Planting In a Raised Bed Garden

Maintenance and Planting Techniques for Raised Bed Garden

Elevated bed construction

Elevated bed construction lends itself to the imagination without end. All that matters is that the beds are raised above the ground. Only elevated soil (often by double digging) is the simplest raised beds, amended with compost, and (sometimes) sand. Most elevated beds, however, rely on some kind of structural support to hold the soil.

Depending on your finances, you can build raised beds using trendy new materials or stuff that is scrounged for free. Beds can be constructed from woven trees, tires, bricks, cinder blocks, boards, hay bales, sheet metal, walls, pallets, logs, sandbags, gravel, railroad ties, corrugated storage tanks or culverts, steel, concrete, recycled plastic, even ‘upcycled’ dresser drawers… in short, anything that provides strength and protection to keep in the soil. We also pressed into operation an old wooden rowboat; our “garlic boat” has grown the most beautiful and plentiful garlic in the last eight years.

Elevated beds can also have any shape: rectangle, rectangular, oval, circular, triangular, serpentine, or whatever suits your space, resources, and imagination. The Gardening Solutions website of the University of Florida issues some caution when choosing material for raised bed construction: Stop using lumber treated with creosote or pentachlorophenol for bed frames. These chemicals can leach out plants and cause injury.

Landscape timbers and railroad bonds may have been treated with arsenic-containing compounds. New lumber is no longer treated with such compounds, and it is recommended that new lumber be used wherever possible.

If you are unsure about the health of treated lumber, put a thick plastic liner between the treated lumber and the soil used to grow plants to avoid direct contact between the treated lumber and the plant roots. Be careful when tilling your bed, not to break the plastic.

Although construction methods can differ depending on what materials are being used, the following are a few good indicators: This is one project where advanced planning pays big dividends. Start on a piece of paper. Sketch your garden room (or, in our case, get an overhead view from Google Earth) and visualize where your beds will be going in advance. Plan their orientation to leverage the sun to the full. Decide how much and the shape of the beds. Set how large you want the paths between the beds to be (hint: if wheelbarrows suit it’s nice). The time to screw up the garden is in the paper stage, while it is still.

Do not make the beds so broad you cannot touch the middle comfortably. For small people (like me), four feet should be your full width, with three feet long as a more convenient width.

The optimal depth for your destined plants is between 12 and 24 inches, depending on how deep the root systems are.

While some people suggest making the edges of the beds large enough to sit on for weeding ease, I’ve found the sitting sideways position makes weeding uncomfortable, as I use both hands for the job. Instead, to make weeding easier, I sit on a plastic crate that I move around as needed.

Be careful to mount raised containers on wooden decks; soil weight can be causing structural problems.

With the contents of the raised beds beginning “new,” now is your chance to make the soil as warm, friable, and fertile as possible. Some people recommend filling the beds with potting soil, but this can become extremely costly, depending on the size of your garden. Consider then applying topsoil, sand, and compost to produce a high-quality mixture. The dump truck-full, which then we combined with our own compost (created from cattle manure) literally brought in topsoil and sand. You will use organic matter and minerals to change the soil as you go.

Keep the beds directed North-South. So direct sunlight will touch both sides of the beds. Taller crops such as corn, caged tomatoes, or trellised plants such as peas or pole beans may be the exception. These could do better in an orientation to the east-west.

Place weed deterrents at the bottom to prevent the growth of weeds or grass through the new beds. Corrugated cardboard or several layers of newspapers are cheap choices. In addition, placing metal hardware cloth at the bottom can aid in deterring burrowing rodents such as voles and gophers.

Elevated beds are very well suited for covering with either netting (to protect against hungry birds) or plastic (to make frost-protective clocks).


Personally, I think it’s easier to maintain the raised beds than an in-ground garden, but that doesn’t mean they’re maintenance-free.


Irrigation. Since the raised beds drain well, frequent watering is required. Drip irrigation could be an optimal solution (it’s for us), depending on how your garden is structured. Soaker hoses will work, too. Overhead watering can lead to illnesses, especially in humid climates, so use this choice sensibly.


Mulch is strongly recommended due to the fast drainage in raised beds. Mulch does not only inhibit the growth of weeds but will slow the depletion of water. There are several different forms of mulch available, including bark, wood chips, hulls of cocoa beans, leaf mulch, clippings of dried grass, newspaper, straw, and compost. I tend not to use hay mulch from personal experience, because it often contains seeds that sprout, expand, and take over beds. We use pine needle mulch (that is NOT acidic, contrary to common belief).


