Raised-bed gardens are a popular option for starting a garden. Correct raised-bed garden design helps maximize the productivity of the available space. A well-designed raised-bed garden also adds beauty to your yard.
Gardening with raised beds has several advantages:
- The soil mix you fill the beds with ensures the best growing conditions for gardening from the beginning, rather than having to deal with existing soil issues such as rocky or compacted soil.
- Drainage issues improve because the growing surface is above the ground level and water drains out easily.
- Raised beds warm-up earlier in the spring, allowing you to get a jump on planting.
Once you’ve decided to add raised beds to your space, follow these 10 tips for designing a raised-bed garden to have the best layout for your garden.
10 tips for a successful rasied-bed garden design
1. Pick the best spot in your yard for your raised-bed garden
Look for an area of your yard that gets morning sun; it’s less intense than late afternoon sun. Ideally, the location for your raised-bed garden receives at least 8 hours of sun (you can provide shade if it needs it, but you can’t add sun).
Other considerations are level ground, good drainage, and access to water.
Choose your location carefully. Once you have an idea of the dimensions of the garden area, you’re ready to move to the next step.
2. Maximize available space when designing a raised-bed garden layout
Decide how many and what size beds you have room for within the available space. As you choose the size of beds to install, here are a few principles to consider:
- The beds should be no wider than 4 feet across so you can reach into the center. Beds against walls or fences should be 2 feet across or less. Keeping beds to this size eliminates the need to step in the beds, which causes soil compaction.
- The length of a bed doesn’t matter – keep in mind you will need to walk around the bed to get to the other side.
- Ideally, the depth of the bed is from 12-24 inches deep. Almost all crops can be grown in this depth of raised bed.
3. Allow enough space between beds in your raised-bed garden design
It’s tempting to fill the entire space with raised-beds, but paths around the outside of your beds will make planting, maintaining, and harvesting your beds easier. The distance between raised beds should be at least 2 feet wide (3 feet is even better).
Allowing as much room as possible gives plants room to grow, and also gives you room to get by. Think about if you will need access for a wheelbarrow and plan accordingly. Plants grow quickly, and many plants will overflow and fill in the open space between the beds.
4. Add vertical elements to your garden design
Training plants up a trellis gives you more space to garden, and being off the ground is better for vining plants.
To maximize sunlight, position trellises on the north edge of your garden bed or next to a fence or wall. Alternatively, shade sun-sensitive plants in hotter regions by having a trellis on the south side, filtering the sunlight for plants that need relief from the sun.
5. Take time planning your raised-bed garden design layout
When I was planning my new garden area, the first plan I sketched out seemed alright. However, when I spent time in the space and tried to visualize my plan, I realized it was too crowded and didn’t allow enough space between beds.
I started over and made miniature raised beds and moved them around a scaled version of my garden area on graph paper (there are online tools that can help do this as well) until I found a design that worked. It is much easier to move the raised-bed garden layout design around on a computer or piece of paper. The axiom of “measure twice, cut once” certainly applies here.
6. Choose the best type of material for your beds
Research different types of beds and building materials to understand your options. Always use untreated wood. Beds made with redwood or cedar will last much longer than those made with pine. Rebuilding or replacing your beds every few years is not ideal.
Several factors go into choosing which type of material to use for your raised bed, and cost is certainly a factor. My advice is to buy the best type of beds you can afford. If you have a garden plan in place, you can start small and add beds as finances permit.
I added deep-root cedar raised beds from Gardener’s Supply to my garden. Some of the things I love about these beds:
- Made from rot-resistant cedar
- Extra deep to promote healthy roots
- Simple to put together – slide boards into the corners and screw into place
- The aluminum corners keep the beds sturdy and help the beds last a long time – the corners are often the most vulnerable to rot and decay
Full disclosure: Gardener’s Supply provided me with some of these raised beds in exchange for my honest review of them. However, I like them so much I also purchased additional beds for my garden. Read this article to see my full review of Gardener’s Supply cedar raised beds.
7. Add the beds to your space, but wait to fill them
Once you have the raised beds in place, walk around (what worked on paper may not work in real life). Make adjustments while the beds are empty if necessary. Take time to ensure distances between beds are even, and that the beds are level.
8. Fill the bed with the best type of soil for raised-bed gardens
Regular garden soil is too dense for raised beds. A mix of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite (Mel’s mix from Square-Foot Gardening) is ideal for raised-bed gardens. This post about the best soil for raised-bed gardens explains how to make my favorite soil blend and how to determine the amount of soil each bed will need.
9. Set up your watering system before you plant
Adding a watering system after the fact may disrupt seeds or transplants, and it’s crucial your seeds and transplants don’t dry out. The best way to water a raised-bed garden will provide consistent and even watering, be easy to use and maintain, and ideally be simple to install. Read this post to learn more about the best way to water raised-bed gardens.
10. Decide what to plant in your new raised-bed garden
Consider the size of plants when they have fully grown, along with the growth habit of different plants. Vegetables that like to grow vertically should be grown near a trellis, and plants that sprawl should be grown on the edge of the beds so they have room to grow. I love this online planning tool from Gardener’s Supply that helps plan what to plant where.
Taking time to carefully go through each of these steps will help your garden not only be productive but look great too. A well-designed vegetable garden adds beauty and bounty to your yard.