10 tips for raised garden beds
Farewell to back pain! These are our ten ways to improve you raised garden bed.
Raised beds are probably one of the biggest garden trends at the moment. And there is no surprise why: they are an effective way to make your garden look neat and, at the same time, protect your back and knees. Gone are the days when you had to bend down with difficulty or crawl through the bed – in a raised bed, even less enjoyable gardening chores like pulling out weeds are completed faster. Raised garden beds also look chic and make a plain vegetable bed look interesting. The ten tips in the following text will tell you how to build your own raised garden bed.
Tip 10: the choice of materials
It is easy to be overwhelmed right in the first step. There are thousands of possibilities when it comes to the choice of material. However, the wooden raised bed seems to dominate the gardens because of its many perks. It looks beautiful, is quick to assemble, disassemble or to convert to a different variant. Additionally, it complements the garden with its natural look. There is one significant drawback to wooden raised beds, though. Wood decays and rots fast in humid conditions. Therefore, it is important to purchase the right type of wood. Hardwoods such as larch are the best option because they are weather-resistant. To further enhance the resistance of the wood, a protective foil layer inside the garden bed will shield the material from moisture. There are some other building materials that have their charm too. Concrete can be poured into various shapes and is also weather-resistant. Natural stones give a very rustic feel to the raised bed. In addition, the outer wall can be planted with alpine garden plants, which provides an additional beautifying effect. Metal raised beds are also becoming more and more trendy. As a result of the weather, they change their colour, which makes them a unique element in the garden. They are also very durable.
Tip 9: is bigger better?
Size is a decisive factor in the planning of a raised bed. The size of the raised garden bed depends on the space available and, of course, personal preference. While taller gardeners might prefer their garden bed to be a little taller, raised beds in small allotment gardens must not go beyond their bounds. The following measurements can be used as a rough guideline: the height of the raised bed should be approximately up to your hip (70 to 100 cm), so that your back is spared the bending. The width of the bed should correspond approximately to your arm length, so that you can easily work up to the rearmost plant. There are no limits to the length. Here only your taste decides.
Tip 8: layer by layer
Now that the foundation walls of the bed are up, it is time to consider the filling materials. The raised bed is not to be filled haphazardly! In order to prolong the life of the raised garden bed, there should be several different layers packed on top of each other in a specific order. Each of the layers (except for the drainage layer) should occupy about a quarter of the height of the bed. Here is a summary of the filling layers:
- The first and the very bottom layer is the drainage one. It minimises the risk of waterlogging. A thin layer of gravel will perfectly fulfil this purpose.
- A layer of coarse plant-based waste (twigs, branches) forms the next layer on top of the gravel.
- This is followed by a layer of finer waste from plants, such as compost or leaves.
- Now comes a layer of garden soil.
- The final step is adding a layer for planting the plants, which consists of a mixture of compost and potting soil.
Tip 7: snails and mice
A raised garden bed is sure to make the plants feel at home. There are some pests, though, that might crash the party uninvited. With some simple precautionary measures, you won’t have to worry about unwelcome visitors. Attaching some wire (with small loops!) will keep small animals such as voles and mice at bay. Similarly, snails are attracted to salad beds but there is a way to keep them from munching on your greens, too. A snail barrier prevents the invertebrates from finding their way to the plants.
Tip 6: built-in heater
The fact that raised beds are easy on the back is well-known. What many gardeners don’t know is that raised garden beds also generate their own heat. The rotting processes of the various layers inside release energy, which warms the bed like its own heating system. Therefore, many plants can be cultivated earlier in the raised bed than in a normal bed. Spring plants can move into the garden at the beginning of March. Nevertheless, you should protect the small plants overnight with a shielding material. In this way, the warmth produced by the bed is accumulated and the late frosts of the season stand no chance.
Tip 5: plenty of water!
Another issue, that some may not realize is that plants grown in a raised garden bed require more water than in a normal garden bed. The explanation is quite logical. The heat generated by the rotting processes in the layers of the raised garden bed evaporates the water more rapidly. For this reason, the plants cultivated in the raised bed need a more frequent replenishment. But remember: too much of a good thing, even for plants, can be detrimental. Watering excessively may lead to waterlogging, which is harmful for the plants as well as the materials of the bed.
Tip 4: a raised bed or a cold frame?
A simple yet ingenious trick: with a tiny amount of skill, a raised garden bed can be turned into a cold frame. An attachment made of plexiglass or foil not only protects the plants from wind and weather, but also traps the heat, so that the young plants can have a safe nursery. If you are not the closest of friends with hammers and nails, simply use a foil tunnel or special attachments offered by various manufacturers of raised beds. Make sure, however, that not too much humidity collects under the roof. Excessive moisture is unfortunately perfect for fungal diseases. When the temperatures are finally warm enough, you can simply remove these attachments and put them away for the summer. This way, you can have a raised bed and a cold frame in one.
Tip 3: the right plants
Which plants are the best to grow in a raised garden bed? This question is actually very easy to answer. A raised garden bed (if freshly filled with the layers described above) contains an abundance of nutrients, which is why heavy feeders such as cabbage, lettuce or leek are particularly suitable. Generally speaking, most types of vegetables can be grown in a raised bed without any issues. The most recommended plants to grow in a raised garden bed are tomatoes, courgettes and strawberries. What is especially recommended is to grow a mixed culture of different varieties and types of plants in a raised bed. There are also some plants, that should not grow in a raised garden bed (at least not initially). For example, light feeders, such as Mediterranean herbs, should not move in until a few years after the raised bed has been first planted. Light feeders can get overwhelmed by the amount of nutrients on a newly filled raised bed.
Tip 2: old bed, new filling
With the advancing age of the raised bed, further rotting processes occur. In the first year only, the raised bed can sink up to twenty centimetres. This loss can simply be replenished with ordinary plant soil. However, this trick can only be done so many times. Usually, after five to seven years it is time to renew the filling material. The used material should be removed completely. While doing this, we recommend to also examine the condition of the attached protective foils and protective grids. Afterwards, the raised bed can be filled with fresh layers. Thus, the bed can serve its purpose for another five to seven years.
Tip 1: winter protection
During the winter months (December to February) the raised bed should be empty of plants. Due to the exposed location of the bed and only a small amount of insulating soil, the bed cools down much faster than an ordinary garden bed. Only hardy perennial plants (such as herbs) or winter vegetables (such as kale) can stay in the bed all year long. Another important way to protect the bed from weather conditions is to cover it with foil or tarpaulin. In this way, the bed is shielded from rain and snow. The nutrients are also not washed out from the soil. Another tip: during winter, you can reintroduce some nutrients into the soil with horn shavings and similar.