Building a raised bed: introduction & expert tips
Whether you use pallets, wood or a store-bought kit: there are many possibilities of how to build a raised bed yourself. We will show you how.
Raised garden beds are available in a variety of different sizes and forms and can be constructed from a plethora of various materials. For the most part, however, raised beds are made out of wood. In recent years, taller raised beds made out of pallets have been a trend in the gardening community and, similarly, stone-made beds have been on an increase, too. You will find step-by-step instructions on how to build a raised garden bed yourself using various materials below.
Build your own raised bed: site selection and basics
The choice of location is of great importance for the construction of a raised bed. The surface on which you intend to keep your raised bed should provide stability to the bed. A flat location where no large tree roots protrude and which is well exposed (possibly even sheltered from the wind) is ideal for a raised bed.
Weed barrier fabric and rabbit wire
Rabbit wire with the narrowest possible loops should always be attached to the underside of the raised bed in order to keep any unwanted visitors such as rodents away. A hand or electric tacker is used to secure the wire in place. In the case of beds where it is difficult to attach something (such as stone beds), the wire is laid out on the ground and the bed set upright on top of it.
If there are many root spreading weeds (such as field bindweed, morning glory, stinging nettles, etc.) in the vicinity of the raised bed, an additional weed barrier fabric should be placed between the rabbit wire (narrow looped) and the raised bed contents. This will protect against weeds for at least a few years.
Pond liner in raised bed
Pond liners in raised garden beds keep the soil in place and protect against rot. Particularly in beds that have spaces between the individual boards or stones, lining with a pond liner will help against water or soil leaks. What is important to keep in mind, though, is that the liner of choice should not contain softeners. It is definitely worthwhile to protect the raised garden bed, especially if it is made out of pricy materials.
Using liners coloured black will also warm up the bed faster. This can positively contribute to the plants wellbeing. If you are using wood to construct the raised bed, apply the liner only if the weather and the wood is completely dry. The lining is best attached with a hand tacker to the upper edge of the raised bed. To enhance the protection of the raised bed even more, make sure that the lining goes over the edge of the raised bed.
To keep in mind before constructing a raised garden bed:
- Choose the brightest, flattest and as free of trees location as possible
- Line the underside of the raised bed with rabbit wire (with tight loops) and, if necessary, use weed barrier fabric to protect it from rodents and weeds
- Line the side walls with a pond liner to prevent rotting of the wooden side walls or soil leaks through the gaps
Pallet raised bed
To stabilize the raised garden bed, place the four bed corner posts on concrete or stone slabs (approx. 30×30 cm). Their position must be exactly matched to the size of the pallets so that two corner posts of the pallets can be placed next to each other. It is best to check whether the position of the concrete slabs fits before screwing the pallets together. Use a spirit level to check that the slabs are aligned perfectly. If necessary, adjust the levels of the slabs with soil by removing it or adding more underneath them. After that, the four pallets can be attached to one another. To do this, it is best to place two pallets opposite each other on the longer side (the height should be 80 cm). The tops of the pallets face the other pallet. Then, the two remaining pallets (also standing on the longer side with the top facing in) are leaned against the other two pallets on the outside.
There should now be a slightly rectangular ‘box’ in front of you, the pallets can be fastened together. The pallets are best screwed together with 3 corner posts per corner. For further protection, the raised bed can be coated with a wood stain (preferably water-based). The subsequent procedure involving rabbit wire, lining and the like has already been described above. A small tip on how to make your raised bed out of pallets even prettier: fix some boards on the outside of the pallets to create a place for flower or herb pots. The boards do not have to fit exactly. On the contrary, gaps are optimal so that water can run off. The newly made pots should be lined with foil, too. It is also a good idea to create holes on the underside, so that waterlogging is avoided.
Constructing a raised bed using standard Euro pallets (120 x 80 x 14.4 cm):
- If you make a square using the standard Euro pallets, it will have the dimensions of 120 x 120 cm
- Four concrete or stone slabs (30 x 30 cm) are placed underneath the corner posts of the raised bed
- A spirit level must be used to check that the slabs are levelled
- Two pallets are placed on their longer side on the two slabs, which are 149 cm apart. The upper side of the pallets faces the other pallet
- Two further pallets are leaned against the other pallets from the outside, also with the top of the pallet pointing inwards
- If there is a matching box with a height of 80 cm, the pallets are screwed together with 3 angles per corner
Pallet raised bed: advantages and disadvantages
A raised bed made of pallets offers many advantages. The construction manual described above is only one of many possibilities of how to make a pallet raised bed. If you give free rein to your imagination, your product might look completely different. For example, it could be twice as large or mounted on another pallet instead of the floor. This “floor pallet” could be equipped with wheels, which could be a practical way of making the bed mobile. Whatever your idea may be, it is important to keep the dimensions and the potential weight of the bed in mind. An 80 cm tall raised bed is definitely too heavy to have wheels. Another advantage of the raised bed made of pallets is that it is relatively easy to build and only a few materials are needed. Moreover, Euro pallets can be purchased used from companies or relatively cheaply from the hardware store.
