In many everyday landscape situations the home gardener is faced with the problem of trying to cultivate plants in extremely poor soil conditions. New housing plans are notorious for a general lack of topsoil and/or compacted soil which creates extremely poor growing conditions

Who is affected?
Quite often this is a new homeowner who is trying to work with soil that's been severely disturbed and/or compacted. It's entirely possible that most of the lot's native topsoil was removed when the housing development was graded. Usually, only an inch or two of topsoil is spread over a new lawn following home construction. Therefore, homeowners are faced with trying to plant in heavy clay subsoil which lacks drainage and tilth.

What's the solution?
Without getting into an extensive (and expensive) soil modification program, the quick solution is installing raised beds. This allows for new topsoil, organic amendments and fertilizer to be custom mixed to suit the plants being grown.
A second advantage is that by its very nature, a raised bed drains much better than soil at the same grade of the surrounding lawn and landscape.

What type of raised bed?
The most basic type of raised bed is as simple as a pile of topsoil. This is usually referred to as 'mounding' and can be made more pleasing to the eye with proper shaping and contouring. But in the truest sense of the term, it refers to a bed that's constructed above ground using walls that create an actual planter. Usually, 12 to 18 inches of height is enough to provide a good root zone for most annuals, vegetables and smaller ornamentals.


raised bed vegetable garden

What about curved walls?
If curved edges are desired, it's necessary to use one of the precast wall stone products which are so readily available today. These products come in an assortment of colors and sizes. Proper construction practices must be followed (proper footer, etc) to increase the integrity and longevity of the wall. The taller the finished wall, the more important proper construction becomes.

Which type is the easiest to build?
The simplest form of raised bed planter to construct is created with 6x6 inch (or 6x8 inch) timbers, provided it's acceptable to have straight edges on the planter. It's especially important to use decay-resistant timbers for any project where there will be soil contact. If you use treated timbers, especially for a vegetable bed, it's extremely important to use ones that are safe for this purpose.


  • Better soil conditions for digging and growing
  • Opportunity to add amendments from the get go
  • Provides a raised wall to sit on while gardening



  • Timbers may need to be replaced eventually
  • Wall construction costs
  • More frequent watering required



  • Pressure treated timbers
    Available in 6x6 inch or 6x8 inch dimensions. Standard length is usually 8 feet long. Sometimes available in 2-foot increments beyond the 8 foot length (10, 12, 14... foot)  Timber construction requires a heavy duty drill and extended drill bit, chain saw or large cutoff saw, 12-inch spikes, sledge hammer, etc.
    Note: If using treated timbers for a vegetable garden planter make sure the chemical used to treat the timbers is safe for this use.

raised bed garden
This raised bed was quickly constructed using eight 6x6 timbers (8-feet long) and filling it with 50% topsoil and 50% mushroom manure. Notice how the corner timbers overlap each other for added strength.

  • Precast wall stones
    Precast products come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. While smaller stones might work well for smaller projects, heavier stones will be necessary for larger and deeper raised beds.
    Proper construction techniques are very important, so follow the manufacturers specifications for best results.
    Note: Due to the weight of most of these products, consider contracting the job. If doing the project yourself, you may need to have these delivered by heavy truck. Plan ahead.
  • Natural stone
    Some tradesmen and individuals have a knack for constructing natural stone walls, but most people don't. Precast products are easier for most amateurs to use due to their uniform sizing.
  • Soil mix
    Prepare a good soil mix for your raised bed using good topsoil, organic matter, lime if needed and the appropriate amount and type of fertilizer. Mix all the various elements together before placing the mix in the raised bed. Lightly compact the mix to take out excessive air space.
    Note: Most mixes will settle during the first year, so anticipate adding more mix for the second season.


raised bed plantings

composting for the garden

vegetable garden mulches

wall construction


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