And they are weeding. No matter how good your elevated beds are, you’ll always get weeds (whose seeds can sometimes be blown in from somewhere else). Fortunately, the soil is much friendlier in the raised beds than in the field, so weeds are easier to remove. Mulch can help to kill weeds, too. Many people tend to weave in elevated gardens, as the smaller units are less daunting than attempting to weed a whole field. You should weed as many beds as you have the energy or time for.


Whatever soil mix you put in your up beds, expect some settling. That is normal; however, it means that every other year or so, you’ll have to replace the beds.

Pest Control

Most gardeners face plant-much pests from time to time in their vegetable garden, and they are not typically that big of a deal. But, pest numbers often rise to an unacceptable level, and the little buggers do more than mere aesthetic harm. When gardeners are increasingly aware of the possible risks of exposure to synthetic chemical pesticides, many of us decide to avoid the sprays entirely and then turn to other strategies for pest control. In the first instance, the most effective method for managing garden pests is by far stopping them from nibbling on your plants. The good news is that it’s easier to avoid pests in your garden than you think, if you use the 5 very useful techniques I discuss below.

Admittedly, I was a chemical pesticide “junkie” when I graduated from college with a degree in horticulture. I used a large variety of synthetic pesticides to combat pest insects in my own garden, as well as in the gardens of a few hundred clients. I wanted to stop spraying synthetics and go organic after a friend, and fellow horticulture began experiencing the ill effects of acute pesticide poisoning. Yeah, I still used organic pest control products for many years after that, including horticultural oil and insecticide soap, but then I stopped using those products too. I have not sprayed anything in my garden for the past eleven years to combat pests-not, even organic pesticides. I have a beautiful garden because I understand the role that pets play in my countryside (they are food for the good bugs!), and I use measures to keep them in check before their harm gets out of hand. Here are my few tips in your garden to avoid pests.

Preventing pests in your garden

Five effective methods Attract beneficial insects. While pollinators are awesome to have in the garden, the beneficial insects that I’m talking about here are the ones that take a literal bite out of insect pests. Ladybugs, lacewings, minute pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, damsel bugs, and other beneficial naturally help to keep the numbers of pests down by eating the bad guys for lunch or using them to house and feed their young. To attract these healthy bugs to the garden, you need to supply them with protein-rich pest insects and carbohydrate-rich nectar to be eaten as food. No, not just every flower acts as a source of nectar for beneficial insects. They need a special form of floral architecture to spring nectar from. Here’s a list of some of the best beneficial insect species. The more effective pest-munching you have around, the less likely it is to get out of hand for pest numbers. The whole idea is to build a good balance. If you’d like to learn more about attracting beneficial bugs to your garden, here’s an excellent guide.

Pick your plants wisely

Some plants and types of plants are more susceptible to pest problems than others. Pest control is often as easy as selecting pest-resistant crops in your yard. For example, if squash bugs constantly attack your winter squash plants, the two most resistant varieties are ‘Butternut’ and ‘Royal Acorn.’ Or, if Colorado potato beetles still try to defoliate your potato crop, plant ‘King Harry’ potato (a Cornell University-bred variety) with very hairy leaves that the beetles will not consume. Hunt out varieties of other vegetables resistant to pests and diseases, too.

Physical barriers are used

Placing a physical barrier between the plant and the insect is one of the most effective methods to avoid pests in your garden. Cover plants that are prone to pests with a floating row cover, a lightweight, spun-bound fabric that rests on top of the plants or on wire hoops. Make sure the cover contains plenty of slack and pin the sides to the ground to prevent sly bugs from creeping under the edges. To keep imported cabbageworm caterpillars off my cabbage, broccoli, and kale, I use a row cover. I also cover my young bean plants to discourage beetles from Mexico, my young cucumber plants to hold the cucumber beetles in the bay, and my young squash plants to deter squash beetles and borers. Just remember to remove the row cover when the plants come into the bloom to allow pollinators to reach it.

Intercropping is used

Preventing pests may also be the product of growing the size of your vegetable patch in your backyard. Pests will have a more difficult time finding their host plants by inter-planting different vegetable crops with each other and with flowering herbs and annuals. Instead of planting a single crop in a row or block, mix everything to keep even small monocultures outside the garden. While there is still much study into exactly how intercropping operates, this method tends to “confuse” the pest insect. Some pests may have to land on the plant a certain number of times in order to locate and confirm that a specific plant is a suitable host. When crops are interplanted, the pest may land on a different species of plants each time, making it more difficult for the bug to hone in at their dinner.

