Gardening and landscaping are daily rituals for many homeowners and can really ramp up in the growing season. Responsibilities and opportunities emerge as climate changes and the Earth’s beauty beckons. Individuals grow plants and herbs each season with various intentions — as a family food source, for a decorative design of fresh florals, to fulfill a lifelong or newfound hobby, or merely as a neighborly obligation.
Raising flower and garden beds can be an enjoyable endeavor that provides a healthy crop of benefits.
Beds With Benefits
Although raised garden beds undoubtedly add an attractive appeal, horticulturists will attest these elevated growing platforms are much more multi-functional.
- The soil warms up earlier and sustains longer in heightened beds extending the conditions for seeds to grow and plants to propagate.
- Raised beds allow vegetables, fruits, flowers, and houseplants to run their roots deeper resulting in more stable plants in good health.
- Gardening above ground can prosper in the event existing land is on a slope or full of compact, poor-performing soil which can hinder growth.
- Higher success rate for elevated plant growth because controlled treatment of topsoil, compost, and rich minerals can oftentimes outperform Mother Nature on the ground.
- Raised beds limit the compression and compaction of the soil. When too much soil is pressed together, it has a greater density and less aeration for water to infiltrate.
- Provides an ideal “boxed” setting for growing plots of flowers and vegetables
- Elevated bed levels withstand animals and pests from poking around the ground interfering with the growth and survival of your garden. Avoid battling slugs and snails that burrow under the soil and infest plants and seeds striving to develop.
- Prevention of weeds from accumulating and an easier, defined space to fulfill gardening goals without obstruction.
- Raised beds give gardens a clean, distinct appeal justifying the owner takes care of the landscape and plants with a purpose.
- “Boxing in” the soil withstands erosion where soil, sand, and rocks dissolve and wash away on the natural ground.
- Lifted beds keep the soil aerated and open because there are no animals, humans, or equipment coming in contact with it and padding it down.
- Raising the soil raises the drainage capacity which helps young plants thrive.
- Controlling the soil quality assures a lengthy growing season, ideally from warm spring through cool autumn.
- Raised beds perform effectively in cold climates where the heat higher up accelerates development. Additionally, heightened soil tends to defrost and dissolve sooner after winter.
- The height of the raised bed is at your discretion. It tends to be at least half a foot high to a limit that meets your tolerance to reach and bend.
- From a physical labor standpoint, exercise your green thumb without over-exerting yourself, bending your back, and straining your mobility which can be more rigorous when planting directly into the ground.
- Raised flower beds are suitable for annual flowers and give gardeners the freedom to grow something new in its place year after year. These one-year bloomers include petunias, pansies, basil, lemongrass, and vegetables like peppers, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
- On the other hand, a little maintenance and off season preparation make these elevated structures perfectly viable for the following blooming season. Perennials have roots that keep the soil intact.
Raised Flower Bed Types
Lifting the beds above the ground can be achieved using natural materials from the environment or more professionally customized with durable supplies.
Naturally raised beds are definitive mounds of soil shaped and structured to form a serviceable plateau above the ground. Piling soil high with various mixtures of soil, compost, and organic matter helps retain moisture, aerate the soil, and provide nutrients critical for plant growth. Soil mounds should lift about six inches high with smooth sloped edges. Rake the top for a groomed layer to plant seeds and plants.
A more hands-on approach to raising flower beds involves constructing a sturdy enclosure made of wood, brick, or other masonry. Although this assembly is a more expensive route, it can really “raise” the bar around the neighborhood. These long-lasting endeavors result in a great appearance while achieving a stable barrier that preserves the soil and customizes your desired plant and flower array.
Redwood and cedar are common woods that are water-resistant, won’t rot, and lack chemicals that could interfere with plant and flower growth. They also make for an appealing finish and can last up to twenty years. Other woods like pine, fir, and spruce may be more cost-effective and readily accessible but won’t last as long. Some garden stores and sites conveniently offer pre-assembled panels.
