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How to: DIY Raised Garden Beds – Ask the Experts

Do you love gardening?  Experienced plant caretaker and curious novices alike, will appreciate these pro-tips from Envision!

Spend less time grocery shopping, enjoy more time outdoors, and increase property value by adding raised garden beds to your property! 

Fresh Vegetables

Many homeowners have plants around the house or even a garden out back. Recently though, raised garden beds have become increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. Not only do raised beds help prevent soil erosion, but in comparison to in-ground plantings, they also better maintain nutrient-filled soil levels that in turn produce healthier plants and produce.

Another exceptional side benefit of raised garden beds is in how they protect your body by raising the height of your work space from crouching  position to a more erect – and more comfortable – standing position, It this a benefit? Just ask any experienced gardener and you’ll learn the answer in a hurry. Long hours kneeling, planting and weeding; bending over to check the growth and health of your plants;  crouching to check for garden pests – it all can be a strain. Gardening can really cause some wear and tear, especially to back muscles and ankle and knee joints. Raised garden beds are at a more comfortable “reach” level, which not only saves time in the garden, but also physically gentler on your body.

Plus, who doesn’t love having fresh flowers and vegetables right outside the door? And raised garden beds are not only functional, but incredibly beautiful – which may even increase your home’s property value!

DIY Raised Garden Bed Base

Metal Raised GardenWhere to start? Well, it only makes sense to begin at the base. It’s easy to Google “DIY raised garden beds” and discover any number of styles and examples. But the planting pros at Envision have a few insider notes to help you make the best choices.

Some homeowners use galvanized tubs as the basis for their raised gardens. While this may seem convenient, the non-porous metal is actually highly susceptible to rust. And drainage can become a huge issue in these beds, as excess rainwater and insufficient drainage can easily lead to root rot in the plants you’ve tended to so carefully. But one of the biggest drawback to the galvanized tubs method is the metal’s tendency to draw heat – which can essentially bake your plants’ root systems.

A much better choice – and one that’s much healthier for your plants – is building raised beds from lumber. Wooden raised garden beds are possibly one of the best choices as they permit adequate drainage, provide protection from the elements – and they don’t tend to overheat. Wood can however be a relatively expensive choice for a planting vessel that has limited life expectancy. Since the dawn of the pandemic would has become fairly expensive; what’s more, the type of lumber required to correctly build raised garden beds – pressure treated  – can be even more costly.

And, constructing a bed that’s high enough to avoid back and knee problems might just take more lumber than you’d think. When choosing lumber for your raised beds, it’s critical to choose weather-treated boards that will resist water rot and withstand all seasonal elements. And even with pressure treated lumber, there are a variety of pests – including squirrels, mice, beetle varieties, termites and more – that would love to take a bite or two out of your wood–framed raised garden bed. Seasonal weather and pest damage considered, raised garden beds with wood framing don’t tend to last more than 5 years or so. It’s difficult to justify the time and money investment required to build a raised bed that won’t last more than five or six years. Stone Raised Garden

With metal and wood having the issues described above, it’s no surprise the smart money for building materials for a raised garden is natural stone! Excellent for stacking to most any height, rigid enough to withstand weather, resistant to rodents and ant attacks (not to mention being at the top of the list for looks and durability), natural stone takes the prize! Stone also withstands high humidity, allows for appropriate rainwater drainage, and long-lasting – natural stone quickly nets out as the most cost-effective choice – especially when longevity is factored in. Stone also keeps its naturally beautiful look for years and years – so your raised gardens will not only be functional, but also aesthetically appealing.

A variation on the stone bed – and a solution we love at Envision – are raised garden beds created by varying grade height with retaining walls – leaving a raised space behind the wall for a garden area. (If you’re curious to learn more, you can learn all about How to Build Your Own Retaining Wall or check out How Retaining Walls Upgrade a Hardscape here!)

DIY Raised Garden Bed Filler

Now that you’ve established form and materials for your raised garden bed, it’s time to backfill the space to build it up to the correct height! But before dumping load after load of expensive gardening soil into the base of the raise bed, Envision has a more cost-effective (and plant-healthy) elevate the lower portion of your raised garden.

The trick is to make a garden “lasagna.” By layering organic materials properly, you can create perfect drainage, include nutrient-rich compost, and save money on potting soil!

Envision recommends first installing a layer of hardware cloth. This layer acts as a deterrent for any digging critters who’d love dig under your bed wall  in and attempt to get their paws on your fresh carrots and tomatoes! Chicken wire is unfortunately too widely spaced to deter small shrews and moles, so hardware cloth (which you can find at most local hardware stores) is the recommended choice for base level plant protection. For the next layer, add flattened cardboard or even landscape fabric on top of the hardware cloth. This will help keep the weeds away!

Next, add old stumps, branches and twigs to your garden bed. This organic material will break down over time and contribute to your soil health, but for now they also act as a great filler so you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for potting soil for backfill. Once the large sticks and bigger filler are in, add some rock to help with the drainage in the bottom of your bed. You can usually find a few of these around your yard or, purchase some gravel and that’ll do the job just fine.

After the gravel it’s time to add grass clippings and then straw. Not only will this two organic materials break down over time and help nourish your plants, they also act as little temperature regulators. You want to keep plant roots not too hot, not too cold, but just right! The straw and grass clippings will help.

On top of the grass and straw add some sandy soil, again, promoting adequate drainage. We want the plants well-watered, but never drowning. Over the sandy layer, you’ll finally want to add a thick layer of rich, dark soil. This gardening soil should be a healthy mix of sandy soil, vermiculite, potting or gardening soil, and compost. Fill the dirt all the way up to the very top; you may even need to add more in a day or two as your perfectly-crafted garden bed settles.

DIY Raised Garden Bed Plantings

Now for the part you’ve been waiting for: time to add your plantings! Envision’s pro tip? Plant flowers and vegetables together in the same beds. The flowers help attract pollinators so you can grow more veggies, and some flowers are a pest-deterrent!

Easy Vegetables for Beginning Gardeners

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Peas
  • Beans and green beans
  • Radishes
  • Bell Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Squashes
  • Pumpkin
  • Herbs like rosemary, oregano, basil. (Make sure to plant mint separately in a pot as it tends to be unstoppable.)

Best Flowers for Easy Gardening

  • Zinnias attract bees and hummingbirds
  • Marigolds deter rabbits and beetles
  • Calendula keeps several veggie-eating insects away
  • White or Bright Orange Cosmos attract lacewings which eat aphids
  • Lavender helps ward off deer and even ticks!

Ready, set, grow! In no time at all you’ll be all set for season after season of gardening fun! Want to learn more about how Envision can help with a long-lasting, plant-healthy, and landscape-appealing garden bed? Reach out online here!