finally switched my main vegetable gardens over to raised beds, my gardens took off like crazy! In my case I had terrible clay soil on a sloped yard so any good soil I had would just wash away. Who knew you could solve life problems with a simple box!
Keep Your Best Soil Where You Need It
Raised beds not only allow you to put your best soil and compost right where you need it, but they keep it there. Over time, as you rotate crops and amend the soil with compost, the entire growing space becomes downright luscious.
Before You Build
Here’s some things to consider before choosing a design for a raised bed.
1. Budget / Longevity
A realistic look at your budget is probably the quickest way to narrow down your options. I used to long for gorgeous stone raised beds until I priced out the cost of one small bed. That was enough to send me to the wood lumber department.
Plain, untreated wood is usually the most affordable option. Naturally rot-resistant choices like cedar are pricier and much longer-lasting. As said, stone can break the bank. Free palettes will require more work (dismantling, cutting, planning) but, if you love the rustic look, the price may be right.
There’s more about wood selection here: How to choose the best wood for raised beds.
2. Soil and Food Safety
Anything you introduce into your garden becomes part of life in the garden, affecting everything including the wildlife (from microbes to four-legged critters), soil, water, and air. And you.
Always error on the side of caution with garden beds and only use wood (or other materials) that are proven to be ‘food safe’, free of harmful chemicals, agents, or preservatives. For more on choosing safely and sustainably, see How to choose the best wood for raised beds.
The height and width of your raised beds should allow easy access to the entire bed. I don’t like anything wider than 4 feet and 3 feet is even better. I also don’t like to waste wood so I tend to build according to the wood available: 8 foot lengths are used for 4-foot wide beds and 6-foot lengths are used for 3-foot wide beds.
Another important consideration is the space around your raised beds. I once placed several beds fairly closely together and just about lost my mind at planting time when I realized I could not actually kneel down to work because there was nowhere for my legs to go. Save yourself some anguish and plan this out ahead of time. I ended up emptying and moving all the beds.
Most sites recommend a box depth of at least 6″ (six inches or 15 cm). I prefer at least 10 inches of depth (with room to expand as the soil builds up each year). Also, the deeper the bed, the more leg room for root vegetables like carrots that get fussy about these things. Plus, deep beds provide more options for converting beds to cold frames for winter growing.
If your own mobility is an issue, a tall raised bed or a raised bed on legs can be a great solution (see #3 below). Some gardeners find kneeling is painful or impossible so this is a good work around: bring your garden to your best working height.
I solved a space issue at my old home by building a little pond and garden area inside a raised bed. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.
4. Skill Level & Tools Available
A raised bed can be as simple or complex as you like. If you’re building the project yourself, consider your skill level, the tools you have available, and the materials you will be working with. I always like to push myself to learn a little more each time I build something but there is heartbreak when you have some beautiful, expensive pieces of wood and you get the cuts wrong. Measure three times, take a break to think it over, and cut once!
Also, watch out for plans with miter cuts. They look fabulous but they’re not so fun to do if you don’t have a saw with miter cut abilities. If you have the right saw, it’s a beautiful thing.
For years I did not have any power tools (other than an electric drill) and it was not fun trying to do anything beyond basic cuts in thin boards. Now, with the right power tools on hand, I love nothing more than an afternoon spent building something new. My key to happiness is good ear protection. I hate the noise and the ear covers solved this. I also try to time it so I’m only using noisy tools when my neighbours are as well.
If you don’t have a good electric saw, consider getting all the cuts done at the home improvement store where you purchase the wood. They may charge extra, but nice, clean, accurate cuts make a world of difference.
Depending on what you want to grow, consider the amount of sun and drainage the site gets as well as accessibility to water. Can the hose reach or will you need to haul water?
I started building raised beds to combat sloped conditions. Be sure the design and materials you choose can accommodate any challenges like this. Video #6 below provides one example of building on a slope.
6. Style / Aesthetics
And finally, it’s nice if you love how they look. I love gardening because it’s where art, form, and function meet. Nice-looking raised beds can become the focal point of a beautiful garden.
This gallery of 20+ ideas for veggie garden designs may give you some ideas.
Free Plans for Building Raised Garden Beds
Here’s a bunch of my favourite easy-to-follow plans for building raised garden beds. All of these projects use non pressured-treated, unstained wood safe for growing edible plants, and are perfect for a variety of gardens.
Step-by-Step Written Tutorials with Images
1 The Simplest Raised Bed to Make | Rodale’s Organic Life
- These beds are very basic, easy to make, and perfect for a beginning gardener.
- Includes detailed instructions and photos of each step to make a basic 4 x 8 bed.
2 How to Build a Raised Vegetable Garden | This Old House
- These basic raised beds use cedar planks and are perfect for growing delicious veggies or other edible plants.
- Includes detailed step-by-step instructions alongside clear photos, super easy to follow and great for kids to help out.
3 Elevated off-ground garden beds | Coop and Home
- Kate from Coop and Home shares how she built raised garden beds to save space (and the grass!) in the backyard of a rental home.
- Includes written step-by-step instructions with measurements and simple diagrams.
4 $10 Cedar Raised Garden Beds | Ana White
- Ana’s $10 raised garden beds are not only cost-effective, but also look great!
- Includes written instructions, photos and diagrams.
- A little trickier for absolute beginners, but once you’ve tried one of the basic plans first you’re good to go.
DIY Raised Garden Bed with Privacy Wall | Empress of Dirt
- I built this project for our backyard. I wanted a dedicated planting area and there was a need for added privacy at the side of the garden. This solved both issues very nicely.
- The video (below) provides a good overview of the project.
- See the blog post here for more details: DIY Raised Garden Bed with Privacy Wall.
How to Build a Raised Garden Bed for Under $15 | The Crafty Gemini
- Vanessa from The Crafty Gemini uses raised garden beds out of untreated pine planks to be able to grow veggies despite the clay soil in her garden.
- Step-by-step video and very easy to follow.
How to Build Raised Garden Beds on a Slope or Hillside | Alberta Urban Garden
- Stephen from Alberta Urban Garden shows how to use raised garden beds to grow veggies up a slope on a hilly property.
- This project is a little more advanced than the basic beds, but is a nifty way to make the best use of your space.
Creating a Raised Bed Garden Using Pallet Wood | Simple Suburban Family
- This video shows how to make raised garden beds out of repurposed industrial pallets.
- The beds shown in this video might require a little practice first, but the results are well worth the effort.
- Best of all, they’re completely free!
- Safety Note: Before using pallets for garden projects, I’d recommend checking out this post on choosing your pallets safely. Be sure they are safe for organic gardens.
I hope that these projects have helped with my mission to convert you to raised garden beds. Happy building!