Develop medicinal plants

It sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the most effective method of avoiding pests in your garden, in view of this horticulture. Like you and I, plants have an immune system (although one that is very different from our own), and when plants are stable and unstressed, they are, of course, less attractive to pests. Plus, healthy plants have a whole host of cool tricks to deter pests by using their chemical defense system (more about that amazing stuff can be read here). The healthier your plants are, the better they are able to fight off all of the pests themselves. Feed your plants by feeding a good organic matter diet on your soil and make sure they are planted in conditions where they can grow (flower plants in the light, shade plants in the shade, etc.). One of the simplest steps to avoid pests in your garden is to grow nice, healthy plants.

Crop Rotation

Although the concept of raised-bed gardening is clear — fill a frame with soil, pop each year in some plants, and harvest — many subtle challenges accompany growing crops from year to year in a restricted room. Vegetables are more susceptible to pests and diseases than most other types of plants; these nuisances left unchecked, multiply exponentially once established. Crop rotation is an important tool for combating a host of plant diseases.

Crop Rotation Principles

The idea of crop rotation is based on the experience of vegetable plant families by the gardener and their associated pests and anomalies. Rotation means not growing the same or a similar crop at the same location in consecutive years, which helps to reduce diseases and insect buildup. Experts recommend a rotation period of five to seven years, which, in principle, means that a garden should consist of at least five to seven raised beds. Every year, the gardener plants each raised bed with a different crop, until the process is complete.

Raised Bed Rotation

Challenges Particularly in small-scale environments, it is impractical to have a large number of elevated beds and to approach crop rotation creatively. Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are the special reason for growing a vegetable garden for some people, but they and other members of the nightshade family such as peppers (Capsicum annum), potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) and eggplant (Solanum melongena) cannot be grown year after year at the same place without eventually being a serious issue. Soil replacement is an expensive but viable choice, as is the collection of disease-resistant varieties. Another solution to ensuring healthy crop rotation is to abstain from growing one specific crop every other year in the smaller garden.

Example of Planting

Raise bed gardening

Plan A garden can have good crop rotation with as little as four raised beds, with some careful planning and good record keeping. In every year that follows, plant crops in line from one bed into the next. For example, the first frame may contain spring onions (Allium cepa) and spinach (Spinacia oleracea), summer tomatoes, and fall beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) in a four-bed garden. In the fall, a second frame may have spring cabbage (Brassica spp.), summer squash (Cucurbita spp.), and ornamental corn (Zea mays). In the third photo, peppers in the summer and garlic (Allium sativum) in the fall will follow a spring cover crop, including annual rye (Secale cereale). The fourth bed may be planted with peas (Pisum sativum), followed in the summer by sweet corn and in the fall by turnips (Brassica rapa).


Raised Beds In spaces where several multiple beds are impractical, using large containers to grow individual plants is one strategy to complement crop diversity while retaining a crop rotation schedule’s integrity. There are several smaller varieties that are especially suited for container production. Half barrel planters are suitable for potatoes and tomatoes and can be planted with unrelated crops in successive years, while the nightshades get a turn in the elevated beds.

Companion Planting

Have you ever heard the term ‘tomatoes love carrots’? The old saying refers to the fact that they always increase the yield of both by planting these two well-loved vegetables together — making the plants happier, healthier, and stronger.

Understanding how companion plants work together will help you solve some growing problems in gardening.

As long as gardeners have, the belief that some crops work symbiotically to increase yields has been around. More recently, the phenomenon has been examined by scientists to try and determine what happens when plants grow together. What they have found is that companion planting can operate in the following ways: protecting and shielding crops: more fragile plants can benefit from the presence of tougher varieties that, when planted nearby, can protect from heat, wind, and heavy rain.

It is improving pollination: Some plants with showy blooms, strong fragrances, or other attractants attract pollinating insects to plants in the same vicinity that need pollination too. This helps crops grow as plants attract beneficial insects.

Trapping and luring pests: planting varieties away from the garden that attracts pests will draw pests away from tasty, favored vegetables and other precious plants. It is called trap cropping. Pest repelling: Most plants contain substances in their leaves and roots that repel common pests naturally.

Soil enrichment: Many plants return vital nutrients to the soil when they break down or remove nitrogen from the atmosphere.