5 Steps to Planning a Raised Bed Garden

I’ve written several times before about raised beds.  I’m a fan, a huge fan of raised beds. With a raised bed you can control the soil, control the moisture, and garden virtually anywhere.  It makes sense that raised beds are a great option for every homeowner (here’s why: 8 Benefits to Gardening in Raised Beds).  The question though that new gardeners will ask themselves is how am I going to do this?  How should I plan and design my raised bed garden?  Those are important questions that we’ll look at here in this post.

5 Steps to Planning a Raised Bed Garden

Step 1: Pick a Great Location for Your Raised Bed Garden

Decide on a good location, it’s essential.  Vegetables need the proper amount of light to thrive.  Most vegetables need full sun but you can get away with part sun or grow leafy vegetables in somewhat shady locations.  Ideally find a spot with a good southern exposure (for northern hemisphere gardens) where the sun will light the garden for at least 8 hours.  The more sun the better!  Plants that enjoy full sun will produce much more vigorously and high production is what you want!

Step 2:  What are you going to grow?
What do you want to grow? Existential gardeners may prefer the question to be “What is your garden’s purpose?” If you want tomatoes you have to plan for the right amount of space, soil requirements, sun requirements.  Don’t worry, it sounds more complicated than it is!  I like to plan about 4 square feet per tomato plant, add plenty of compost to the soil with organic soil amendments, and stick them in the full sun!

Most vegetable seed packets will show you exactly how much space you need.  The better seed packets will even provide growing tips.  Pick out what you want to grow then use the seed packet information to decide how much you need to grow…

Step 3 How much do you need to grow?
Are you trying to feed your family entirely or just supplement your meals with fresh vegetables?  Do you need to produce enough vegetables to preserve over the winter or just want the seasonal fresh produce from the garden?  Figure out your needs are so that you can plan the correct amount of plants for your garden.  To determine this look up the approximate yield of each type of plant you want to grow.  Then calculate how much space each plant needs in the garden to figure out how large you garden needs to be.

I always recommend to start with a smaller garden then add raised beds as you go.  A big garden right off the bat can be overwhelming for first time gardeners.  You don’t want to grow more vegetables than you can take care of easily so as time allows expand.

Step 4 Plan out what materials you want to use!
Anything that holds soil can be a raised bed.  That gives you a wide range of options when deciding what materials to use.  For wood try going toward cedar and redwood if you can afford it.  I’ve used untreated pine in the past and it will do a good job for about three years. Composite lumber is another good way to go.  Recycled plastics are merged with wood materials to create a very long lasting material but it is more expensive than traditional lumber. If money is a concern you can start with the cheaper materials now then upgrade as you can afford to do so.  My most recent raised bed used metal roofing material which has a unique look and should last for a long time.

Metal raised bed

Concrete makes a great raised bed either from cinder blocks or retaining wall blocks.  Natural stone is one of my favorite materials due to the uniqueness found in each individual stone – they give the bed character. A dry-stacked short wall of natural stone would make a great raised bed.  A gabion is another option that looks pretty nifty.  It’s a cage made from wire like the kind used for concrete reinforcing that is formed then filled with stone.  The size of stones you can use depends on the wire mesh.  Each type of materials has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Wood is cheaper and lighter than stone materials but it doesn’t last forever.

Step 5: Plan your garden layout!
When planning the vegetable garden layout there’s a lot to consider.  Imagine how to get in and how to move around inside.  Are you looking for convenience or do you want to emphasis the aesthetics? The two don’t have to be exclusive!  Are your compost bins going to be nearby?  Do you need truck access for soil, mulch, and other materials?  Are you going to need a fence to keep animals out?  All of these factors can affect the layout of your vegetable garden.

More Garden Designs available here.

Think of the pathways.  You want pathways that make the garden easy to travel through – especially when you have a wheelbarrow or garden cart.  You may want to measure your garden cart or wheelbarrow ahead of time to get an idea of how much space your cart needs then plan the path to fit – then add a few inches to make it comfortable.  A wide pathway down the center of the garden and narrow walkways between the rows is a good way to maximize growing space.

Sometimes the layout can affect the space and size of your raised beds so its a good idea to plan the layout ahead of time to get the best vegetable garden design you can!

I’ve changed my garden layout every year.  Part of that is because I come up with new ideas but also because I realize that there are things I didn’t fully plan out.  By starting at the very beginning with a really good plan you can avoid the need to redo it so often.  Your raised bed garden will need updating every now and then and you will come up with new ideas but those ideas will be easier to integrate into a solid garden design if you start with a solid plan!

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