A Complete Guide To Building A Raised Garden Bed

Building a raised garden bed is not simply slapping some pieces of wood together. There are many things to consider before sitting in your garden and enjoying your handiwork. You need to understand the requirements for the plants you want to grow, where the bed should be located, how much sunlight is required, and finally, what kind of materials you want to even use. 

A raised garden bed can be built from different kinds of wood but the location of the bed will depend on what you want to grow. It will need lots of sun, a flat surface, and not within a swampy area. To build the bed, you’ll need screws, several planks of wood, hardwire cloth and an afternoon.

A raised garden bed is simple to put together, but a lot of preparation goes into it. From deciding what you want to plant, where it should go, and what materials to use, it can be pricey or budget-friendly. However, what doesn’t change are the many benefits of a raised garden bed and why so many people opt for this kind of garden rather than the traditional one.

What is a Raised Garden Bed?

Potatoes growing in fabric pots near row of wooden raised bed garden with PVC pipe cold frame support

A raised garden bed is a freestanding box or frame that, traditionally, has no bottom or top. 

Although you can build a raised garden bed on legs, that does come with a bottom. However, if you are using a garden bed on the ground, it will not have a bottom, allowing the plant’s roots to extend past the width of the built bed and into the soil beneath it. 

What Are the Benefits of a Raised Garden Bed?

There are many benefits to a raised garden bed, and it is no wonder they have grown in popularity over the years. Some of the many benefits consist of the following:

  • Fantastic draining and great for plants that don’t like wet feet.
  • Helps prevent erosion of the soil.
  • The raised beds warm up quicker in spring, which allows early planting and lengthens the growing season.
  • Gives you control over the soil and allows the planting of invasive species, like mint.
  • Weeds don’t tend to take over the garden, given they are elevated from the surrounding weeds.
  • The soil is less compacted and stays loose for easier digging in the spring.
  • Better accessibility for people with mobility issues.
  • Ideal for small spaces.
  • Easier to separate and rotate crops every year.
  • Easier square-foot gardening and companion planting. 

These are the Materials You’ll Need

  • Drill/drive and bits
  • Screwdriver
  • Shovel
  • Rake or spade fork
  • Saw and tape measure if cutting the wood yourself.
  • Hardware cloth
  • Heavy duty plastic
  • Deck/exterior screws

For a 4×8 bed, get three pieces of 8-foot long 2×6, 2×8, or 2×10 lumber. For a 4×4 bed, then two pieces of lumber. For a stronger bed, use a 2×4 or 4×4 in the corners to give you something to nail or screw into rather than the end of the boards. 

Ask the lumber store employees to cut the pieces in half if you don’t have a saw at home. For a 4×8 bed, cut one of the pieces in half, giving you two 4-foot lengths for the end pieces. For a 4×4 bed, cut both pieces in half.

Choosing a Wood Type

You can use many different types of wood when building your raised garden bed, and it all depends on what you are looking for.

  • Cedar and redwood are the premium wood types, though it comes at a cost. They are expensive but offer mold and pest resistance and can last up to 10 or more years with proper care.
  • Hemlock, fir, and pine are suitable materials, although they are not resistant to mold or pests. They don’t last as long, usually only a few years. However, they are cheaper and budget-friendly.
  • Pressure-treated wood is an option if you don’t plan on growing an organic garden. However, there is a risk of alkaline copper quaternary, or ACQ, leaching into the soil. Although the EPA says this is safe for humans, pets, plants, and vegetables. 

Choosing a Location

The location of your raised garden bed all depends on what you want to grow. The first thing to consider is sunlight. If the plants you want to grow require full sun, you will need to place the bed where the sun will reach it about 6 to 8 hours a day. 

You also want to make sure the garden bed will have proper draining. Raised garden beds provide ample drainage, but if it is at the bottom of a hill where water tends to collect, the soil will always be too wet and create a swampy environment that will kill most plants. 

The bed itself will need to be on level ground, and, generally speaking, placing it close to the house will make weeding and harvesting more convenient. However, you also don’t want the bed in a windy area or a frost pocket that can preemptively kill your plants. 

Building Your Bed

Step 1: Make the Bed Sides

If your two 8-foot-long boards were not pre-cut by the lumber store, then you need to mark off the halfway point and cut each plant in half. This will leave you with four 4-foot boards that can be used for a 4×4 bed. 

Measure and cut the 2×4 or 4×4 for the corner posts that will support the walls. They should be the height of the garden bed wall.

Drill pilot holes using a drill bit slightly thinner than the actual screw. The corner posts will be placed on top of the wall boards, flush with the ends of the long boards, and 1 ½ inches from the ends of the shorter walls. Each end should have two holes to keep it firmly together. 

Step 2: Assemble the Raised Bed

With all the wood cut and the holes drilled, you’re ready to start putting the boards together. Set the corner posts on top of the wall boards, flush with the ends of long walls, and about 1 ½ inches from the ends of the shorter walls.

Screw the walls together with long deck screws. Sometimes it’s easier to have someone hold the boards steady or use a fastener to keep them together and the pilot holes lined up. Make sure the screw is snugly fit into the wood. 

At the end of this step, you should have a box with the posts on the inside of the bed.

Step 3: Preparing the Location

Place the wooden frame in position and outline it with a shovel. Remove the frame from that position and dig up the grass inside the outlined mark you made with the shovel. Loosen the dirt with a rake or spade fork to encourage root growth, as the layered soil can be rather compact under the grass, making it hard for roots to penetrate.

Staple wide-mesh hardware cloth to the bottom of the bed frame. This addition will help keep weeds out but allow earthworms and roots through. 

Lastly, if the wood isn’t rot-resistant, staple heavy-duty plastic along the inside walls before adding the soil. 

Step 4: Filling Your Bed

Raised Vegetable Garden

Deciding on a soil type for your garden bed will depend on the type of plants you want to grow. You will need to read the tag of the plants or research what they require before adding the soil. One of the benefits of a raised bed is picking the perfect soil mixture, so take advantage of this opportunity, as the soil formula can make or break a vegetable garden.

Once you know what soil you want to use, fill your bed with a commercially purchased or homemade nutrient-rich compost mixture. After, top that compost mixture with your desired soil. For example, enriched topsoil specially formulated for growing vegetables offers a fine texture to aid in immediate sowing and planting. 

Fill the bed all the way up. It may look too full, but the soil will settle as rain hits it, as well as manual watering. Once it settles, you will need to top it off once more with compost for optimal nutrients in those early growing stages. 

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