Building your own raised bed: little effort, big harvest

Torben Schröder

Whether in the garden, on the patio or on the balcony – raised beds are not only visually attractive but also bring other practical advantages too. Find out here why it makes sense to purchase one, what you should consider in advance, and how to build one yourself. It’s quicker than you’d expect. If you aren’t very good at DIY, we also present models available for purchase.

A young man is sitting on the ground on his balcony, smiling as he looks up at his raised bed.
© Getty Images/ mixetto

In this article

Why a raised bed is worthwhile

The most common way to plant flowers and vegetables in your own garden is in a flat bed. The big plus is that flat beds are particularly easy to set up. However, sowing and tending to plants can be very laborious because they are so close to the ground. A raised bed can be the answer. We have put together a list of a few of the advantages below.

  • Eye-catching feature: it can enhance your garden visually if the frame is beautifully designed, for example in wood, and the bed is colorful.
  • Good for your back: at a height of about one meter, tending to a raised bed is great fun and easy on the back.
  • Yield: the harvest will be richer due to the different layers of substances.
  • Protection: the high location and use of special devices make it difficult for uninvited guests such as voles or snails to snack on your plants.
Close-up of a person planting a bed of herbs.

One of the main advantages of a raised bed is that you don’t have to bend down to work on it.

Choosing the right location for your raised bed

Regardless of where you place the bed, it should face north-south to give the plants the best possible light conditions. A sunny place is ideal – but should be protected from the wind. There are a few specific differences between a location in the garden or on a patio or balcony. We explain them below.

Location: in the garden

  • Make sure that the chosen location is not below tall plants. Trees, bushes and hedges cast a shadow and slow down growth.
  • The garden is a particularly good place if you are planning to grow vegetables, as direct contact with the soil has a positive effect on the yield.

Location: on a patio or balcony

  • Since there is no direct contact with the earth, the possibility of storing water is limited. This makes this type of location particularly suitable for the cultivation of herbs.
  • A raised bed can play an important visual role in the design of the patio or balcony. Placing it close to a set of seats will add an attractive touch of color.

Choosing the right time

When it gets warmer and the first flowers start to bud, the gardening season begins – spring is the best time to sow seeds or plant flowers. Don’t have a raised bed yet? Then simply take advantage of the fall to buy or build one. You can also fill the bed with compostable material like leaves and dead branches. A detailed overview of the year in a raised bed can be found here.

A young woman is standing in front of a raised bed inspecting her plants.

Choosing the right place and time to plant vegetables and flowers plays an important role in planning a raised bed.

Building a raised bed on your own

Creating a raised bed is definitely one of the easier do-it-yourself projects. Strictly speaking, the construction consists of a frame with paneling. A rectangle is the ideal geometric shape because it is not only easy to build, but also offers advantages in terms of handling during planting and harvesting. You are free to choose the material: stone, plastic, metal, bamboo – anything is possible. We recommend wood for the first try, as it is the easiest to work with.

You will need these materials:

  • Patio boards (number depending on size)
  • Wood glaze
  • 4 - 8 posts (depending on size) and protective sleeves
  • Stainless steel screws
  • Mesh wire
  • Dimpled foil
  • Gravel, shredded material, garden soil
  • Branches, leaves, green waste, compost

Below you will find instructions for building a wooden raised bed in the garden:

1. Take the measurements

Adjust the height of the raised bed to suit your needs. As a rule, a height of between 80 and 100 centimeters is ideal. If wheelchair users or children are going to work on the raised bed – or if you want to plant while sitting down – it is advisable to make the raised bed lower.

The width and length of a self-made raised bed are quite flexible and can be adapted to your needs. In most cases, however, the measurements will depend on the space you have available. The most frequent size is 80 centimeters wide and 200 centimeters long.

2. Saw and glaze the wood

Patio boards are ideal as paneling for the front and side walls. You can cut them yourself or have them cut to size in a DIY store. Afterwards you should treat the parts with a protective glaze and leave them to dry.

3. Excavate the ground

It is recommended to remove the turf and about ten centimeters of the upper layer of soil at the intended location.

