• Garden Maintenance

The Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening

  • By Ed Powell
Although raised beds are by no means a new idea, they continue to grow in popularity and have a considerable fan base in the UK.

A raised bed is simply a garden bed that is built up above the ground - a method of gardening that solves a wide variety of gardening challenges.

Raised beds can be simple piles of soil, or something a little more sophisticated such as wooden boxes or deliberately landscaped structures.

However you choose to define them, raised beds in the garden offer a myriad of benefits to gardeners, and in this piece, we'll be exploring exactly why they're so popular.

What can you grow in a raised bed?

It's possible to grow almost anything in your raised bed, it all depends just how much you'd like to have a go at. You could try:

Soft fruit - strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and various currants.

Vegetables - the world is your oyster on this one, since almost any vegetable capable of thriving in the UK can be planted in a raised bed.

Flowers - raised beds are a good idea if you're looking to plant flowers to attract butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects.

Alpines - the likes of Aubrieta, Aremeria, Lewisia and other alpine plants will thrive in well-draining soil.

Trees and shrubs - depending on how big your beds are, it might be a good idea to try planting some small trees and shrubs. These are ideal to offer habitats to small birds, mammals and insects.

wooden raised beds with vegetables

Raised beds lend a certain aesthetic appeal

Of course, your design preferences will play a major role in what you consider to be aesthetically pleasing, especially when you want your outdoor space to be pleasant on the eye.But keeping things neat and tidy does have a practical purpose too. This is especially the case if you're working with a small space, and you want to prevent particularly adventurous plants venturing under fences or into other undesirable areas.

Utilising a raised bed can also help you to maintain your paths and walkways by ensuring there remains a clear line between bed and path.

Almost maintenance free soil

Raised beds mean that you can prepare your soil with minimal maintenance. Rather than raking the soil each year to add nutrients and other enhancers, you'll just need to add any amendments to the top of your bed.Things like compost, mulch, fertilisers and whatever else you choose to add can be applied to the topmost layers of the soil with none of the tiresome gardening work. This is also beneficial for the soil itself since worms, roots and other beneficial bacteria will naturally till the soil, which bolsters organic components and reduces the need for you to intervene.

Slow down pests

As we all know slugs and snails are quite partial to our vegetable crops (especially when they're beginning to flourish as seedlings) and, although they're perfectly capable of scaling the sides of raised beds and garden boxes, it slows them down and they're far easier to spot.This gives you the chance to intervene before they start chomping down on your lettuces.

You can also add netting to protect your seedlings. This is available in different sizes to protect plants from birds and other mammals, such as squirrels, mice and rats.

Improved drainage

Many parts of the country are prone to flooding, particularly so in outdoor spaces built on marshlands, which many of the new build homes in the UK are. When that's the case, raised beds may be the only way to grow consistently throughout the spring and summer. Raised beds of about 11 or 12 inches off ground level, provide plenty of drainage space, and gives most plants nearly a foot of extra room above wet conditions. A raised bed will also tend to drain better, even in periods of heavy rain.

Easier on your body

It's no surprise that a good gardening session can place enormous strain on your knees, back and wrists. Inevitably, this strain will take its toll over a long period. Raised beds, can alleviate some of this strain. Even the younger generation looking to get into gardening as a hobby or vocation, should consider the strain placed on the body through hand rearing crops and maintaining outdoor spaces.

Fewer weeds and undesirable plants

Tilling the soil in the autumn can sometimes bury problematic weed seeds, which gives them the ideal opportunity to multiply come spring. By mulching the smaller areas of your raised beds, with specialist mulch, rocks, carboard or membrane, you can suffocate weed growth over winter. When it comes time to plant again, all you need to do is remove the dead weeds and any other debris and dispose of it in your garden bin to prevent the weeds propagating.

You can also apply a weed barrier at the very bottom of your raised bed, by applying a layer of membrane to the base of the bed to prevent any problematic grasses or weeds infiltrating from the ground.

Raised beds don't need to be permanent

Flexibility is a crucial element in creating your ideal outdoor space, particularly so if you're working with a finite area. One of the biggest benefits of raised beds is the fact that they don't have to be a permanent fixture - depending on your aesthetic sensibilities they can be moved to a new location or removed altogether with relative ease.

Removable garden boxes are the ideal accessory for those with paved gardens or living in a flat. The box can be erected, a piece of cardboard of plastic can be placed into the bottom of the box and then filled with soil. This can be purchased in various sizes and styles and set up on balconies or patios.

Begin planting early in the season

Because raised beds are more effective at draining the soil, planting in them earlier in the spring is certainly possible. This is because the soil dries out in the springtime and then warms more quickly than a ground level patch of soil. Many gardeners may also find that a number of plants have overwintered when they usually wouldn't have done if they had been planted at ground level.

Once again, this is largely down to the kind of soil you're using in the bed. If left untilled and supplemented with a quality compost, raised bed soils are able to regulate temperatures in a way that ground level soil often can't.

A great option for amateurs

Raised beds are a fantastic way to begin your gardening journey - especially since you won't require much equipment and you're working with a relatively small space.

All you need to do is pour in the compost, sow some seeds, keep up with your watering, and it's almost a guarantee that you'll see some rewards for your efforts. When you're planting in a larger area at ground level, you have more plants and crops to tend to and it isn't always easy to spot any mistakes you're making.

Raised beds are a great way to refine and perfect your gardening skills.

Are there any drawbacks?

As with anything in life, nothing comes without a few downsides - but as long as you're aware of them from outset, you should find that your experience is relatively pain free and rewarding. Bear in mind:

Plants grown in raised beds are more susceptible during periods of hot weather and drought, due to their superior drainage. Closely monitor the plants watering needs.

If you're buying or building a wooden raised bed, then this will need a regular treatment.Although most treatments these days are mostly free of potentially harmful substances, if you're not sure, then carefully line the inside of the bed with polythene.

One of the most popular options for constructing a raised bed is using recycled railway sleepers. It's important to know that some of the newer ones may still contain creosote and can be harmful if exposed to the skin. Older sleepers should be fine to use since the creosote will have dissipated, but if in doubt use a different material.

Ed Powell is a landscaping expert and the founder and director of Steel Landscaping Co