How to build raised beds

The raised bed is one feature in the garden that justifies the expense and time required to build it. Well designed, it has a strong architectural value. It also introduces into the garden interesting color and texture in wood, stone, brick, adobe, or other materials. When you plan wisely, a raised bed displays plants impressively, and makes a smooth transition from one garden level to another. Here is a discussion of the various ways raised beds can be used in the garden. The sketches below show four ways you can construct raised beds using masonry, lumber, or rustic wood.


A raised bed is perfect for miniature or dwarf plants which are often lost in the garden among taller growing shrubs. If they are brought closer to eye level, you can really enjoy their diminutive charm.


Gardeners who don’t like to do a lot of stooping or bending will find the raised bed a real back saver. Built-up beds are also easier to weed, cultivate, and water. Vegetables tend to produce earlier because a raised bed quickly absorbs the sun’s heat.

If you’re interested in hybridizing, plant your specialties in raised beds. To help you identify plants, attach a card with the information to the sides of the bed. The plants, besides being close at hand for periodic inspection, are protected from pets and children.


A raised bed is one of the most successful ways to create a three-dimensional effect or to effect a transition from one level to another.

A gaily planted bed is a perfect buffer between two different garden areas. With a raised bed, you can separate a terrace and parking strip, or a lawn and vegetable garden. In a garden which is perfectly level, you can easily use a raised bed to relieve the monotony of flat surfaces.

FOR PLANTS THAT NEED EXCELLENT DRAINAGE In gardens with heavy, poorly drained soil, the raised bed makes it possible to grow daphne, gardenias, citrus, and other plants which are sensitive to water-logged soil. Herbs, succulents, cacti, and many Californian and Australian native plants thrive in the warm soil they have in a sunny raised bed.

Masonry makes a strong, enduring wall if the footings go down far enough and are heavy enough, as shown here. To relieve water pressure, provide small holes for drainage through wall.

Weathered logs are appropriate for beds with azaleas, fuchsias, or begonias. To get the logs, you may have to go directly to the woods with a truck or trailer and pick them up yourself.

Rough-finished redwood or cedar makes a good-looking low retaining wall. It is easy to install, inexpensive, and weathers well. For longer life treat the stakes with a wood preservative.

Row of stakes (2 by 2-inch) can be driven directly into the ground, or embedded in a narrow trench filled with concrete. Where the wall supports earth, some cribbing adds strength.

More ways to use raised beds


If you have a problem of change in level in the garden, consider the practicality and attractiveness of the one, two, or three-step raised bed. The same idea could be carried out with concrete blocks set in sand or mortar or with 2 by 10-inch redwood planks set vertically. Design: Douglas Baylis.


A two-level raised bed is suitable for a modest change of level – perhaps 12 to 20 inches – between upper and lower garden areas. Planted with colorful plants, or shrubs, a double raised bed is more decorative and pleasant to live with than many other types of low retaining walls. If you have a gradual slope from the rear of the house up to the property line, a series of such double-step raised beds can be built to create a number of usable level terraces. Design: Douglas Baylis.


In a tight guest-parking area, a series of car-wide raised beds can help you make the most of available parking space. Such beds can also serve as tree islands. Edgings or painted lines on the paving will help guide arriving cars into parking spots. Or you can insert reflector buttons at intervals in the paving. If the area is not marked, careless parking might put 2 cars in a 3-car space or 3 cars in a 4-car space; but most drivers obey guide lines and do not park across them.


Terrace paving is often laid out in an arrangement of squares or rectangles set off by edgings. Such paving can be much more pleasant if occasional rectangles are left open as planting beds. And these planting beds will work better if the terrace is laid on sub-soil. If your paving edgings are 2 by 4’s, all you have to do is nail an additional 2 by 4 liner 2 inches higher than the edging. Almost 6 inches of top-soil is then above the adjacent sub-soil level providing excellent drainage.

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