4. Put up the posts

For a size of 80 x 200 centimeters, four posts – one in each corner – are sufficient to support the frame. For longer or wider versions, you should plan additional posts in the middle. Use protective sleeves to secure the posts in the ground. This facilitates work and protects the wood from moisture.

5. Screw on the walls

The posts are in place – now you can start working on the paneling for the sides. Use stainless steel screws and a cordless screwdriver to attach the planks to the posts from bottom to top on each side.

6. Cover the ground

Place a dense wire mesh on the ground to keep voles and other animals away.

7. Line the walls

You should attach special dimpled foil for raised beds on the inside of the walls. This protects the wood from moisture while generating heat to stimulate the growth process at the same time.

8. Fill the bed

Before you can plant or sow anything, you need to add the ideal individual filling layers for your raised bed. The bottom level is for drainage, using gravel for example. This is followed by a layer of coarse material such as branches, then a layer of finer material such as shredded material, leaves or green waste. Next comes compost as a nutrient base and finally, garden soil.

Buying a raised bed

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of doing it yourself, it’s worth taking a look at the products available online. We present three different versions here.

Only one hour of work

The supplier Hortico promises that its pre-assembled models can be put together in about one hour. The four wooden side parts are already lined with dimpled foil. The smallest model in the range measures 100 x 80 x 61 centimeters and costs 620 francs (price on 26 August 2020). The largest model, which measures 396 x 100 x 75 centimeters, costs 1,680 francs (price on 26 August 2020).

A modern steel look

The Keller SWISS MADE raised bed is also self-assembled. The special thing about this model is the material, because you can choose between high-quality stainless steel or a casual rust look. The largest version, Type L, measures 370 x 120 x 80 centimeters and costs 2,380 francs (price on 26 August 2020) for the more expensive chrome steel version.

Compact and practical

Thanks to its dimensions of just 136 x 76 x 86 centimeters, the raised bed from Landi is ideal for installation on a patio or balcony. The posts are made of galvanized steel, the sides of larch wood. It costs 199 francs (price on 26 August 2020).

Plants for your raised bed: vegetables? Herbs? Flowers?

Untreated tasty kohlrabi or rather a mixture of aromatic herbs? How about some colorful pansies? The choice of plants for your raised bed is a matter of taste. Here are the options.

  • Vegetables: save yourself a trip to the supermarket and pick your own organic vegetables instead – you don’t need a complete field, a raised bed is sufficient. The most suitable are leafy or root vegetables, or varieties from the cabbage or onion families. They don’t grow very tall and have flat roots.
  • Herbs: looking after herbs is slightly more difficult than vegetables because their requirements in terms of light, water and nutrients vary a great deal. Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and basil require half a day of sunshine – whereas spring herbs such as sorrel burn in too much heat.
  • Flowers: as with an ordinary flower bed, you can combine flowers in a raised bed. Make sure that sizes are staggered so that the plants don’t take light away from each other.
Close-up of a bed in which various plants are growing.

Growing vegetables in a raised bed is very popular, as harvests are usually particularly rich.

Maintaining your raised bed

As with a normal bed, a raised bed needs looking after. Here you will find a list of standard work that needs to be done on a regular basis:

  • Chopping and weeding: loosen the soil regularly when there are no plants in the bed and remove weeds if necessary.
  • Mulching: empty spaces, for example those left by harvesting, should be covered to protect the soil from drying out. Suitable materials are lawn cuttings, straw and wood chippings.
  • Watering: in the summer you will need to water abundantly due to the hotter temperatures – but not in the midday sun, or the plants might burn.
  • Covering: to prevent drying out and loss of nutrients, you should cover your bed when it is not planted – for example in winter.

Conclusion: a raised bed is easy on the joints and fills your plate

The most obvious advantage of a raised bed is in the name: thanks to the height of up to one meter, it is very easy to work on. Many people are probably unaware that vegetables grow so abundantly. A good tip for DIY enthusiasts: building your own is not difficult at all. It will visually enhance a garden or a balcony alike.

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