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Choose a Bed
Locate Your Garden
Fill and Prepare the Bed
Decide What to Plant
Create a Planting Map
Seeds or Transplants?
When to Get Started
Helpful Planting Tips
Care and Maintenance
Gear and Accessories
Choose a Bed Back to Top

Gardener’s Supply offers a wide range of different raised beds, from DIY aluminum corner kits for which you supply your own lumber, to complete bed kits in cedar, composite wood and recycled plastic. To compare the features and benefits of our complete line of raised bed kits, click here.

How many raised beds will you need? If your space or time is very limited, you might want to just start out with one. If you’re trying to produce most of your own fresh vegetables, you will probably need three or four beds. Use the Design Your Own Garden tool to select and place the crops you want to have in each bed. This will help you determine how many total beds you’ll need to accommodate everything you’d like to grow.

Locate Your Garden Back to Top

For optimum health and productivity, most vegetables require at least 8 hours of full sun each day. The more sun, the better, so it makes sense to locate your garden in the very sunniest part of your yard. Avoid low, wet areas where the soil could stay soggy. Since your garden will probably need to be watered at some points during the growing season, you’ll also need access to a hose or be prepared to carry watering cans.

Fill and Prepare the Bed Back to Top

Good soil is the single most important ingredient for a good garden. When you fill your raised bed, you can fill it with a blend of soil that’s vastly superior to the native soil in your yard. This 6 to 10 inch layer of superior soil will ensure the roots of your plants can grow freely, and will find the water and nutrients needed to sustain healthy growth.

Our raised bed kits are available in a range of sizes and depths. Before positioning the beds where they’ll be permanently located, be sure to remove any grass or perennial weeds. If possible, use a garden fork or shovel to loosen the native soil in the area to a depth of 6 to 10 inches. This will improve drainage and moisture retention in the raised beds. It will also give you a finished raised bed that’s actually 12 to 18” deep – plenty of room for carrots, potatoes, full size tomato plants and most any other edible you’d ever want to grow.

If you’re filling more than one raised bed at a time, you may want to buy your soil by the cubic foot or cubic yard, rather than by the bag.

Use the soil calculating tool below to help you figure out the total amount of soil you’ll need for each bed. For most situations, we recommend a blend of top soil, compost and a soil-less mix that contains peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite. This will ensure a loose, moisture-retentive growing area. For example, in a 3’ x 6’ x 10” D Grow Bed, we recommend:

12 20-quart bags of top soil (equivalent to 12 cubic feet or 1/2 cubic yard)
6 20-quart bags of compost
2 cubic feet of ProMix or other soil-less growing mix
5 lbs. of granular organic all-purpose fertilizer

 

If you do not have access to quality top soil, an acceptable substitute would be a 50-50 blend of ProMix and compost. If you want to add peat moss to the bed, it should not be more than 20% of the total mix. Peat moss is naturally acidic and not a good medium for growing vegetables.

Decide What to Plant Back to Top

Fill your garden with the types of vegetables you like to eat. If you’re big on salads, you will want to plant things like head lettuce, a lettuce cutting mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. If you love cooking, you may want to plant onions and peppers, leeks, potatoes and herbs. Experiment with something new, it's half the fun!

Create a Planting Map Back to Top

Gardening in a raised bed is all about maximizing productivity. The challenge is to grow as much food as possible, yet resist the temptation to squeeze in too many plants. Overcrowded plants never reach their full potential because they’re stressed by poor air circulation and competition for water, nutrients and root space.

Our Kitchen Garden Planner provides planting guidelines that will help you space your plants correctly. Optimum spacing varies somewhat depending on your growing conditions. The same tomato plant that gets 6’ tall in Texas may never get more than 3’ tall in Vermont. With experience, you’ll gradually get a good sense for just how much space each different type of plant needs.

It’s also important consider how each plant’s growth habit (bushy, vining, climbing) will affect its neighbors in same the bed. Planting lettuce next to carrots is fine; planting lettuce next to a sprawling cucumber plant may be a problem. Using stakes, ladders and cages is a good way to keep the garden neat and maximize your growing space.

Seeds or Transplants? Back to Top

Though most of the vegetables you’ll want to grow CAN be started directly in the garden from seed, in many cases it’s best to start out with a plant. Starting with a plant usually shortens the time to harvest by a month or more. In cold regions, where the growing season may be less than 100 days, a tomato or pepper plant that’s started in the garden from seed will not have time to mature before frost. You may also find that if you’re only putting in one or two plants of a particular type of vegetable (such as 2 tomatoes, 2 zucchini or one parsley plant), sometimes it makes more sense to purchase a couple plants rather than buy an entire packet of seeds.

Vegetables that are usually sown directly into the garden from seed, include root crops such as carrots and beets, beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, squash and salad greens. In some cases, it’s because these crops do not transplant very well, so it’s best to sow the seeds right where they’re going to grow. In the case of salad greens, you’ll probably want to grow quite a few plants, and it is simply much more economical to purchase a packet of seeds than to purchase multiple six-packs of lettuce transplants.

