Raised garden beds are great for growing plants in smaller plots. Also called ‘no-dig gardens’, raised beds are simply a way to grow plants in soil that’s higher than ground level, where you have better control over soil texture and composition. This means that you can have an organic, eco-friendly way to grow your own herbs and veggies in a way that allows them to really thrive and provide you with bumper harvests all year round. But there are so many ways that you can make your DIY raised boxes, so let’s take a look at some different raised garden bed ideas.
The way that the beds are constructed, through layers of soil and ‘amendments’ (additions to the soil such as compost, etc) creates optimal, fertile soil which is well-draining and well aerated. This layering technique is also known as ‘lasagne gardening’ or ‘sheet mulching’, and it creates optimal growing conditions due to the fact the soil warms up more quickly, drains better, and doesn’t get as compacted.
Raised beds can be built just about anywhere, so they’re perfect if you only have pavement, or if your natural soil is too rocky to be useful. They’re quick to set up, can be tailored to suit your plants, help protect against weeds, and of course enable you to garden without the backbreaking maintenance of traditional garden beds.
There is some overlap between “raised bed gardening” and “vertical gardening”, which is understandable since both make use of vertical space. The difference is really that raised beds take up horizontal space as well, and because the ‘lasagne layering’ that occurs with raised beds may or may not be utilised in vertical gardening.
There is also some overlap with the concept of “square foot gardening”. This is a form of raised bed gardening where the beds are divided into a grid of neat squares, each which will feature its own type of plant and be managed individually. Proponents of square foot gardening say the method generates higher yields and is easy and fast to set up.
You can plant anything you like – herbs, veggies, flowers – but raised garden beds are most often prized for their ability to provide a year-round veggie harvest. And they’re also aesthetically pleasing as they keep your garden looking neat, organised and uncluttered.
Raised beds can be contained through some kind of structure, or they can be freeform, with soil and additions simply piled up high. Contained raised beds are perfect for kitchen gardens and growing fruits like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. In the past, raised beds were traditionally contained with frames made from wood only, but nowadays you can use any of a wide range of materials to construct your frame.
Whether your raised bed will be permanent or temporary, it will typically have some kind of enclosure or frame, which can be made as simple or as elaborate as you please. Here are some ideas to consider for creating your perfect raised garden bed.
1. Simple tiered square
Raised beds can be as multi-tiered as you like. Some are especially decorative, resembling fountains and pagodas, but simple tiered structures are the ideal, neat way to make use of your space. Here, tiers are arranged to suit square foot gardening.
2. Tiered raised beds
These come as kits you can purchase, or you can construct one yourself. They’re literally child’s play to assemble.
3. Elevated garden bed on legs
These very utilitarian inventions are especially useful for anyone with back problems and/or accessibility needs. Removes the backbreaking work that gardening can often represent. They can be purchased already constructed or are pretty simple to DIY.
4. Wheeled raised bed
Containers on wheels are the perfect raised garden beds for renters, thanks to the portability. You can purchase a wheeled container, or construct one, or repurpose something like an old kitchen trolley. Just make sure there’s good drainage.
5. Simple stacked pallet
One for the DIY pallet lovers. And actually, if you have more pallets then you know what to do with, check out these ideas with pallet furniture.
6. Patio raised bed
Even a small patio can accommodate raised garden beds. This is a super modern look for any inner-city courtyard.
7. Border raised bed
Line your backyard with raised beds unobtrusively up against the wall. This is especially good for a narrow side yard.
8. Custom designed raised bed
Landscaping companies can help you design a raised bed garden to suit your unique space. You might incorporate water features for visual interest, or bench seating for functionality.
9. Add greenhouse hoops
It’s easy to turn a raised garden bed into a greenhouse using PVC pipe and clear polyethylene film. A greenhouse is great for a multi-season veggie garden, extending the plants’ growing season, conserving moisture and protecting them from bugs and wildlife. On warm days, avoid overheating plants by removing the cover, if it is removable, or simply cutting slits for air vents.
10. Freeform raised bed
Nobody said raised beds had to have a certain neat, symmetrical shape. You may prefer the Zen of a freeform raised bed, with perimeters that you have constructed randomly or to suit a particular space.
11. Grow a herb spiral
Spiral gardens are a permaculture technique, not just an eye-catching focal element in your yard. This is because spiral gardens increase the usable planting area without taking up further space, and plants are kept within reach. You can build one from almost anything, and you can even just mound the soil.