The usual height of a pallet raised bed, 80 cm, makes it very comfortable to garden. However, the size of such a bed also means that it swallows up a lot of filling material. This should not be a problem for garden owners who have a lot of organic material at their disposal. On the other hand, there are people who have just enough space for the raised garden bed on their property and having to buy vast amounts of filling material can be a nuisance. Another disadvantage is that pallets are less durable compared to other materials. This is because the Euro pallets are made from softer wood, which weathers faster than thicker hardwood or stone.
Wooden raised bed
A raised bed made of wood can be built in many different ways depending on the requirements. In the following, we describe how to build a wooden raised garden bed in a simple and inexpensive way.
A shopping list for an approximately 70 to 80 cm high raised bed:
- 4 corner posts at least 1 m long 8 x 8 or better 10 x 10 cm thick and made of hard wood
- Depending on the width approx. 6 slightly longer boards (depending on the desired size of the raised bed approx. 150 to 200 cm long)
- Depending on the width approx. 6 slightly shorter boards (depending on the desired size of the raised bed approx. 90 to 120 cm long)
- The boards should be about 3-5 cm thick, also “unedged” boards from the sawmill can be used
Tip: If you are building your own raised bed for the first time, you can use inexpensive spruce wood, for example, to experiment. If the bed is to be as weather-resistant as possible, hardwood planks such as oak or beech are better suited.
- 1 large pack of nails a few cm longer than the thick boards
- Tools: a hammer, a sledge hammer, a hand or battery stapler, a saw if necessary
- Rabbit wire (with narrow loops), wood stain (water-based) if necessary, weed barrier fabric and or pond liner if necessary (see above)
Build your own raised bed from wood: a step by step guide
- Step 1: The raised bed area is measured with precision according to the desired bed dimensions. In each of the corners of the pre-measured area, wooden posts are inserted about 30 cm deep into the ground. Do not hit the posts directly with a sledge hammer but use an impact protection (e.g. a small board). For additional protection of the wooden posts, use metal ground sockets.
- Step 2: To protect against gnawing small animals, rabbit wire is placed between the corner posts and attached to the wood with a hand tacker.
- Step 3: Step by step, the boards are nailed to the corner posts from below, starting from the outside. In order to exert less force on the corner posts, drive the nails one to two cm into the boards at the bottom.
- Step 4: If you want to lay a weed barrier fabric on the ground, you should fix it with a hand tacker to the sides of the lowest boards. How to line the raised garden bed on the inside has been described above.
Wooden raised bed: advantages and disadvantages
Raised garden beds made out of wood are a gardening classic. Wood provides additional liveliness into the garden and its natural brown tones blend beautifully with the rest of the garden. Whether luscious green herbs, flowers in all the possible shades or bright orange pumpkins: everything compliments the wooden raised bed. Moreover, provided that you use cheaper spruce wood, a wooden raised bed can also be inexpensive. Wooden boards are also easy to saw, so the size of the wooden bed is extremely flexible. In order to prolong the life of the wooden raised bed, we advise to use hardwood and a protective wood glaze. What is more, to avoid hammering the corner posts into the ground, the posts can be fixed securely into place using a ready-mixed concrete screed with the help of post supports. Although it might be a little more complicated, this method provides greater stability and shields the bed against the elements better. Compared to stone or plastic, however, wood cannot compete in the resistance department.
Other materials and kits for raised beds
Raised bed kits: what are the advantages and disadvantages?
The main advantage of a raised bed kit is hard to miss. Instead of having to saw the boards to have the appropriate dimensions by yourself, a kit simply has to be purchased and then set up. However, some may find the fact, that the dimensions are already given by the kit a drawback, as it cannot be personalized to the size of your garden or balcony. Moreover, compared to getting the wood or pallets separately, a kit can be impractically more expensive. Ultimately, the choice depends on the time available for the raised bed construction and the personal level of craftsmanship.
Raised beds made of stone, plastic or metal
Raised beds made of stone, plastic or metal have the unbeatable advantage that they are far more weather-resistant than wooden raised beds. Plastic raised beds are still relatively inexpensive to buy (but are arguably less good looking). Metal and stone raised beds vary in prices depending where you are looking. Raised garden beds made of stone can be made in two different ways: using dry-stone and bricks with mortar. Of course, mortar and bricks score with the stability they provide. However, dry-stone serves as a retreat for many different microorganisms and thus provides valuable services for nature and species protection in the garden. Many beneficial organisms thus settle in the garden and in turn can be of great help to the gardener.