A raised bed garden is a wonderful way to create a manageable garden space on any budget. It’s important to start with some basic foundational necessities like location and infrastructure.
Choosing the Right Materials for a Raised Garden Bed
Wood is probably the most common material used for raised bed construction, and it definitely has its pros and cons. It’s readily available and fairly inexpensive. The downfall is obviously that it can rot, so it’s important to choose the right type of wood. Cedar is often the wood of choice because it is rot and insect resistant, and will last several years. This is a great alternative to treated wood which some researchers believe can leach chemicals into the soil. I haven’t dug deeply enough into this to speak on it, but cedar is a great alternative if you’re concerned.
Tin is fairly inexpensive, and is a great option for the sides of your raised garden beds, but it still needs to be framed in using either treated wood or cedar. This will also last for a long time, and is lightweight to work with.
As far as durability, it’s pretty tough to beat rock as a raised bed material. The downside is that your beds are pretty permanent, and that the start-up costs are significantly higher than wood or metal. But I think rock garden beds add so much character, and they lend such a wonderful cottage feel to any garden space.
Whatever You Have
When I first built my raised bed garden around a decade ago, this is exactly what I used….the scraps we had lying around the farm. Boards, cross ties, tier poles from old tobacco barns, I used a little bit of everything. Obviously, this has the benefit of being pretty much free. We just had to add/amend the soil. But the downside was the durability. Most of those beds are long gone because they weren’t built from treated wood, so they rotted and fell apart within a couple of seasons. But they served their purpose for the time that I had them.
How to Select the Best Location For Your Garden
When it comes to selecting the perfect spot for your raised bed garden, or any garden for that matter, there are a couple of important factors to consider.
This seems like common sense, but there’s actually a lot that goes into the consideration of sunlight in your garden including the time of day, season, and the type of plants you intend to grow. Some plants are more shade-loving such as brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, etc), certain herbs, lettuces, and greens. But in general, you want your garden space to get a fair amount of daylight. In my video below I talk about how I selected a garden spot that gets a lot of direct sun each day by selecting an open space that won’t be shaded when the trees leaf out fully. Morning sunlight is best since it’s not as hot and harsh as the afternoon sun. Because of the way our property lays, my space will get the most light in the middle of the day, which will be just fine.
One big reason I chose my garden location is its proximity to a water source. It’s right across the driveway from the yard hydrant to our lower pasture, so it will be super easy to run the hose across adn water. This was a lesson learned the hard way…
Years ago when I had my first garden, I chose a great sunny spot alllll the way on the other side of our property where there was no water. I was in a season of life when even a water hose seemed like a huge expense, so for a while I hauled buckets. Let’s just say that was a thirsty garden, because that mess is for the birds. Then I broke down and got enough hose to reach. Little fun fact about Caitlin: dragging hoses is one of my most hated farm tasks. I grew up on a horse farm, then worked at a therapeutic riding barn for about a decade, and I can think of a thousand dirty, hard, menial jobs that I would rather do than drag and wind a dang hose. So the garden stayed pretty thirsty even after the hoses. Then a sprinkler was added to the garden tool arsenal, and that little garden was parched no more.
It’s important to consider the slope of your land, as well as the condition of your soil when planning for proper drainage in your raised bed garden. If your beds are on a slope, you’ll want to build up the lower end to level the soil in the container. This ensures that you don’t have thirsty plants on one end, and waterlogged ones on the other.
Drainage is especially important in a container garden such as a raised bed. They tend to hold more moisture, which can lead to oversaturated soil and plants that don’t grow to their full potential, or rot in the ground. You can improve the drainage of your soil by amending it with compost, vermiculite, and perlite.
Weed Control Options In a Raised Bed Garden
Choosing the right material to line the beds is also important for weed control, and proper drainage. I’ve tried a lot of different materials over the years with varying results. So let’s break it down.
Cardboard is an inexpensive weed control option for your raised beds, and for your garden rows. We used this for the first time years ago in our large market garden with great success. A few weeds popped through the cracks, but that’s simply because we didn’t layer the cardboard enough. If you cover every single crack, it’s a great weed barrier. Be sure to use cardboard with minimal to no ink so that it doesn’t leach into your garden soil as the cardboard breaks down over time.
In the past, I tried plastic which ended up dry rotting and getting mixed into the soil. It was a big mess. I’ve also used cardboard which actually worked really well and broke down over time. So far my favorite has been landscaping fabric because it’s easy to spread, controls weeds, and also allows water to drain from the soil.
Choosing the Right Materials for Your Garden Paths
The space between the beds is often an afterthought, but trust me when I tell you that it’s actually very important. Take it from someone who has had stone, pea gravel, grass, and mulch.
In a perfect world, I would have winding gardens with pea gravel-lined paths that wind through trellises and archways. Someday, darn it. But the downside of that, for now, is the price. Pea gravel, or any rock for that matter, is not cheap! Add into the mix the cost of some sort of weed control under those paths, and your costs can be pretty significant depending on the size of your garden.
This is probably the easiest option on the front end, because you just place the raised beds in your yard. The downfall is that you have to constantly mow or weed-eat in between your beds. Then that raises the issue of grass clippings being all in your garden
I’ve also had a raised bed garden with flagstone walkways. This can be pricey too, but we had some left over from another project so it was the best choice for us at the time. We lined the path with landscape fabric, and filled in around the flagstones with pea gravel. This was probably my favorite to date as far as aesthetics, but if we were doing it correctly we would have leveled the ground with sand first so that the rocks weren’t unsteady in some places.
This was also a bit of a project to complete because of the labor-intensive aspect, and the size of the space. It’s also a pain when you decide to move that whole garden…trust me.
I think brick-lined garden paths are gorgeous and give the space such a cottagey feel. Picture a herringbone pattern with creeping thyme peaking up between the cracks. Ahhh I want to be strolling in that garden! But this is another option that can become quite a project. It’s not difficult to find old brick for cheap or free on various local marketplace sites, so the materials could be pretty inexpensive if you dig around. It’s just a little more labor-intensive on the front end than other options, but probably a great long-term solution to weed control. It would also be more of a chore to move your beds if you ever decide to relocate your garden.