Experience the Benefits of Raised Garden Beds This Growing Season

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Horticulturist Melinda Myers shares tips and advice on how to make gardening a bit easier this year with the help of raised garden beds, while not jeopardizing productivity.

Raised garden beds with benches make it easier to plant, maintain and harvest. Photo credit: Bonnie Plants

Raised beds allow you to overcome poor soil by creating the ideal growing mix, plus make gardening time more comfortable thanks to less bending and kneeling.

Raise gardens to new heights for easier access and greater productivity this season. “Raised bed gardens allow gardeners to overcome poor soil by creating the ideal growing mix, plus make gardening time more comfortable thanks to less bending and kneeling,” said Myers, horticulturist and host of the Great Courses’ How to Grow Anything: [Food Gardening for Everyone DVD series.

Whether purchasing a kit or building a raised garden bed, there are a few things to consider. Myers shared the following tips for having success with raised garden beds.

Locate the garden in a sunny area if possible. Most plants require at least six hours of sun, and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and melons produce best with a full day of sunlight.

Select a long-lasting material such as interlocking block, fieldstone, plastic lumber or naturally long lasting wood like cedar. The material selected will influence the shape and size of the garden. Some materials allow for curved beds while others are limited to squares, rectangles and other angular shapes. Design raised beds to fit the space and gardener's needs. A three- or four-feet width makes it easy to reach all parts of the garden for planting, weeding and harvesting.

Raising planting beds at least 8 to 12 inches improves drainage and provides an adequate space for most plants to root and grow. If there’s a desire to minimize bending, go higher. Add benches to increase gardening comfort and ease. Bonnie Plants has free downloadable plans for building a raised bed garden with benches in just one afternoon.

Roughen or loosen the existing soil surface if the bed is built on compact, slow-draining soil. This will allow water to readily move from the raised bed into the soil below. Cover the bottom of the bed with newspaper or cardboard, if needed, to suffocate existing weeds and grass.

Line the bottom of the raised bed with hardware cloth to reduce the risk of animals burrowing into the garden. Lay the hardware cloth over the ground and bend it up along the inside of the raised bed walls.

Fill the bed with a quality growing mix that is well drained, but also able to retain moisture and nutrients. This may be a mixture of quality topsoil and compost, a high quality potting mix, or a planting mix designed specifically for raised bed gardens.

Select and grow any plants that normally would grow in ground. Just make sure the plants are suited to the growing conditions (such as sunlight, heat and wind) in the area. Since the soil mix and drainage is ideal in a raised garden, gardeners will be able to grow more plants per square foot. Just be sure to leave sufficient room for plants to reach their mature size.

Keep plants healthy and productive with proper watering. This is critical for growing any garden, but even more crucial in a fast-draining raised bed. The simple act of raising the garden height increases drainage, and a raised bed filled with planting mix means more frequent watering. Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses for watering ease. Always water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry.

Add some mulch to help reduce watering and the need for other garden maintenance. Spread a layer of evergreen needles, pine straw, shredded leaves or other organic matter over the soil surface. This helps conserve moisture, suppresses weeds and adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes which means gardeners will spend less time watering and weeding throughout the season.

Add an organic fertilizer at planting if the planting mix does not already contain one. Apply again mid-season if the plants need a nutrient boost. Always follow the label directions on the fertilizer container.

The time and effort invested in creating raised beds will be returned many times over with years of healthy and productive gardens.

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Diana Paul
Melinda Myers LLC
+1 (414) 771-1888
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