Raised-bed gardens: the advantages and disadvantages

Sira Huwiler-Flamm

Raised beds are very much in vogue among amateur gardeners, and the cold season is the ideal time to start one. We’ve put together a list of the advantages and disadvantages of this trendy way of gardening to help you make up your mind.

Wooden raised beds in a garden promise to provide an abundant harvest: crisp lettuces, nasturtiums and cabbages are thriving beautifully.
© Getty Images/ fotolinchen

In this article

The advantages: vegetable plots that are easy on the joints

1. You can garden anywhere

Not every homeowner has a large garden. A raised bed is the ideal solution because it allows you to garden even on a patio or balcony. Raised beds are so flexible that amateur gardeners can place them wherever they have room. Mobile and extra-small versions also exist that will turn even the smallest niche into a luxuriant vegetable garden or flower bed.

2. Comfortable and back-friendly

There’s no longer any need to kneel down on the wet ground to dig in the earth. With a raised-bed garden at a height of 70 to 120 centimeters, crooked backs, aching shoulders and an awkward bent position are a thing of the past. Thanks to the comfortable working height, even older gardeners can carry on cheerfully tending to their garden in an upright position instead of having to give up their hobby for reasons of age. Weeding at hip level becomes a less tiring and painful intermediate activity.

An elderly lady is picking lettuce from a raised-bed garden – and obviously enjoying the task.

Working at hip height: the position is more comfortable for amateur gardeners – even at an advanced age.

3. A structured attention-grabber

A raised bed is not only practical, but also represents a very eye-catching feature outdoors. Whether as a herb spiral, a DIY upcycling version or a modern, elegant model – raised beds come in many different forms. There are virtually no limits to the variety of creative ideas. But as well as being extravagant attention-grabbers, raised beds can also visually divide the garden into different areas. This gives structure to oases of green and enhances messy wild gardens.

4. Warmth, even on cold nights

Raised beds are not simply filled with soil. They also contain various layers made up of branch cuttings, shredded material and compost. As the material gradually rots, it gives off heat to the ground. This means that even small plants are better protected on cold nights than in an outdoor flower bed – and you can take advantage of the garden almost all year round. Sowing and harvesting remains possible in a raised bed from March to November. Even during a freezing cold winter, there are a number of ways to use a raised bed.

5. Abundant harvests thanks to nutrient-rich soil

Garden owners often have trouble with depleted soil in outdoor flower beds. The filling in a raised bed not only provides warmth, but also ensures that the soil is particularly rich in nutrients. By following planting tips, you can harvest greater quantities, more frequently and for longer than in an outdoor flower bed. Blooming flowers and herbs represent fragrant eye-catching features, but the conditions in a raised bed are also ideal for vegetables and fruit to thrive – which makes a raised bed a must-have for self-sufficient gardeners.

An amateur gardener harvests fresh rhubarb from her raised bed.

Rhubarb and tomatoes are growing magnificently here: a raised bed is a pleasure for an amateur gardener.

6. Protection against snails and mice

Slugs and voles are regrettable pests for vegetable gardeners because they like attacking lettuces and roots. The good news is that there are simple ways to protect a raised bed effectively against these animals. A grid made of hare wire to separate the earth from the ground not only prevents waterlogging, but also stops mice. Snails rarely find their way up into a raised bed anyway. If they do still manage it, materials such as rough wood, snail fences made of copper or an ecological protective coating against snails can help.

The disadvantages: a complex start with pitfalls

1. Initial investment costs

When planting an ordinary outdoor flower bed, first you have to look for a suitable place in the garden. Then you can start digging, enriching and loosening up the soil – and the flower bed is ready. A raised bed, on the other hand, requires carefully thought-out construction. Ready-made complete frames and boxes are available in retail stores. Some even come with a built-in watering system, if desired. They cost as little as 30 francs for small models up to several thousands of francs for custom-made products.

2. Saving money takes time

Home-made raised beds are more cost-effective. But they require manual skill, patience and above all time. If you opt for this type of model, you can realize a raised bed that is exactly the way you want it – and even transform the old family piano into a cool, eye-catching flower bed.

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3. Filling and refilling

A raised bed can’t simply be bought or built and then planted immediately. The different layers of filling are crucial for developing heat and successfully growing plants: coarse twigs, small wood chips, compost and earth must be sourced, paid for and transported. For a bed measuring two meters by one meter, the amount of material you need to gather together can quickly reach one and a half to two tons. Then the bed must be filled with material and left to rest for a few weeks so that the soil can settle. Amateur gardeners have to wait until then to get started. The filling usually needs to be replaced after four years.

4. High water consumption

Since the roots can’t reach out towards water by themselves as they would do in an outdoor flower bed, a raised bed needs greater quantities of water. Wind dries out the soil in higher beds even more. In very hot, dry periods, gardeners may need to water a raised bed as much as once or twice a day to ensure that their tomatoes, berries and zucchini will continue to thrive. You can save a lot of time and money by collecting rainwater in a nearby barrel – which will give you a ready-made supply of perfectly tempered water.

A woman waters plants in a raised bed.

A raised bed needs to be watered assiduously – because the soil dries out faster.

5. Pay attention to the structural analysis

Depending on its size, a raised bed can become quite heavy due to the layers of filling. When placing a raised bed on a balcony, it’s therefore vital to check the structural analysis. Calculate the exact weight of the raised bed and, if in doubt, discuss the maximum load your balcony can bear with a specialist (such as a structural engineer or balcony construction expert).

6. Elevation to protect against waterlogging

It’s important to avoid waterlogging in a raised bed, whether on a balcony or on a patio. Tiles and stone slabs often prevent rainwater and water from running off properly. In order to stop the soil and plants from rotting, you should elevate raised beds in these locations by adding feet or an intermittent support frame.

Conclusion: the advantages of a raised bed outweigh the disadvantages

If you don’t have much space, but would like to create an eye-catching feature outdoors or aim for a particularly bountiful harvest, one or more raised beds are the ideal solution. Even if the initial investment is significant in terms of both cost and time, it can still be worth opting for this trendy type of flower bed.

Dangers such as cold nights, snails and voles can be mitigated. However, vegetable gardeners in particular will need to water their raised bed even more frequently. Gardening remains a time-consuming hobby even in raised beds, but this makes it all the more rewarding to grow splendid plants you can be proud of.

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