Making Raised Beds

January 3, 2006

Many gardeners who are interested in making raised beds have asked; what is the best material to use for framing the garden beds? My preference is to use nothing as a frame for the beds, but if you insist there are a number of materials that work well when making raised beds.

The most popular choice has always been to use wood timbers or lumber. Wood lends a natural appearance, and while not permanent, will last a long time. There are mixed reports regarding the safety of using treated lumber, so I would play it safe and avoid using wood that’s been treated or coated with chemicals as a border for an edible garden.

Another popular option is to use stone, pavers, concrete blocks, or even bricks. All can be used to create a more permanent frame for your raised beds. You’ll have to determine whether the appearance of these materials will suit your taste and mesh with the rest of your landscape.

Relatively new on the scene are the plastic and composite products designed to look and handle like wood. They can be employed in the construction of raised garden beds and will not rot as a result of ground contact.

As I mentioned earlier, when making raised beds, I don’t use anything around the perimeter of the garden bed. I prefer the simplicity and appearance without a border, not to mention that it’s free and doesn’t require ongoing maintenance or replacement.

The raised beds will hold their shape just fine without edging to contain the soil. All that’s required is to taper the sides of the garden beds to provide a sloped grade and crown over the surface of the growing area.

So regardless of whether you frame or don’t frame them, making raised beds is one of the best things you can do to increase productivity and improve the overall appearance of your garden. You’ll also discover that using raised beds can reduce the amount of time and effort required to prepare and maintain your garden.

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  • I never thought of making a raised bed without a border! I was worried that when I constructed this year’s new beds that I would be short of money and would have to cut the bed’s length and number. But without the borders then I won’t have to buy the borders. Thanks for the ideas.

  • John J Drake

    Living here in Florida, brought about challenges unknown to a “Jerseyite”.
    So this past year I experimented with the raised beds. I put in some 10-12 tomatoe plants in December, that really didn’t think would survive.
    Lo and behold, gobs of tomatoes are awaiting the warm sunshine to ripen.
    Peppers and garlic are doing well also, as is a lone eggplant. I built sides of fence covered plastic, to keep off the winds. I might add, I am starting a second bed as I speak!

  • Jane

    Im brand new, never even had a house plant that lived very long. I want to start a small garden with my niece and goddaughter for this summer, and I dont want to feel like a total jerk. I am not clear as to what “raised beds” are? versus what?
    Are there any pixes anywhere that I see what “raised beds” look like? I am a very literal person and need to see things visually…or at least have it explained in very simple terms

    I have an area that Im going to create a garden in. Right now it’s grass. I’m going to rent a tiller and have someone turn over the grass and do what’s necessary for the begin of a garden. What i dont know what “raised beds” mean? Raised from what?? Help!!!

    Thanks, jane

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Jane, I think a lot of the confusion comes from the term “raised” bed. The picture above is an example of a raised bed, it’s difficult to judge the depth in the photo but it’s not very “raised” at all. A better term might be to call it a “garden bed.” The typical bed is only slightly raised (anywhere from two to six inches) above the normal level of the ground. Over time they may become more elevated as you continue to loosen the soil and add compost and other organic matterto the bed. One key is that you never step on the raised beds, you work them from the pathways on either side. Hope this helps, there are also other pictures throughout this site that may help you get a better idea of what raised beds look like. I’ll be posting more info on building raised beds soon.

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