Potatoes can be started from seed but almost nobody does so. It’s much faster and easier to grow a new potato plant from a tuber rather than from a seed. Onions can be put into the garden as seeds, but more often they go in as plants or as “sets”, which are simply tiny mature onions from the prior growing season. Garlic and shallots are usually planted from sets as well. Leeks go into the garden as young plants.

You will find specific information about each type of vegetable in our Vegetable Encyclopedia

When to Get Started? Back to Top

There are three factors to consider when deciding when to plant your garden in the spring. First is the type of plant you’re putting in. Some plants, including lettuce and broccoli, can tolerate cool spring weather. Others, such as basil and tomatoes, are likely to be damaged or killed by temperatures lower than 40 degrees. Refer to our Vegetable Encyclopedia to determine the best time to plant each crop.

The other important considerations are first and last frost date, and soil temperature. In planting zones 3-6, the primary gardening season falls between the first and last frost dates. As stated above, cold-sensitive plants must not go into the garden until all danger of frost has passed. This typically falls somewhere between March and May, depending on your growing zone. If you don’t know your growing zone, click here.

If you garden in zones 8-10, it may be heat, not frost that determines your planting dates. Warm climate gardeners often plant in the fall rather than the spring, to avoid midsummer heat. Others gear up for two planting periods each year: early fall and late winter.

Soil temperature is also an important planting-time consideration. Most plants thrive in a moderate soil temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. Some, such as peas and spinach, will germinate well and grow just fine in cool, 45 degree soil. Others, such as eggplant and melons, will not germinate, nor will they grow properly unless the soil is above 60 degrees. The Vegetable Encyclopedia has planting recommendations for each crop.

Some vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, squash and corn, are typically planted just once each growing season. Other crops, such as salad greens, roots crops, peas and beans, can be planted and harvested early, and then be planted again later in the season for a second harvest. The Vegetable Encyclopedia has crop-specific recommendations for planting (and replanting) to help you maximize production.

Helpful Planting Tips Back to Top

Seeds can be sown in any type of weather as long as the area is watered thoroughly after planting, and the soil is kept consistently moist until the seeds germinate and the young plants have their first set of true leaves. Most seeds have a hard coating that must be softened for a period of several days before the seedling inside can emerge. If the soil dries out during this time, the process will be interrupted and you may need to reseed. Covering newly planted areas with garden fabric (or shade netting in the summer) helps keep the top layer of soil consistently moist. This cover can be removed once the seedlings are up and the plants are established.

If possible, young plants should be put out into the garden when the weather is calm, cool and drizzly. Tender seedlings will suffer if they’re planted out on a sunny, hot or windy day. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, water your new seedlings thoroughly after planting and then cover them with garden fabric for several days. The plants need time to establish new roots before they are able to extract moisture and nutrients from the soil. If you do not cover them with garden fabric, you may want to find another way to shield them from the sun and drying wind, and be sure to water every day or two for the first couple weeks.

Care and Maintenance Back to Top

Planting intensively means that weeds are rarely much of a problem in a raised bed garden. In the early spring you may need to weed a little every week, but by midsummer your weeding chores should be over. When weeds do crop up, you’ll want to remove them quickly so your vegetable plants aren’t competing for moisture, nutrients and root space.

The soil in a raised bed doesn’t dry out as fast as it does in a regular garden. The sides of the bed help retain moisture, and the plants shade the soil to reduce evaporation. Once plants are well established, your watering chores should be minimal except in hot weather and periods of drought.

Crops that grow take 3 or 4 months to mature usually benefit from a second, midseason application of fertilizer. Almost all vegetables appreciate a monthly dose of water-soluble fertilizer, especially one that includes humic acid, seaweed and fish emulsion. These water-soluble nutrients are immediately absorbed by plants and help keep them healthy in periods of stress. This is an easy way to minimize pest and disease problems.

You can begin harvesting food from your garden just as soon as it looks ready to eat. Crops are usually tastiest and most nutritious at or just before their peak of ripeness. Remove any spent fruit or foliage, as well as any damaged or diseased plant material. Keep an eye out for pests and address any issues promptly (our Pest Finder has full color photos to help you identify potential problems).

Gear and Accessories Back to Top

Some plants, including pole beans and most tomatoes, need a cage, trellis or another type of support to grow properly and produce a good crop. Plant supports also save space, help keep the garden neat and make it easier to access plants for harvesting. Click here to see our full line of vegetable supports.

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

You will also need to fertilize your plants to keep them healthy and maximize productivity. We recommend using a granular, all-purpose organic fertilizer at planting time and again midseason. You may also want to have some garden fabric for transplanting and frost protection, plant ties, and a watering wand or watering can. Click here to shop for raised bed gardening accessories.

To learn more about growing a bountiful harvest of vegetables in a raised bed garden, we recommend our friend Mel Bartholomew’s newly updated book – the largest-selling gardening book of all time – All New Square Foot Gardening.

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