Raised Bed Gardening For Beginners – Raised garden beds are the bees knees! We personally love them for underground gardens for several reasons. Raised beds can provide better protection from insects and weeds, provide comfortable ergonomics, and fill soil that is perfect for growing food, flowers, herbs, and more. They also create a dynamic and interesting look in the landscape. When you hear “raised beds,” most people conjure up images of sawdust boxes. Wood is definitely a common (and great!) choice for garden beds. However, you can use many different materials to create raised garden beds!
Well, it depends on your personal preference, style, budget, climate and the materials available to you. Let’s explore the options!
Raised Bed Gardening For Beginners
This article will cover the most common (and not so common) materials used to make garden beds, including wood, metal, concrete, and more. We will discuss things to consider when choosing materials such as durability or safety, and the differences between different types of lumber. Finally, don’t miss our list of possible raised bed materials that we recommend avoiding for organic gardening.
Gardening Tips For Raised Beds
In addition to the list above, you can create any garden bed capable of holding soil and plants! A kiddie pool, used tires, logs found on the side of the road… the options
Endless. However, there are many factors to consider when choosing the best materials. Not all are created equal!
If you want durability, choose strong, durable materials to create raised garden beds. After all, garden beds are subject to constant moisture, external elements and pests such as insects or termites. Plus, soil is heavy – especially if it’s wet! A large soil mass (such as a large or raised garden bed) will exert more stress on the walls of the bed. In that case, thin logs can easily bend or rot. Even using the best wood, concrete or metal beds will outlast wooden beds. Below we will talk more about the best wood options for creating raised beds.
Edit: Check out this new article with 7 ways to make wood raised garden beds last as long as possible, with information on sealing, silicone and more!
How To Build A Raised Garden Bed
Often (but not always!), cost is directly linked to life. High-quality products that cost more are capable of lasting decades or longer. If you save money early and choose cheaper materials, you may be sacrificing the life of your bed. For example, a planter box built from reclaimed pallets or soft pine wood won’t hold up half as well as one made from premium lumber. Likewise, large stones or concrete blocks cost more than hay bales, but last a lifetime in comparison!
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune to create raised garden beds! Depending on your circumstances, you may be willing to give up some life expectancy to reduce upfront costs – especially if you’re renting out your current home or just setting up a temporary garden space. There are plenty of ways to be rich and find a great deal of money. Search for items using your local Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, junk yards, and more. Heck, if you have easy access to large cut logs, you can make an incredibly durable and affordable bed.
Finally, shop around and compare prices. For example, we are able to find great deals (and many other types of materials) on stones, blocks, gravel, bulk soil and mulch at our locally owned landscape supply companies. However, lumber from the local store has proven to be cost-prohibitive, and is much more affordable at big-box hardware stores.
Raised garden bed made of half log rounds. My friend Katie (@frecklesandsprouts) created this rustic masterpiece from trees she cut on her property.
Raised Garden Bed Designs
Another one of Katie’s (@frecklesandsprouts) log beds. Very intelligent, attractive, and in her case – free! She made them even more sturdy by securing a cable around them.
There are tons of creative and budget-friendly garden bed “hacks” – but I urge you to use some common sense! For example, I would think twice before using painted or treated salvaged wood to create a garden bed for edible crops. Especially if age and appearance are unknown! Wood may be contaminated with toxic chemicals like lead, arsenic, or other heavy metals that can migrate (leach) into your soil and food. Although modern pressure-treated wood is less toxic than the products they are made from, I still advise against using it.
I’ve seen people use all kinds of up-cycled materials to make garden beds: Styrofoam coolers (made of polystyrene, a suspected carcinogen) or old car tires (which contain benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, etc., substances toxic to human health). While I appreciate the effort to reuse materials in the name of sustainability, I personally don’t think it’s worth the risk. See the section below for a complete list of ingredients to avoid.
Cedar and redwood are two excellent choices of wood for creating raised garden beds. They are both very durable, beautiful and naturally resistant to moisture, rot and termites. The cost of each can vary significantly depending on where you live. We have found that redwood is more affordable on the West Coast, while Cedar is more readily available and thus less expensive in the Eastern United States.
Raised Garden Beds 101: Tips On Planning, Building, & Using
Garden beds made from redwood or cedar can last a decade or more! Water storage tanks are built of redwood! Both cedar and redwood are technically “softwood” lumber, although the high levels of natural tannins (which repel rot and termites) found in both make them significantly more durable than other softwoods. With its high tannin content, redwood is rumored to last a few years longer than cedar—especially if you use heart redwood.
When you browse the lumber section, you will see “common grade” redwood or heart redwood – sometimes referred to as construction heart, ‘con heart’ or heart-B redwood. We make raised beds from solid redwood, which is denser and longer lasting than common grades or sapwood.
Whenever possible, choose FSC-certified lumber. The Forest Stewardship Council certifies timber from “responsibly managed forests that deliver environmental, social and economic benefits”.
Shopping for lumber. We use FSC certified heart redwood (con heart) 2×6″ planks. Always keep an eye out for bent or bowed boards and avoid them!
Build A Simple Raised Garden Bed (garden Box) For Your Backyard!
In general, hardwood is denser, so it offers a higher level and strength than softwood lumber. Examples of durable hardwoods include teak, maple, beech, hemlock, walnut, black locust, and oak. Wine barrels are made of oak wood, which both enhances the wine’s flavor but also provides incredible moisture-resistance and longevity. We use wine barrels as raised garden beds extensively in our garden! Use a 1/2” to 3/4” drill bit to drill at least half a dozen drainage holes in the bottom.
While strong, hardwoods grow more slowly and are therefore much less common in construction than softwoods. Popular softwoods include Douglas fir, pine, spruce, and juniper. These options are generally more affordable than redwood or cedar, yet more durable. Garden beds made of these softwoods last an average of 4 to 7 years (10 to 20 years for cedar or redwood), depending on your climate.
Another thing to consider is the size of the tree. The thickness of your wood planks also directly affects the lifespan of your garden bed. A garden bed built with 2″ thick boards will outlast a bed made with 1″ boards or ½” thick fence boards – by far! We use heart redwood 2×6″ boards to make our raised beds.
Learn how we build wooden raised beds with this step-by-step tutorial (video included)! Or, check out some sturdy, easy-to-assemble raised bed boxes here.
A Guide To Building And Caring For A Raised Bed Home Garden
In our back garden (a few years ago, we still had grass!) we built redwood raised beds around our patio and attached trellis to the back to double as chicken-proof fencing. We use wine barrels to grow tomatoes, turmeric, cannabis, herbs and more.
This is one of those “it depends” situations! Redwood and cedar certainly don’t need a protective sealer, but can benefit from climates with high humidity or precipitation. If you choose to seal your wooden garden beds, choose a non-toxic sealer such as Garden Seal or Hope’s Natural Tung Oil. Soft wood options can benefit from the added protection of a sealer. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for how often to apply a new coat.
Personally we don’t cover our redwood garden beds, but we live in a very dry climate! Misty at times… but very dry. We also love the way the redwood is naturally aged and untouched. It starts off as a pretty pink color, turning into a slight amber tone
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