12. Create an arbour
Crossing over into vertical gardening, adding a trellis or arbour above a raised bed makes harvesting sprawling veggies much easier. An arbour enables flowering vines somewhere to go, while the plants below aren’t too deprived of sunshine. Simply create an A-frame out of two bamboo poles leaning together, truss them together and then cover with garden netting.
13. Make a beanstalk tepee
Similar to an arbour, try a tepee idea on for size. The kids will love it.
14. Terraced beds
Terracing an entire area is great for creating the illusion of a level garden if you have a sloped yard. Starting by building up the beds in the lowest sections, then add shrubs at the back and perennials for colour and texture at the front.
Choosing the right material to construct the frame
Keep in mind your climate, the purpose of your raised bed, and the aesthetics that appeal to you. Factors such as cost and ease of installation will also come into play. Here are some of your options.
Wood beds are easy to construct and the material is cost-effective and accessible, making it the perfect choice for DIY raised beds. If you decide to go with wood, make sure you choose sustainably-grown wood or reclaimed timber. Whatever lumber you pick, ensure it isn’t treated with toxic chemicals (eg. older versions of treated pine contained copper and chrome arsenate, which you probably don’t want in your food). Railroad ties are best avoided in case they’ve been treated with toxin-releasing creosote.
Pine is often used as it’s cheapest, but other timbers you might consider include jarrah or cypress, both of which are both a natural decay and termite-resistant; spruce, which is durable; cedar, which has natural rot and insect resistance; and redwood, also naturally resistant to rot and bugs, but not as cheap.
You could also look into the newer composite woods, which contain both wood fibres and recycled plastics, and are especially durable. And if you need help constructing your timber raised garden beds, you can always hire a local carpenter.
16. Corrugated iron
Corrugated iron is another popular choice for DIY raised garden beds. You can find it in the roofing section of your hardware supplier.
17. Water troughs and stock tanks
An increasingly popular choice, animal feeding troughs or water troughs are great for an industrial/urban chic vibe and as with other metals, also warms the soil. Usually round or rectangular with rounded ends, and coming in a variety of sizes, they obviously don’t require assembly but will need you to drill plenty of drainage holes at the base. Easily available to purchase at feed stores, quite inexpensive and long-lasting, the only issues is that transportation to your home needs to be arranged.
18. Galvanised culvert
Used for drainage under roadways, galvanised culverts can be cut into sections to create planters. Ask at your local building supply store or search online. With culverts, you control the size and height of your bed, more so than with troughs and tanks. Once you’ve located a suitable length of pipe, it will need to be cut into sections, and transported to your home. Easy to install and gives a contemporary vibe.
19. Sheet metal
Industrial-style, with a modern aesthetic, sheet metal begins life a natural steel colour, weathering to a gorgeous rusty patina over time. It comes in sheets around ¼ inch thick, giving it a slim profile rather than a bulky perimeter, and the sheets are simply shaped as desired. The good thing about sheet metal is it adds heat to the soil, so can be helpful when plants needed added heat to thrive.
Great as a permanent addition to your garden, these can be constructed by yourself, though usually a masonry crew is hired.
If you’re on the hunt for some more edging inspiration, we’ve put over 50 different garden edging ideas together for you to check out as well.
21. Concrete blocks
Stacked to the desired bed height, or mortared together and finished with surface treatments or capped tops, concrete blocks enable you to create your desired configuration easily. Finishing adds to the cost, which is otherwise relatively inexpensive. Concrete blocks are durable and easily available and suit a variety of aesthetics, from urban to rustic.
22. Rock and stone
Using these materials you can easily DIY a raised garden bed which has a casual, cottage-garden style. These are not permanent, as they are not mortared into place. Small boulders or large cobbles are merely stacked as desired.
23. Natural free materials
You can construct a frame out of freely available materials such as logs or twigs, as seen below. Some DIYers have constructed a raised bed out of bales of hay or straw, simply piling them into the desired configuration and filling with soil and compost. This provides up to a year of use as the straw decomposes, so you’ll need to replace the bales annually.
24. Wicker panels
If the woven wicker look appeals to you, don’t worry–nobody expects you to weave them yourself! You simply purchase panels to easily construct a frame.
Want to find out more about planters that you can buy, we’ve got a dedicated guide about where to by planter boxes and approximate costs.
Recycled and reclaimed materials
Found objects can hold a lot of charm—or they can look kitsch—you decide! Some of the more commonly repurposed materials favoured for raised beds include milk crates, wine boxes, old barrels, rusty vintage wheelbarrows, old concrete blocks. Milk crates are often liked because of their portability and no need for drainage holes and can be personalised with paint.
