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FROM THE GROUND UP | LINN COUNTY MASTER GARDENERS

Consider raised beds for gardens

Amber Bisinger/City of Marion

Phil Pfister (left), a Linn County Master Gardener, dumps compost into one of six raised beds at the Uptown Garden in the spring of 2016 in Marion. Raised bed gardens offer a number of advantages to in-the-ground gardening.
Amber Bisinger/City of Marion Phil Pfister (left), a Linn County Master Gardener, dumps compost into one of six raised beds at the Uptown Garden in the spring of 2016 in Marion. Raised bed gardens offer a number of advantages to in-the-ground gardening.

Raised beds are a way of gardening where the planting area is raised above the existing soil. These beds can be intricate or simple depending on your needs and wants. Both flowers and vegetables grow well in these beds. Raised beds are a great choice for those gardeners with limited gardening space, with less than ideal soil, or with a garden subject to water runoff and erosion. Also, due to the beds increased height, they allow for greater accessibility for people who struggle with bending and stooping or who use a wheelchair.

Raised beds offer a number of advantages to traditional in-the-ground gardening. Raised beds facilitate excellent drainage in soil. This well-draining soil is great for vegetables and may even lead to higher yields. This increased drainage also allows the soil to warm earlier in the spring which means a head-start to the gardening season. To extend the season even more, raised beds can easily be covered with hoops and row covers.

Before deciding if raised beds are the best option for your garden, the challenges that come with this type of gardening. While it is exciting that the well-draining soil means an earlier start to planting, it also means that the soil dries out quickly during the hot summer months. As such, raised beds require diligent watering practices. However, installing an irrigation system can mitigate this challenge. The initial construction of raised beds requires more time, effort, and money than simply tilling over last year’s garden plot. Yearly maintenance is required to maintain the life of the bed and to keep the beds full as the soil compacts.

Raised beds can be constructed out of a variety of building materials including: treated wood, weather railroad ties, decay-resistant wood, concrete blocks, or bricks. While the height of the beds vary depending on a gardener’s needs and wants, 8 to 12 inches is deep enough for most plants. Raised beds can be filled with standard potting soils and commercial container mixes. However, this can be an expensive choice. A good soil mix can also be made at home by mixing equal parts compost, peat and vermiculite. Whatever fill is used, make sure it is free from weed seeds, pathogens, and contaminants.

Raised beds offers many advantages, but there are some challenges as well. Winter is a great time to research more about raised bed gardening to determine if it is the right fit.

• For gardening questions call the Linn County Extension Hortline at (319) 447-0647 from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays.

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