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How to Build Raised Garden Beds

Follow these simple steps to clear the space, prep the soil and shield against weeds for raised garden beds.

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simple steps to prepare space for raised beds
  • Time

    Several Weekends

  • Price Range

    $250 - $500

  • Difficulty

    Easy to Moderate

Highlights:

Step 1: Break up the Sod

Set the depth of the cutting blade on the sod cutter following the manufacturer's instructions. Start the cutter. To operate the machine walk behind it, making sure to cut right up against the previous strip so that you won't miss any grass. A sod cutter is a fast and efficient way to remove grass and weeds from your garden plot because it cuts the roots rather than the stems. Cutting the roots makes it much more difficult for the grass to grow back. Continue cutting strips until all of the grass in the garden is loose. If you rent a sod cutter, be sure to get specific instructions for that model.

sod cutter is fast and efficient way to clear soil

Step 2: Remove Sod

Remove all of the rolls of sod from the area so that the weeds won't come back in the garden. Definitely compost garden waste, since it makes great mulch and fertilizer, but in the case of weeds it's better to discard them. It takes a long time for weed seeds to break down and you don't want them to grow in your compost pile since you'll be using the compost in the garden later on.

Step 3: Till the Soil

Start the tiller according to the manufacturer's instructions, and be sure to follow the safety instructions. Walk behind the tiller and let the weight of the tiller sink the tines into the ground. Several passes through the area are needed to get the soil loose and turned over. Tillers are helpful garden tools because they're powerful, so be sure to use them carefully. Tilling is an excellent way to break up hard, compacted soil. The tines of the tiller stir up the soil, making tiny air pockets that plant roots need to grow. Tilling is also a great way to mix amendments into a new garden plot, especially if the soil is clay.

till soil until it is loose and turned over

Step 4: Select the Plants

As you begin choosing the plant varieties you'll include, remember that each type will have different needs in terms of light, shade, water, nutrients and daily care. Using raised beds will allow you to grow more in less space with less work. If you have more space, you can plan a garden full of rows or mounds. Read seed packages to see how much space your favorite plants will need, so you can lay out your garden correctly. Wider and deeper rows need less water and produce more. There are several reasons for this. First, deeper rows hold more moisture over a longer period of time. Secondly, wider areas of loose soil allow the roots to travel more freely to find nutrients. Finally, more plants can be planted in a rectangular bed than can be planted in a long narrow bed with the same square footage.

Step 5: Cut Boards for Raised Beds

To build the raised beds, begin by measuring one 2x12x12 board to a length of 35 1/2" for the planter box end pieces. Use a framing square and a pencil to mark for your cut. Then, using a circular saw, make the cut. You'll need two end pieces for each box. For the bed sides no cuts are necessary, use the entire 12' length. This will make your planter box 12' long by 3' wide.

use framing square and pencil to mark for cut

Step 6: Attach Sides to Ends

Once all of the wood is laid out, pre-drill holes in the side pieces using a cordless drill and a 1/8" drill bit. These holes will prevent the wood from splitting when you attach the side pieces to the end pieces. Next, using 3" galvanized wood screws, attach the two pieces. Repeat these building steps for each planter box.

attach sides to ends

Step 7: Stake Down Beds

With all the beds in position, use 18" stakes to keep the beds in place. Drive the stakes into the ground until even with the top of the bed. Next, attach it to raised bed using 2" screws. The stakes will prevent the beds from moving as soil is put into them.

use stakes to keep beds in place

Step 8: Know Your Tools

As with any do-it-yourself project, building raised beds is much easier when you have the right tools for the job: Leaf rakes have long flexible tines and are used to gather leaves and other lightweight debris such grass clippings. A bow rake has short, stiff metal tines and is used to rake heavier materials such as gravel, rocks or dirt clods. You can also use it in the garden to smooth the tops of planting beds; it will separate any rocks from the soil as well. Hoes are used to cut out weeds or to make rows; their sharp corners are good for drawing planting lines as well.

bow rakes help prepare soil for garden beds

Step 9: Shield Against Weeds

The best way to block weeds along these walkways is to add four or five layers of newspaper to each path; this will be thick enough to last all season. Weed seeds can't germinate in the dark, so the paper helps keep weeds at bay. A top dressing of 2"-3" of hay will keep the paths cool, but be sure any hay you use is weed free or you'll actually add more weeds than you're preventing. Keeping weeds out of your garden is critical to its success since weeds steal moisture and nutrients away from the vegetables.

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