Raised beds are an increasingly popular way of designing a garden. They look great and are easier to maintain than other low level gardening options.
These raised planter boxes have become particularly appealing for older gardeners because they require less physical effort than normal garden beds. They can be brought up to a height of the gardener’s choice, making them a good option for people with limited mobility too.
On this page you can find out everything you need to know about raised garden beds and our top tips on how to get started.
What are raised beds?
A raised bed is a structure, usually made of wood for planting above floor level. Most people plant on top of existing soil, but they can be set up on hard floor surfaces such as concrete or gravel.
The outside of the raised bed tend to be made out of timber or sleepers. These are the key to keeping the soil secure at a height.
They can be made as high as the gardener needs or wants. Most raised beds are around 12 inches (28cm) high, although some people make them as high as 36 inches (84cm).
Once filled with the soil/compost of your choice, you’re ready to start growing. They are well-suited for both flowers and edible produce, although you might want to use a net to ward off pests.
Advantages of raised beds
The main appeal of raised beds is that they make gardening easier and less labour-intensive. Which is great for people who are older, less mobile, or pressed for time.
However, there are more reasons that raised beds are great – see our full list of the advantages below.
Less bending over
Long gone are the days of describing gardening as back-breaking labour!
Raised beds mean less bending over — perfect for people with existing bad problems, or who are worried about developing one.
Raised garden beds have fewer weeds - hoorah!
There is less weed intrusion because the tall borders of the raised bed stops weeds from creeping in from garden pathways. Having a barrier underneath the raised bed can also keep weeds out.
Because the soil will be above normal ground level, there tends to be better drainage through the raised bed.
However, you will need to think about drainage carefully — a lot will depend on the surface below.
Neat and tidy appearance
Well structured raised beds look neat, tidy and can be a real design feature.
Suited to the UK's climate
Raised beds are well-suited to the climate of the UK. Having the beds raised above the level of the surrounding soil allows them to drain much better when there are high levels of rain.
Greater control over soil
Good soil is important for successful gardening. This is especially true if you are growing fruit and vegetables.
By having raised vegetable beds it means that you can choose the soil that you plant with – rather than using whatever soil happens to be in your garden.
Keeping pests out
Growing fruit and vegetables in raised garden beds can offer an extra barrier against pests. The height of the raised planter provides an obstacle for the likes of rabbits, snails and slugs.
Raised beds can make gardening wheelchair-accessible, as all of the beds can be made to a custom height. As long as the beds are not too wide, a person in a wheelchair will be able to tend to their plants with ease.
Raised bed gardening tips
If you think that raised beds might be for you, there are still some decisions that you need to make. Because they involve more initial investment, you want to make sure you have planned carefully.
Below, we have picked out the 6 key areas you should be thinking about when setting up raised beds in your garden.
Find the right location
Different plants require different levels of sunlight. Finding the right location for your raised beds will depend on what you are planning to grow, and how much sunlight different areas of your garden tend to receive.
Choose the right plants
Almost all plants are suitable for raised bed gardening, but people commonly use them to grow vegetables, soft fruits, and flowers. If you looking for a good online stockist, we recommend Crocus.
Pick a suitable material
You need to think carefully about what material you want to build your raised beds out of.
Timber is a cheap and popular option, but does not last as long as some other materials.
Sleepers last longer but are more expensive and harder to maneuver. You might need to ask for help to set them up properly.
Other more permanent options include paving slabs or stone, but these are also expensive and can be hard to set up yourself.
Choose the right soil
If your garden naturally has alkaline soil, you may find it difficult to grow plants that prefer acidic soil (such as Rhododendrons).
Because you will be filling the raised bed with any soil you want, the world is your oyster when it comes to picking plants.
Think about drainage
Drainage is particularly important when building raised beds on top of hard surfaces. You need to think about where the water will go and we advise you aim for a soil depth of at least 18 inches (45cm).
Choose the right height and width
You can make your raised bed as high as you want (or need). The important thing is that they make gardening easier and more comfortable. Most people go for heights of around 12 inches (28cm), but some make them up to 36 inches (84cm) high.
You will also want to consider the width — don't make the them too wide as it can make it harder to water the plants in the middle of the bed. You might want to incorporate seating on your raised bed. Being able to perch on the side is a nice feature.
Most people do not go for widths of greater than 1.5m, to ensure easy access from all sides.
Frequently asked questions about raised beds
Can raised beds be placed on concrete?
Yes — raised beds can be placed on concrete. But you will need to think about how you can allow adequate drainage for the soil. Elevated garden beds with a completely solid base will not let the water drain out which can lead to over-watered plants. Any raised bed on concrete and other hard impermeable surfaces should be filled with open textured soil. Ensure there are enough holes in the sides of the bed to allow water to run off.
Are raised beds good for growing vegetables?
Raised beds are well-suited for growing vegetables. You can grow almost any vegetables in raised beds, and can plant them closer together than you would in open ground.
Do raised beds keep rabbits out?
If you want to keep rabbits out of your raised bed, you should build them at least 2 feet from the ground. This makes it difficult for rabbits to jump in.
What is hugelkultur?
Hugelkultur gardening is the process of making raised beds filled with rotten wood. Hugelkultur garden beds have naturally excellent drainage and produce soil that is fertile with good moisture retention.
A hugelkultur garden bed can be more difficult to set up than a standard raised bed but takes less work over the years.
Will raised garden beds freeze?
Raised garden beds can freeze, but there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood.
Build your garden beds somewhere that they will continue to receive at least 6 hours of sunlight during Winter. You can also use covers to protect the plants at night.
What are the downsides to raised bed gardening?
'Raised bed gardening requires more initial investment than other types of gardening. This is because of the cost of materials and the time taken to build them. However, there are raised bed kits available that will help to make this easier.
What is the cheapest way to build a raised bed?
The cheapest way to build raised beds is to use second-hand materials which can be acquired for free. This includes old planks, discarded wooden sleepers, breeze blocks or bricks.
If you have somebody that can assist you in carrying around the heavy materials and building the raised beds then that will help to keep costs down also.