ASK MARTHA: Raised Bed Gardening

Small gardens that yield big results? Hint - they're raised beds!

Question: Hi Martha, why are raised beds so popular?

Martha Stewart: Sometimes the good earth that comes with our home is actually not so good. The soil may be so rocky and shallow that plant roots can't gain a foothold, or it may be a clay so dense that rainwater pools on the surface. The natural impulse is to dig down to improve the soil. But often, the more easy and effective solution is to garden in a raised bed. Raised beds are readily available in many sizes and shapes at your local garden stores and online; and if you DIY, you can also find kits that are easy to build. 

What are the benefits of raised beds?

Because the soil within raised beds has been thoroughly mixed and amended with richly nourished soil, it offers a nearly ideal texture and high nutrient value. As a result, it promotes better plant growth and higher yields of flowers, vegetables, and fruits. This superior soil also allows more intensive planting. When plants are set closer together, spaced so that they touch at the leaf tips when mature, they shade the soil below, reducing moisture loss, blocking the soil compaction caused by rain, and thwarting weeds. 

Raised beds are ready extra early in the spring, a particular benefit in cold zones where the soil in the beds tends to be workable before the open ground thaws and drains. Finally, raised beds significantly reduce the need for tilling: unlike conventional flat rows, which are compacted as the gardener walks between them, a raised bed need never be stepped on, since it is tended by leaning across from one side or another.

Read on for more benefits of and tips for using raised beds. 

1. Location Flexibility

As long as you have some level ground and full sun, you’re ready to start! Most vegetables, flowers and fruits require at least 6-8 hours of sun a day. If you are planning a kitchen garden with herbs and vegetables, you should consider a location that’s convenient to your kitchen. When planting, locate the taller growing plants on the north side of your beds to avoid shading smaller plants.

2. Use the Best Soil

The soil you use in your raised beds is perhaps its most important ingredient. In addition to feeding your plants, it also provides proper drainage. The new Miracle-Gro® Organic Raised Bed & Garden Soil is a perfect choice. And don’t forget to replenish the nutrients in your soil during the growing season. Try Miracle-Gro® Shake 'n Feed® Extended Boost fertilizer.

3. Better Drainage

Your plants don’t want soggy feet. Raised beds have better drainage since you can fill them with loose, nutrient-rich soil. Make sure you have a nearby water source, making it easier to water as needed.

4. Higher Crop Yields

Healthy soil encourages better root growth, which in-turn leads to higher yields.

5. Maximize Your Space

I always urge beginning gardeners to start small, experiment, and learn. Using raised beds allows you to customize the size to your space. And if you’re growing fruits and vegetables don’t forget to utilize your vertical space. Peas, pole beans and tomatoes are vining crops and using supports or trellises creates space to underplant other lower growing crops (Underplanting simply means planting the ground around a tall plant with smaller plants).

6. What to Plant

Before planting anything, decide what kind of garden you want. Is it a flower garden, or fruits and vegetables, or all of these? If you prefer edibles, let your family’s preferences guide what you plant. Purchasing plant starts from your local garden center will give you a jump on the season. Bonnie Plants® starter plants are excellent choices and available at most local garden centers. Or, if you prefer, some plants like beans and peas grow easily from seed.

7. Companion Planting

Companion planting is an important aspect of gardening, especially if you're growing edible plants. Simply put, it’s a method of growing plants that both benefit from being planted together. A companion plant may attract beneficial insects and repel pests or improve its partner's flavor. Some typical combinations are listed in the chart below. But there are also plants that don’t get along, like onions and beans. Your local garden center can guide you to those combinations to avoid.

8. Longer Growing Season

The soil in raised beds will warm up more quickly in the spring, enabling an earlier planting season for spring crops.

9. Easy Accessibility

Make sure your beds are accessible from all sides – make them no wider than 3-4 and it will be easy for you to maintain them. Try elevated raised beds to ease accessibility and mobility issues.

Article by Martha Stewart, as part of the Growing with Martha Stewart partnership.