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Building a raised garden bed

Combat stubborn ground with a raised flower bed

Source: Dr. Chris Starbuck, associate professor, University of Missouri Department of Horticulture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living with hard, sterile ground that won't even grow weeds is not an excuse to avoid gardening. Instead of digging in the ground, rise above it with a garden bed.

Raised beds are an attractive and practical solution for any size yard. They're neat compartments that tame rampant plants and solve bad soil problems. I like them because you don't have to jar your teeth loose with a garden tiller every year. It's also easier than trucking in topsoil and installing a drainage system.

Dr. Chris Starbuck with the University of Missouri says raised beds solve two big issues for gardeners -- water and soil compaction.

"You'll have a situation where water will move through quickly and has some place to go when it gets to the bottom of the bed. It drains off so your plants are sitting in saturated soil," Starbuck says. "That's a huge benefit and then associated with that of course is they have more pore space that contains oxygen so the roots can breathe."

A bed that's 8 or 10 inches deep is enough to get some of those benefits. If you're growing big carrots or an intensive garden, the sidewalls should be a couple inches higher. For those who can't bend over, raised beds are a good idea because you can make the sidewalls as high as necessary. Build benches on the sides for even more convenience. My achy back is feeling better just thinking about it.

The most popular material for building the frame is wood, but if it's not treated wood, it'll rot pretty quickly.

Some people are concerned about the chemicals used to treat wood getting into the soil. "A lot of people will line their wooden sidewalls with plastic so that whatever's used to treat the wood won't leach into the growing medium inside the bed," Starbuck says.

Lumber is readily available in four-foot lengths, minimizing the amount of sawing necessary. But wood is just one option for raised beds. Be creative and use whatever border material you have laying around. Then fill it with commercial topsoil and compost.

Raised beds are designed for walking around, not in. Make them no wider than four feet. It's easier to tend the garden from both sides. They can be as long as you want, limited only by your needs.

Lay down mulch or straw on pathways between beds. You'll control weeds and not have to squeeze a lawn mower through.

Learn more:

Modular raised beds: Tame a rampant vegetable garden by creating neat compartments that are easy to weed, water, and mulch. Here's how to build them.

Brick raised bed: Brick makes an attractive raised bed for gardening. Get instructions for building your own.

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