5 Common Raised Bed Garden Mistakes

Growing in containers and raised beds is something I highly recommend unless you are growing on acres. For years I battled weeds, specifically bindweed, amongst others in my in ground, no dig beds. Every year, I knew what I was facing, but the desire to have a garden and grow fresh food won. I knew gardening in raised beds what superior for my situation and I was so very thankful when I started making plans to build my raised beds in 2019. They didn’t get built until 2020, but I have been grateful for them ever since! Raised beds are a fantastic option when your soil is poor and not very workable. Having raised beds means you can start with the right soil recipe for thriving plants. Unfortunately I see a lot of people putting in raised beds that can end up adding stress to their gardening journey in the long run by making a few common mistakes. Today I want to share with you the top raised bed mistakes I see, so you can avoid them.

  • Raised Beds Are Too Wide – This is a big mistake I see a lot, in theory the larger beds sound better, but in the end they will make it more difficult to tend and harvest. Soil is precious and you definitely do not want to be stepping on your soil, crushing the wonderful microbiome and air pockets below the surface! Instead, opt to have you raised beds no wider than 4 feet. 4 feet allows most people to reach the bed from both sides. If the raised bed is against a wall or fence, then I recommend going no more than 3 feet wide. You want to be able to comfortably reach all areas of your raised bed. What seems doable now, may become cumbersome in time. My raised beds are 4 feet by 8 feet so I can access them comfortably. (I am 5’2” tall for size reference.)
  • Too Shallow – Unless you are setting up your raised beds on quality soil or you have a plan in place to make the soil below your raised beds workable, you will want to have taller beds. Taller beds are also more comfortable to tend and harvest from for most people. Unless you are growing shallow rooted plants like leafy greens and some herbs, you will benefit from having beds taller than 6 inches. I recommend at least 12-18 inches tall to allow room for roots of larger plants to grow. Root crops will also love the expanded room to grow. My beds are 17.5-ish inches tall, they are 3 2”x6” boards tall. (Lumbar is not exact, and most are about a ½ inch smaller than what they are sold as.)
  • Paths Not Wide Enough – Just as I see beds that are too wide, I often see paths that are too narrow. It is recommended to have 3 feet between your beds for best maneuverability. This will allow wheel barrows through with no issues. In time pathways can become smaller due to plants that run over the sides of the raised  bed, like nasturtiums or and big bushy plants that naturally grow beyond the the border of the raised bed. If your garden space is on the smaller side, the absolute smallest I would recommend is 2 feet wide, but that is really pushing it, aim for 3 feet wide if at all possible.
  • Material Isn’t Thick Enough – When it comes to creating raised beds, it can be a lot of work, so you’ll want to make sure the material you use is quality and will last a long time. I have seen people try to use pine or even cedar pickets that are so thin, in time they end up bowing out and soil starts to leak out from between the boards. I suggest using boards that are at least 2 inches thick for longevity and strength. Soil weighs a lot, especially properly watered soil, imagine the pressure that is exerting on your wood sides. When using thinner wood or wood that isn’t rot resistant, you may end up having to replace your beds much sooner than you think.
  • Not Topping Soil Off – I can’t tell you how many raised beds I have seen with sunken soil that is many inches below the top of the bed. Adding a good 2-3 inches of compost before each growing season can add volume to your soil as well as beneficial nutrients and organic matter. It’s a win-win! Remember earlier I mentioned beds that are too shallow? If you have taller beds, but the soil is too shallow, you are going to run into the same problems. (Soil sinking can be more common with raised beds that were filled with logs and sticks and grass clippings.) Aim to keep your soil about an inch or two below the top of the raised bed.

Avoiding these 5 common raised bed mistakes will save yourself a headache down the road. When setting up your garden, it is better to set it up in a way that will pay off in the long run. Having beds that are not too wide will make gardening, tending and harvesting more comfortable, and help your soil from being compacted by being stepped on. Deeper beds will make for happier plant roots, especially for larger plants as well as root crops like carrots or daikon radishes. When your paths are wide enough to maneuver though, even with fully grown and overflowing raised beds will make reaching the beds that much easier. Making sure the material used for raised beds is thick and sturdy enough to hold the pressure of soil will ensure the beds last longer and avoid bowing out, which can lead to soil loss through the sides. Just as making sure the beds are tall enough for happy roots, making sure the soil level within the beds is high enough will do the same. If you have already created your raised beds and have experienced any other mistakes with them, please share in the comments. The above are the most common mistakes I see most often. 

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