How To Design Garden Planting Beds

Looking for ideas on how to design garden planting beds so you can grow your own foods? All you need are enclosed boxes to help you control your soil's quality.

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Looking for ideas on how to design garden planting beds so you can grow your own foods? All you need are enclosed boxes to help you control your soil's quality.

The first thing you need to do is choose the best spot for your garden bed. Your crops need at least six hours of sunlight to thrive. Then, you need to choose your materials. You can design your beds using various types of materials, from wood to rocks, to straw bales to concrete.

In this article, you’ll learn how to determine the best height, width and length for your beds. We discuss various types of materials to use and not to use. You’ll also discover twelve different creative garden planting bed design ideas.

Over the years, I’ve built twenty different garden beds, some in-ground, others as raised beds. My experience as a gardener tells me that raised beds make it easier to improve your soil. They warm up faster than in-ground beds, which extends your growing season. And according to the University of Georgia Extension, they also provide better drainage.

Table of Contents

What’s the Ideal Size for a Garden Planting Bed?

When it comes to determining the best size for your raised bed, space and physical comfort are key. Let’s discuss height, width and length, so you can determine what works best for you.

Garden Bed Height

Deep-rooted crops require the most depth to thrive. These crops’ root systems can develop to depths of over two feet. So, your bed should be at least that deep to support healthy root systems. However, if you’re only growing shallow-rooted crops, 18 inches are all their roots need.

When choosing the height, you must determine your reason for growing in a raised bed in the first place:

  • Physical Limitations – If bending down is bad on your back, choose a height that allows you to stand while gardening. For example, if you’re five feet tall, a good height would be about three feet.
  • Bad Soil – The worse your native soil is, the deeper you should design your garden planting beds. This allows you to maximize how much good, healthy soil you provide to your plants.

Garden Bed Width & Length

When choosing the dimensions of your garden bed, constraints are the most important factor. These are some constraints you must consider:

  • Space – How much space do you have to create your bed?
  • Walking – Remember that you’ll need room to walk and maneuver around the bed.
  • Reach – To avoid stepping on the soil and compressing it, you must be able to reach the middle from each side.

A 4-foot width is commonly used when designing raised beds because most people can reach two feet to get to the middle. However, if you have space issues, you can create a longer bed that’s only accessible on one side, such as along a wall or fence. In this case, make sure the width is no more than three feet so you can reach the other side.

What Material Should Be Used for Raised Garden Beds?

The most commonly used material for designing a garden planting bed is naturally rot-resistant cedar. Never use lumber that’s been pressure-treated because hazardous materials may leach into your soil. Instead, choose naturally rot-resistant lumber that has not been treated. If you decide to stain or paint your lumber, make sure the products are eco-friendly.

There are other options for raised garden bed materials as well. The following four make great eco-friendly options for building garden beds:

  • Recycled Redwood – Much more rot-resistant than many other wood types
  • Stacked Stone – More costly than wood, but much less maintenance
  • Woven Wattle – Cost-effective because it’s made of twigs woven together

12 Creative Garden Planting Bed Design Ideas

A raised bed is simply an enclosed bed that allows you to build healthy soil higher than the ground. If plain, old wood is not your thing, here are sixteen creative ways to design a raised garden bed.

1. Bales of Straw Garden Bed

The bales of straw growing technique is known as hale bale gardening or straw bale gardening. The main growing medium is regular farmer’s straw, which is great at suppressing weeds.

Straw is made up of leftover wheat, oat and other grain stalks. So, the straw itself breaks down over time and becomes compost for the soil. This gives your plants more and more nutrients throughout the growing season.

What can you plant in straw bales? The best crops are short plants that don’t grow very tall. That means they are not good for growing tomatoes, sunflowers and corn because it’s too hard to stake plants in the bales.

2. Border Raised Bed

Is your yard made up of a bunch of steep slopes? There’s a way to create the illusion that the garden is actually leveled. Build short bed walls at the lowest sections of the area and build the walls higher and higher as you travel up the slopes.

When creating the various sections of the raised bed borders, make sure the beds are wide. You need enough gardening space for your fruits and vegetables to thrive. However, it’s also important to leave room for shrubs in the back of the bed to give it character. Also, include lots of flowers to add textures and colors while attracting pollinators.

3. Built-In Raised Bed

Many homeowners prefer to build permanent raised beds for their gardens. But this takes planning. Because you’re building a permanent structure, you must choose the best area. It must get at least six hours of sunshine for most crops. So, study the area well before constructing a built-in raised bed to determine whether the area gets shade. And if so, how much and when?

Bricks are commonly used to build these types of garden planting beds. They make it impossible for moles, voles, gophers and any other tunneling-type pest to annihilate your crops. You can also make the sides wide and use them as places to sit. This makes it easier on your back when tending to your plants.

