The Complete Guide to Raised Garden Beds

Raised Garden Beds – The Key Component of a Successful Kitchen Garden

With the rising costs of lumber, many wonder if investing in raised garden beds is truly necessary for a thriving and fruitful kitchen garden. The additional expenses involved in building raised beds, including materials and soil, may seem excessive compared to traditional in-ground gardening methods.

However, speaking from personal experience, I’ve found that transitioning to raised beds significantly improved my gardening outcomes. In fact, I now incorporate raised beds into all of my kitchen garden designs for clients. Despite the initial investment, I firmly believe that raised beds offer numerous benefits that enhance productivity and overall success in gardening.

Before diving into creating your own raised beds, it’s crucial to understand their purpose, determine the optimal size based on your available space, and select the appropriate materials for construction. Let’s explore why raised beds are considered the cornerstone of any thriving kitchen garden.

What are the Benefits of Raised Beds?

Raised beds serve both practical and aesthetic purposes, making them invaluable in any garden setting.

Practical Benefits

1. Improved Soil Quality: Raised beds allow you to start with fresh, nutrient-rich soil, avoiding the need to amend existing soil that may not be ideal for growing vegetables.

2. Extended Growing Season: Raised beds retain heat better than ground soil, enabling you to extend your gardening season into fall and spring.

3. Efficient Use of Space: With more vertical depth for root growth, raised beds enable you to maximize planting space, fitting more plants in a smaller area.

4. Better Drainage: Raised beds facilitate quicker drainage compared to in-ground beds, preventing waterlogging and soil compaction.

5. Enhanced Accessibility: Working in raised beds is more comfortable and convenient, reducing strain during gardening tasks like planting, weeding, and harvesting.

Aesthetic Benefits

1. Visual Appeal: Raised beds serve as attractive landscaping features, adding beauty to the garden year-round.

2. Defined Spaces: They can delineate garden areas, creating a sense of organization and structure.

3. Outdoor Sanctuary: Raised beds can transform your garden into a tranquil retreat, reminiscent of an outdoor room.

Choosing the Right Spot for Your Raised Garden Beds

When it comes to selecting the perfect location for your raised garden beds, there are a few important factors to keep in mind. After years of experience working with numerous clients on their kitchen garden designs, I’ve identified four key aspects to consider.

Sunlight Exposure

The amount of sunlight your garden receives is crucial for successful plant growth. Aim for a location that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, although more sunlight is always beneficial.

Ideally, position your garden on the south side of tall structures like houses, garages, or fences, especially during winter when the sun is lower in the sky for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. If your only available spot receives around four hours of sunlight daily, focus on growing herbs and salad greens, which can still thrive with less sun.

Water Access

Proximity to water is another important consideration. If possible, place your garden near a spigot, rain barrel, or an area where it can easily connect to an irrigation system. Plants thrive on consistent and deep watering, which can be efficiently provided through methods like drip irrigation.


Another crucial aspect to consider is convenience. Ideally, your raised beds should be located close to your kitchen or within easy reach of your daily activities. Look for sunny spots near your back or front door, or even adjacent to your driveway, so you can easily step outside to harvest herbs for dinner or pick lettuce for lunch.


Finally, consider how your raised beds integrate with the overall landscape of your home. Your garden should seamlessly blend with its surroundings, feeling like a natural extension of your living space. Position your beds near prominent structures or align them with existing elements in your yard.

Explore opportunities to incorporate beds along established lines, such as alongside a fence, driveway, deck, patio, or pool area. This will enhance the visual appeal of your garden while ensuring it feels harmonious with the rest of your outdoor environment.

Determining the Size of Your Raised Beds

When it comes to the dimensions of your raised garden beds, there are three key factors to consider: height, width, and length.

Choosing the Right Height

The height of your raised beds is crucial for providing ample space for your plants’ root systems. In my experience, a raised bed should be tall enough to accommodate the full root ball of the plants you intend to grow. I generally recommend a minimum height of six inches. However, there’s usually no need to exceed two feet unless there are specific requirements, such as mobility issues.

It’s worth noting that beds with a depth of 18 inches or more offer superior drainage compared to shallower ones. While most plants thrive in beds no deeper than 18 inches, I personally prefer beds that are two feet deep (24 inches). This additional height not only makes gardening tasks more comfortable but also adds visual appeal to your landscape.

A taller bed constructed from materials like stone, brick, Corten steel, or cedar planks enhances the aesthetic of your garden and creates a striking focal point in your outdoor space.

Determining the Width of Your Raised Beds

When it comes to the width of your raised beds, the available space will often dictate your options.

For optimal functionality, I suggest a minimum width of 18 inches for your raised beds. Anything narrower doesn’t provide enough room for proper plant growth and limits your gardening potential. Ideally, aim for a width of at least two feet if space allows.

On the other hand, it’s essential to consider accessibility when determining the maximum width. For beds accessible from all sides, a width of around four feet is manageable. Beyond this, reaching plants in the middle becomes challenging, unless you have exceptionally long arms.

If your bed is situated against a wall or fence, limiting access to just one side, keep the width under two and a half feet. This ensures that you can comfortably reach all areas of the bed for planting, maintenance, and harvesting.

Determining the Ideal Length for Your Raised Bed

When deciding on the length of your raised bed, consider both available space and the materials you’ll use for construction.

For those opting for wood, eight-foot-long boards are often the most cost-effective choice. This length is commonly seen in our designs due to its economic value.

In my experience, the optimal length for a raised bed typically ranges from 10 to 12 feet. While I’ve installed beds as long as 25 feet, we encountered structural issues with maintaining stability as soil was added. Overly long wooden beds may begin to bow, compromising their integrity.

Here are two of our most popular raised bed sizes:

1. $100 Raised Bed: This bed measures 4 feet by 4 feet with a height of 1 foot, providing 16 square feet of growing space. It’s perfect for cultivating herbs and salad greens.

2. Chicago Kitchen Garden Beds: In my Chicago kitchen garden, featured in my book “Kitchen Garden Revival,” the six raised beds measure 2.5 feet by 7 feet with a height of 2 feet.

For detailed instructions on building the $100 raised bed and other variations, including sizes like 2 feet by 8 feet and 4 feet by 6 feet.

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