25. Vintage sacks around milk crates
Here, milk crates have been dressed up with coarse vintage storage sacks.
Some people favour the use of old tyres to create eco-friendly recycled raised garden beds.
27. Wagon wheel
Quite often repurposed into garden designs, wagon wheels are naturally segmented making it easy to divide up plants.
A box is not a box, and a raised garden bed can be created out of any kind of container, provided you ensure it has adequate drainage. Old wheelbarrows can look quaint and cottagey, as well as being nicely portable.
29. Wine crates
Is there anything a wine crate cannot do? Here you can separate your kitchen garden herbs neatly and keep everything portable.
30. Wine barrels
For some, old wine barrels hold a particular aesthetic appeal and a row of them provides nice uniformity.
31. Flower barrel
Barrels look especially effective and romantic when planted up with flowers.
32. Add solar lights
Sparkling solar lights make your garden come to life after dark.
33. Urban modular
Think you’ve got no room for a garden? Think again! Modern planter designs can be constructed which make super-efficient use of your limited area. While not strictly a “raised bed” in the traditional sense, they’re still a fantastic way to make use of vertical space. There are many new urban garden modular designs, with endless configurations so you can customise it to your space. Some come as a building kit, others simply provide the open-source plans (such as this one).
How to build a raised garden bed
Choose your site
Your raised garden bed foundation can be anywhere in your garden that you like—a concrete slab, up against the side fence, in a flat area, on a sloped section – essentially wherever there are at least eight hours of sun each day, and easy access to water sources. Raised beds can also take the place of container plants on patios and verandas, and can even be portable.
Choose your bed size and shape
Typically raised bed shapes to include rectangles, squares, hexagons, octagons, U-shaped and L-shaped configurations, but you can also go with a freeform non-symmetrical shape. The main thing is that you can reach all the areas without needing to walk on the bed. The length of your bed is up to you, provided you choose the right width: around 1.2m wide is ideal so you can reach the middle of a bed easily from the sides. If you will be placing the bed next to a wall or fence, it should be less than a metre wide. A depth of around 15cm is best for veggies, though up to 30cm deep is even better.
Ensuring the gardener has enough room to move and access to all areas is important. Paths should be practical, which means lawns are usually not a good option as maintenance becomes difficult. Instead, choose durable hard pavers like flagstones or bricks or nicely crunchy gravel. You can also get a springy feel underfoot through using weed-free organic mulches like shredded bark or wood chips, which can handle high foot traffic.
Construct your bed
Construct your frame from the material you have chosen. If using timber, cut it to the desired size and construct a simple frame in the shape you’ve chosen, attaching sides with butt joints at corners, and screwing corners with galvanised screws.
Level the frame
Whatever material you’ve chosen, a critical step is to ensure your frame is level to the ground using a level instrument, otherwise, water will run off only one section. Adjust the frame’s levelness by removing soil underneath where the frame is too high.
You can either construct your frame on-site from DIY plans, or you can purchase and put together a kit. Pre-fabricated raised garden beds are usually made of wood, corrugated iron or plastic and can be quite cheap. Of course, you can always go to the higher end of the market, and install drip irrigation to efficiently water the garden.
Lining the bed
There’s a little bit of debate as to whether it’s better to let roots penetrate the natural soil level or whether you should line your raised garden bed with weed matting, but the lining is generally seen as beneficial as it improves soil moisture retention and helps deter weeds. Line your frame with a thick layer of newspaper, cardboard or landscape material, and line the sides and base with weed matting. Then cover with soil and your amendments.
Fill up the frame
With raised garden beds, you control the soil conditions. You, therefore, fill your frame with the best quality topsoil, organic soil materials, hay compost and manure. As an example in more detail, you might create a series of layers of bark chip mulch, topsoil, hay, large tree clippings (such as palm fronds), soil, hay and grass cuttings, organic fertiliser, manure (such as horse manure), compost, and hay again. Rake the top level, water well and then you can go nuts planting it up or sowing seeds.
Why not try Hugelkultur? A German word referring to creating hills, hügelkultur is a popular method of permaculture in which raised garden beds are filled with rotten wood to create wonderfully nutrient-rich, air-pocketed, essentially self-tilling organic soil.
What kind of maintenance is needed?
Seasonally, you’ll want to top-dress with fresh compost/manure. Mulching also helps retain moisture and control weeds-and moisture retention is vital to raised beds as they tend to drain more quickly than traditional beds.
Have you already tried raised bed gardening for yourself? If you have any tips for us, why not share them in comments?