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How to Start a Raised Garden Bed

How to Start a Raised Garden Bed

Raised bed gardens may require more of an investment upfront, but they're a great way to add plots of vegetables and flowers to your yard. They help avoid contaminated soil, provide an area with fewer weeds and pests (such as snails), and are less work overall. Raised bed gardens are also kinder on the eyes as they often have clear, defined edges, and pathways are easier to maintain.

If you're ready to build your raised garden bed and begin planting, keep these tips in mind for a productive summer ahead.

The Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening

As the saying goes, "there's more than one way to cook an egg", or in this case, plant a garden. Success is not found through a one-way street. One of the greatest aspects of gardening is that every experienced gardener has an opinion and many offer the following benefits to raised bed gardening. 

Better On The Body – Save your back and knees a little more with less bending over and kneeling. Some raised beds are only 6-12 inches off the ground, but a raised garden bed can be whatever size you need it to be. You'll bend over less and avoid being on your knees when the bed is raised higher off the ground whether it's a container with legs or if the box itself is built taller. You'll also reduce reaching and leaning over the box if it's less than four feet wide from front to back. 

Improves Drainage – With raised garden beds, you get to choose the soil and amendments; the natural environment doesn't choose it for you. Soils vary in the Intermountain West from sandy to clay types depending in your area. Clay or densely packed soils do not drain well, even after tilling. Your garden will thrive even more when you fill your raised garden bed with a mixture of quality soils that drain well.  

Reduces Weeds – Raised garden beds have a clean start when they're built with bagged soils and amendments such as fully composted materials. Avoid top soils and steer manures (or other amendments that are not fully composted) that may still contain weed seeds. This helps when you start, but weed seeds are inevitable. Consider adding a layer of mulch–such as Nutri-Mulch–and plastic or weed barrier around your plants for an added layer of protection. Mulch and barriers help prevent weeds from growing and then competing with your garden vegetables for water and nutrients in the soil. When and if weeds still do appear, you'll have less than an ordinary garden and they'll be easier to pull with lighter, well-drained soil.

Avoids Tilling – Raised garden beds require little to no tilling. It's recommended to mix composts into the soil in fall or early spring to replenish nutrients; but if you prefer a no-till approach to avoid disrupting the soil, you can simply cover the top of the bed with composts or mulches. The nutrients will soak into the soil as opposed to washing completely away. Adding mulch to the top of your garden bed has a duel purpose if you're using it for both nutrients and to reduce weeds. Mulch will take time to fully compost, but the nutrients it contains will make their way into the soil below.

Reduces Pests – Garden pests–similar to weeds–seem to always find a way, but raising your garden off the ground can help reduce insects and other pests. The extra height will prevent or at least reduce some pests from crawling up and over the sides (such as snails or rabbits–depending on the height). Keeping your plants off the ground with supports, cattle panels or other vertical gardening methods will help prevent some insects. Netting and fencing can also easily be placed over or around raised garden beds if you have trouble with deer or birds.

Tips to prevent and treat aphids whether you grow traditional or raised bed garden.

Provides Versatility – Grow your raised garden beds wherever and however you can whether you own a large yard or only a small patio. Utilize side yards and other little used spaces, or line the back or sides of a backyard fence. Grow in wood boxes, metal boxes, plastic gardening containers and even five-gallon buckets. Whatever material or type of raised garden bed you choose, make sure it's free from contaminants such as pressure treated wood. Otherwise, be creative and start growing in the space you have available. 

Improves Organization – Planning your raised bed garden combines both functionality and aesthetics in your yard. How will water access your beds? Is the water source below ground or above ground? What will your walking paths look like between boxes? Are they made from pavers, rock or mulch? Do you need to fence in your garden, and how will you reach your plants on all sides to access ripe fruit and vegetables? These are all things to consider, including how it looks. Plan it to be functional, and, if aesthetics are important, organize it to be another beautiful part of your yard.  

Betters Your Health – This isn't proprietary to raised bed gardening, but planting, tending and harvesting a garden–like many other physical activities–has proven to help reduce stress and anxiety. The routine and structure of gardening are positive for the mind and soul, plus it's gratifying to cook with or share your homegrown food. 


How To Start A Raised Garden Bed

With all of the benefits of raised bed gardening, it's time to start planning. When you're set and ready to build your raised beds, consider these eight growing tips: 

1. Choose The Right Location

Choose an area preferably in the sun (at least half a day). Utilize space you otherwise don't use. Side yards are great for vegetable and berry gardens. There is no right or wrong, do what works for you.


2. Plan The Right Size Raised Garden Bed

Build your box no more than 4 feet wide from front to back. You can reach your vegetables within 2 feet without stepping on your soil. Make it as long as you want. It should be at least 6 inches deep and preferably 8-10 inches deep. Any shape will work; square, rectangle, triangle or circle. Do what you like. It's your garden.

3. Quality Soil is Essential

Successful gardening begins from the ground up...literally. The healthiest, most productive plants grow in healthy, nutrient-rich soil. Quality soils provide more nutrients that are readily available and immediately absorbed and utilized by your plants. If you're just beginning, start a raised garden bed with either (1) a quality ready mixed soil that drains well or (2) a custom mix of compost and amendments you create. A couple options include: 

  1. Ready Mixed Soil: IFA Grow Box Mix (3 cu.ft.) drains well and provides superior results. 
  2. DIY Raised Bed Soil: Combine 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 compost. For a specific recipe large enough to make 24 cubic feet of soil–enough for three 4'x4'x6" garden boxes–mix together: 1 Bag – Compressed Peat Moss Bale (3.8 cu.ft.); 2 Bags – Vermiculite (4 cu.ft.); 4 Bags – Oakdell Premium Organic Compost (1 cu.ft.)

Replenish nutrients every fall or spring with the best compost, mulch and soil amendments >>


4. Choose Your Favorite Vegetables

Now plant what you like to eat! Your choices are endless from Asparagus to Zucchini. You can plant seeds or transplants. Do what works for you, but be a little brave and plant at least one vegetable from seed.

5. Space Your Plants

Each plant needs space to mature. You don’t need aisles though. With a raised bed garden, each plant can be reached from the outside. Plant more vegetables per square foot than in traditional row gardens. For more spacing details, download and refer to our Vegetable Planting Guide.

6. Grow Your Garden Vertically and Save Space

Grow your vine-type vegetables on either a trellis, tomato cage, pole or cattle panel. A pumpkin vine could take 100 square feet, but on a trellis, you can have success in a 4-square-feet area. Plan to plant companions on the same trellis such as pole beans and cucumbers. Be creative!

See five ways to grow a vertical garden using cattle panels

7. Water Your Plants Regularly

Your garden will need to be watered every 2-3 days. Always give your soil a drink, not a sprinkle. You can hand water, easily install a drip system, or incorporate a regular sprinkling system.

8. Fertilize To Stimulate Growth

Good nutrients are essential to increase production in your garden. Simply mix into used soil to recharge, or blend with new soil to enhance your favorite mix. We recommend IFA 16-16-8 Premium Garden FertilizerTrue Organic Garden Fertilizers or Fertilome Blooming & Rooting Soluble Plant Food 9-58-8. Blooming and Rooting is a liquid fertilizer that may be added directly into the soil when planting or applied regularly to each plants foliage to kick-start growth. With all fertilizers, refer to the bag of the package for instructions and details. 

Start Growing

Drop by your local IFA Country Store for the tools and plants to help make the most of your raised garden bed. Our associates are passionate about gardening and love to help.

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Information for this article was provided by Kent Mickelsen, Utah Certified Nurseryman, IFA.