4. Concrete Block Garden Bed

Concrete blocks are one of the most common recycled materials used for building raised garden beds. However, some fear that the “cinders,” which are essentially burned coal ash, may not be safe for growing fruits, vegetables and edible flowers.

If this worries you, just purchase new cinder blocks instead. These days, they are made out of concrete, not cinder. They are also heavier than older blocks, making them more durable. Just keep in mind that they can increase the alkaline level of your soil because they tend to leech lime. So, they are best for growing crops that thrive in soil heavy in alkaline.

How do you build a concrete block garden bed? Place the cinder blocks side by side in a straight row or create a circle or some other design. Then stack more on top until you reach the desired height.

5. Custom-Designed Raised Bed

Looking for something a little more creative? Well, you can create a custom-designed bed that also features a garden sitting area. One idea is to build a multi-level garden bed made out of wood. Simply build the first bed, then create one behind it that’s even taller. Continue the process until you have the multi-level look you want.

You can even add tables for sowing seeds and potting up seedlings or benches that open up to storage areas to keep your gardening tools safely tucked away. Your garden will take on a more rustic appearance as the wood starts to weather and the planter boxes fill up with healthy plants.

6. Aesthetic Layout Garden

There are multiple ways to give your raised bed garden an architectural look and feel. One idea is to create a pathway through the garden and build beds on both sides of it. Lining the pathways with your beds gives the garden a look that’s very pleasing to the eyes.

Other ideas for an aesthetic layout garden include:

  • Four Seasons – As one season ends, sow the seeds for the upcoming season. Doing this over and over allows you to harvest virtually all year long.
  • Shapes – You can use decking material, pavers, cinder blocks or bricks to define the space. Use them to create unique shapes or add a garden sitting space in a shady section of the area.

7. Hoop House Raised Bed

This is another great way to build a multi-season raised garden. Basically, it consists of a raised bed made out of the material of your choice with hoops placed over it.

Then, you cover the hoop house with tarps, shade cloth, plastic, netting or whatever materials you choose. This allows you to protect your bed from pests, bugs, frost and other bad weather. It’s also a way to design a DIY greenhouse for your garden.

8. Milk Crate Raised Garden

There are actually two ways to design garden planting beds using milk crates. The first one is for container gardeners. Simply take a bunch of crates and turn them upside down. Line them up in rows and columns, and place your potted plants on top of them.

This keeps them up off the ground, making it harder for some pests to get to them. Plus, it’s easier on your back because there’s less bending when tending to your plants.

Another way to repurpose milk crates is by using them to create a portable raised bed. Configure them to create a unique design and place them where they’ll get lots of sunlight. Line them with weed cloth so the soil doesn’t spill out of the holes and plant directly into them. Then, if you ever need to move the crates, just pick them up and go.

9. Raised Arbor Garden Bed

When growing vertically, you can trellis your plants or you can let them grow up an arbor. There, you can grow winter squash, melons, cucumbers and other sprawling veggies, as well as flowering vines, such as morning glory.

As the plants grow up the arbor, they will have full access to the sun. In time, they will grow to create shade beneath the arbor, making it a great place to sit back and enjoy the view. And it doesn’t have to be an expensive build either. To cut costs, choose lumber instead of wrought-iron material.

10. Old Doors Raised Bed

Have a bunch of old doors collecting dust in your garage? Why not use them to design a raised garden bed? You can use all sorts of doors, including:

  • Bedroom doors
  • Garage door panels
  • Front and back house doors

Tip: Vinyl lasts much longer than wood. It’s also nice looking and doesn’t require painting or weatherproofing. But wood works just as well for an old doors raised garden bed.

11. Sheet Metal Raised Bed

Using metal to construct your bed allows you to start your spring garden sooner. That’s because the material traps the sun’s heat in your soil, so it heats up faster than wood or most other materials. This also allows you to grow Mediterranean plants that wouldn’t otherwise grow in your growing zone.

It’s fairly simple to create a sheet metal garden bed because the material can be easily formed into shapes. Use it to design a unique look that’s all your own.

12. Wood & Planter Wall Blocks Raised Bed

Using plain, old wood and planter wall blocks is one of the simplest ways to design garden planting beds. The blocks have slots that allow you to simply slide the wood into them. Just place the blocks on the ground to create a square. Then, use four pieces of wood to enclose the square. You can also stack them to make the bed as tall as you like.

These are great raised beds for tenants or anyone who doesn’t want a permanent structure in the garden. If you ever need to move the bed, just lift all the pieces and take them away. They take less than ten minutes to put together and even less time to take apart.

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