Raised Bed Gardening: Growing Plants & Veggies in Urban Spaces
By Jodi Torpey
Planting a garden in raised beds may seem like a modern-day gardening invention, but raised planting beds have been around for centuries. There’s evidence of raised bed gardens in ancient Rome where an Emperor’s gardeners planted warm-season fruits, like melons, in portable raised beds that could be moved indoors during cold weather.
Those early gardeners understood the advantages of planting in raised bed gardens. If you’ve tried just about everything to get plants to grow in your garden’s poor soil, raised beds offer a convenient alternative.
Instead of trying to amend soil that’s either too clayey, too sandy, or just too darn difficult to work with, raised beds can be filled with the choicest soil. You can add the perfect soil to create an ideal planting space.
Another advantage of raised beds is they can be placed anywhere in your yard to take advantage of the sunniest planting spots, even the front yard. Because the beds are above ground level, they also warm up faster in the springtime, so you can get a jump on planting vegetables and herbs.
Raised beds are also easier to maintain because dense plantings help keep weeds out.
The biggest disadvantage with planting raised beds is they dry out more quickly than a traditional garden bed because all the sides are exposed. Mulching can help maintain some soil moisture and finding ways to insulate the sides could also help.
Here are some ways to make the most of your raised planting beds:
Beds can be made of wood, bricks, cinder blocks, stacked stones, cloth smart pots, or even on four-legged elevated beds that you can work in while standing up.
Be sure each raised bed is the right size. You want to be able to reach the center from all sides without stepping in or kneeling on the bed and compacting the soil. Typical widths range from 2 ½ to 3 ½ feet. Some gardeners like the look of 4 x 4 square boxes.
If you have lots of shade in your yard, make the most of a warm microclimate by placing the bed near a fence that can absorb and reflect heat.
Be sure to break up the existing soil and dig it in deeply with the soil you use to fill the raised bed. Different layers of soil can make it difficult for roots that want to grow deep and they’ll be stopped at the soil interface.
If you place the raised bed near trees you may need to add a liner or thick layers of overlapping material (like cardboard) to keep tree roots out of the raised bed.
Mulch with dried leaves, untreated dry grass clippings or straw.
Use your raised beds for planting different kinds of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
When planting vegetables in raised beds, plant in blocks rather than rows to make better use of the existing space.
When planting flowers, go for the layered look with tall plants in middle of the bed, then medium-tall, short and ground covers around the edges where they can drape off the sides.
Do you have any tips that work for planting in raised beds?