When building a wooden border, it’a a good idea to line the inside frame of the wood with heavy plastic for added protection. Most beds consist of a total of 8 planks, two on top of each other on all four sides. Align the planks to the desired height at the four corners and secure them by drilling holes and fastening with exterior screws. This stabilizes the long side panels, which can be enhanced with reinforcing rebar laid horizontally for a flush, rustic finish. If the starting ground is uneven or on a hill, drill stakes 8-12 inches deep so you can manage an even bed. Stone and brick laydown also require a smooth ground level and should not exceed a height of two feet around the bed.
Steps for Raised Flower and Garden Beds
Location, Location, Location
Try to find an uncovered area with access to sunlight. Be wary of nearby bushes and trees with roots that can sneak in and absorb the nutrients and water from the bed. If building multiple beds in a general vicinity, be sure to leave enough space for working, watering, weeding, cutting grass, etc.
Keep each bed relatively small and manageable. Garden beds are usually rectangular, often 4 x 8 or 4 x 12 feet wide. Consider the available plot of land, how far to space out the plants, and how much ground can be covered when working in and around the bed.
Plants vary in root length which directly correlates with the depth of soil required for a raised garden bed. Pay close attention to the bed’s depth because plant types and their roots have different growth patterns and lead times. 8-12 inches is usually a good barometer for flowers and herbs. Leafy, bulky greens like kale and spinach may need 6-8 inches of soil; however, long-rooted vegetables like carrots may require double the depth. Plants that have deeper roots typically need less water and extend further down to absorb the water they need. These tend to grow well in raised beds where soil level is measured and controlled. Rooted veggies that will thrive in raised beds include onions, garlic, beets, turnips, radishes, yams, and ginger. Tomatoes and potatoes also reap the benefits of developing within a raised garden bed.
Time For Some Groundbreaking Activity
When the bed shape is visualized and boundaries are measured, it’s time to break up the sandy, clay-like subsoil and establish a flat bottom surface. A spade or shovel will do the digging or break out a broad fork that can descend 14 inches. Once the ground is broken up and loosened, patch the bed together with a triangular hoe and top it off with a rake.
It’s wise to line the bottom most layer with organic material, wet newspaper, or cardboard to contain the growth of weeds and grass beneath. The lining adds durability, prevents invasive toxins into the soil, and will eventually decompose into compost and provide a feeding source for worms, bacteria, and fungi that enrich the soil and optimize plant growth. Do not use plastic or porous material where the water can penetrate through and compact the soil. Rocks and gravel can also be placed at the bottom of a raised bed to limit the amount (and cost) of soil needed.
Pack It Up, Pack It In
As you fill in the bed, consolidate natural material including dry leaves, grass clippings, yard waste, and compost piles that are still breaking down. Woods work well for shallow-rooted plants because they can take up to two years to decompose while helping to drain excess water. Drainage is essential because while high-quality topsoil lies at the surface, the lower layers are critical to drain moisture and prevent a water-logged soil base that can drown the root system. Raised beds drain faster and more often than in-ground beds and require soil larger in particle size than a standard potting mix more conducive for small indoor or outdoor containers. In areas with heavy rainfall expectations, add a few inches of mulch to help protect the soil.
Once the base is primed for drainage, an effective soil mix provides nutrients and prepares the plants to grow properly. Each bed varies by climate, the selected plants to grow, and the accessibility of materials. A recommended mix contains organic waste like chopped leaves and compost blended with minerals and growth stimulants like vermiculite, peat moss, or perlite. This assures a healthy, spacious rooting zone primed to plant within your bed.
In preparation for the fall and winter months, maintain the beds with a lasagna-like layered pattern of greens on top of browns to fill the bed and add some height above the surface. Because soil breaks down over time, there are revitalizers on the market that can nurture the soil during the off-months. Cover in the winter and prepare the elevated garden for a nice, thriving bed come springtime. When the new season arrives, remove the cover, pad down some holes for planting, and capitalize on soil that is moist and prime for plant growth.
Raising a plant bed with primarily soil and organic material is a less expensive and much less strenuous alternative than erecting a structure out of wood or masonry. Either approach can serve its purpose and provide prolific plant life for the season and beyond. If the ultimate outcome is to bloom beautiful flowers, plants, veggies, and herbs, understand the key steps involved and reap the benefits of raised garden and flower beds.