Are raised beds worth the effort and expense? The simple answer is yes, and here are a few reasons to make room in your landscape:
- Raised beds give the gardener an opportunity to control key factors such as soil make up, drainage and sun exposure.
- No foot traffic through your raised beds means less compacted soil.
- Plants thrive when their roots can travel freely.
- A bed that is raised even a foot can avoid many of our region’s pesky weeds. When the bed is fallow, a barrier of newspaper or plastic can add extra weed prevention.
- A raised bed constructed at seat level can reduce the amount of stretching needed to tend it.
- Heat gain that a raised bed receives provides a longer growing season; visqueen or glass extends the season.
Raised beds come in many forms, with a wide range of cost and materials:
- Mounding of garden soil can outperform a traditional ground level planting area.
- A rockery or a stacked stone wall can be inexpensive and attractive if built well, but maintenance can be an issue. Rough rocks are not usually comfortable seats.
- Segmented rock walls can be a more expensive, with a range of sizes and colors, and involve straightforward installation. Capped walls can be very comfortable seats.
- Cedar raised beds are very common. Cedar is naturally decay and insect resistant and readily available.
- Pressure treated lumber can be used for raised bed walls. Even though treated wood will have a long life, its use around raised vegetable beds is controversial due to the possibility of chemical leeching into the soil and vegetables. (My raised beds are pressure treated 2 x 8’s that were once deck joists. When constructing my beds, I lined the inside of the walls with a resilient plastic liner, protecting my food (and me) from any unwanted leeched chemicals.)
- Poured concrete raised beds are an expensive but very long lasting option.
- Other materials that have been used to form raised beds include concrete board (Hardie Plank), plastic/composite lumber (Trex, TimberTech, Monarch), and formed steel.
Winter is the season that few think about landscaping and gardening but it is a great time to prepare for spring. A raised bed that is installed early has time for composting and other important soil building amendments. Put the effort in now, avoid the rush of building, planning and planting all at once. Leave a little time to contemplate and reflect, how does one prepare parsnips? Bok choi?