A charming landscaping feature that delivers home-grown vegetables, herbs and fresh flowers without a trip to the farmer’s market – it’s no wonder raised-bed gardens are popping up in neighborhoods around the country. A raised garden bed sits above its surroundings in a lush display of color and edible bounty whose care and maintenance is easy on the back and knees.

Occupying whatever sunny space is available, framed in wood, stone, corrugated metal, a single bed or several in a pleasing configuration, raised beds may be anywhere from 6 inches to 3 or more feet high. Ideally, the beds will be no more than 4 feet across, allowing the gardener to reach into all parts of the bed from the edge.

Surround multiple raised beds with mulch or crushed stone pathways in a regularly spaced formal configuration or create meandering or zig-zag designs. Tier progressively smaller beds atop one another to create a layered, cascading effect.

Naturally rot-resistant wood such as cedar or redwood creates a longer lasting frame, but thick planks of pine, recycled plastic deck lumber, stone, brick, cinder block and corrugated metal sheeting all create their own looks and will endure. Or start with a raised-bed kit — home and gardening supply stores offer them in many varieties and sizes.

Spreading weed-suppressing fabric or using thick layers of newspaper, wetted with a hose, where the bed will be placed is all the ground preparation necessary, as long as the raised bed is deep enough to accommodate the roots of your plants.

Create Optimal Growing Conditions

A raised bed enhances your garden’s yield. Soil that is fertile and stays loose supports denser plantings than a traditional plot. Plants are arranged close enough to touch when full grown to create a lush display of foliage and color.

Fill your raised bed with a soil made up of plenty of organic material such as compost, peat moss and decomposed manure mixed with top soil and sand or perlite to promote good drainage. Because no one is stepping on the garden to tend to it or pick vegetables, the soil stays loose, allowing roots to expand freely and promoting quick and healthy plant growth.

Plant vegetables for sequential harvest: Replace early-producing plants with those that grow later in the season, all interspersed with long-growing herbs. Planting flowers among the vegetables and herbs add color and attracts bees and butterflies to pollinate your crops. Edible flowers such as nasturtiums, lavender and pansies enliven the garden’s color and may be used as a garnish or salad ingredient.

Proper composition and the elevation of the soil provide optimal drainage, which helps your plants thrive. In dry times, the excellent drainage means the garden requires regular watering. Create a simple and efficient watering system by laying soaker hoses along the surface of the soil between plants. Organic mulches such as straw or wood chips can help retain moisture and moderate soil temperature in hot, dry weather.

Enjoy Comfort and Ease of Maintenance

Take a seat on the edge of the frame or pull up a gardening stool to tend or harvest your raised bed in comfort. Wooden frames may be built with a sill wide enough to double as a seat, making them comfortably accessible without stooping or kneeling. 

By controlling the soil that goes in, you can minimize the weed seeds present in the soil. And because plants in a raised bed grow closely spaced, they crowd out many weeds. You can spend more of your gardening time planting and harvesting, and when a few weeds do show up, they are all within reach and easily pulled out of the loose soil.

All ages can enjoy gardening a raised bed. They’re great for gardening with children, who can help plant and weed without stepping on and compacting the garden soil. Beds can be built tall and narrow enough to be accessible from a wheelchair or be placed on a table-like frame for that purpose.

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