Find out how to build, layer soil, and plant a long lasting, low maintenance raised garden bed with this step-by-step tutorial. In just a few hours you can go from nothing to a planted garden!
This article is sponsored by Fiskars and Gilmour, whose gardening supplies I use and love. Thank you for supporting the companies that make An Oregon Cottage possible!
I am so completely excited to share the first completed raised garden bed for our new vegetable garden! Can I just say how wonderful it felt to be planting food again? It’s such a great feeling, and I realized how I had missed it since moving. I highly recommend planting some food anywhere you can – it’s very life-affirming.
I’m also happy to finally have a tutorial for building a raised bed on AOC, since you know I’m a big proponent of raised beds as a part of easy care gardening. But this tutorial is not for your run-of-the-mill raised garden bed – this bed will last for more than the 8-10 years of typical wood beds. Really.
Because if there’s one downside I’ve learned to typical raised beds built from wood, it’s rot. This is especially true for the northern half of the US or anywhere that sees a lot of rain, like here in Oregon. We built beds from cedar in our first city garden, which were disintegrating when we sold it 10 years later. We then found thick reclaimed wood for our acre property garden and it they started falling apart at the 10 year mark as well.
Most things I’ve read about wood raised beds say something like, “It will last a long time and you won’t have to replace it for 10 years.” Um, we had gravel paths and our beds were 4′ x 12′ – what do I do with all that wonderful dirt I’ve built up while replacing the rotting boards? It’s a pain to even think about, that’s for sure.
During this past year and a half without a garden, I’ve done a lot of reading and observing gardens, looking for a solution that didn’t include wood. Spoiler: there’s not much. I was about ready to just go with mounded dirt (except for all the weeding of the sides…) when we bought a home with a large deck we didn’t need made out of a wood alternative composite decking (one brand name is Trex).
My uncle had actually suggested this material for raised beds and after a bit of research I found that composite lumber is safe and is allowed for certified organic garden raised beds. So Brian and I started removing the composite boards from the deck while figuring out a way to use them to make a raised bed with no wood at all. It’s turned out to be a great solution that I’m excited to share with you.
But wait, there’s more! (I’ve always wanted to write that…) Not only will you learn how to make a raised bed that will truly last, you’ll also see how to fill it using a layered system, set up a watering system using Gilmour hoses and timer, and then plant with Fiskars tools (including a new planting knife that I’m finding really useful!).
Basically, with this tutorial you’ll be able to set up a raised garden bed from start to finish in a day on any surface. It’s one of the reasons why I love raised beds so much – instant gratification!
Raised Bed Garden Start to Finish
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Raised Garden Bed Supplies
For one 4′ x 8′ bed (though you will have some supplies left over):
- Six 1-inch x 5-1/2-inch 8-foot long boards of composite lumber (or similar measurements). This will create an 11-inch high bed so that you don’t have to worry about any digging.
- 10-foot long 1-1/2-inch x 1-1/2-inch drip edge metal roof flashing
- Six 3/8-inch, 2-foot long rebar
- 1 pkg. 1/2-inch galvanized tube straps
- Drill or driver
- Sixteen 2-inch and forty 1/2-inch screws (we used regular screws, though you could use composite screws if you’d like)
- Layering and fill materials: cardboard, straw, grass clippings, composted manure, planting soil, etc.
- Soaker hose, Flexogen Super Duty Hose, electronic garden timer, watering nozzle
- Digging and planting tools like shovel, trowel, pruners and/or garden snips – all mine came from Fiskars, including this new Big Grip Garden Knife that’s such a great addition to my garden tools!
- Vegetable transplants and/or seeds.
Long Lasting Raised Garden Bed Tutorial
The first thing you’ll need to do is to find the place on your property with the most sun (more than 6 hours – and 8-10 is best) that is conveniently close to your house or a garden shed. Level is ideal, but you can dig a bit to level it if needed (like we did above). Grass, a gravel area, or even cement (if the raised bed is lined) can host raised beds. Tip: I’ve read that gravel is a great deterrent to garden pests like gophers, moles, and voles.
Orient your beds facing north-south if at all possible to decrease the amount of shading on nearby beds and plantings once the plants have grown.
- Cut your boards, if needed, so that you have four 8-foot boards and four 4-foot boards.
- Using the 2-inch screws, attach two boards together in a butt joint to make the first corner.
- Set the first corner into your chosen area, leveling as needed.
- Screw together the other three corners and then create the top level the same way with the remaining boards.
- Cut the metal flashing to 10-1/2 inches (or the length needed for your stacked composite boards), repeat until you have pieces for all four corners.
- Use a drill with a metal bit to make holes on each side a couple inches from both the top and bottom, as pictured above.
- Tuck the metal flashing into each corner and screw into place with the 1/2-inch screws, holding both levels together.
Tip: If you think you may have any issues with voles, moles, or gophers, this is the time to attach metal hardware cloth to the bottom of the bed. Flip it over, cut the hardware cloth to size, and staple it on with a heavy-duty stapler. Then flip the bed back over and continue.
We used metal rebar to hold the bed in place and to keep the flexible composite boards from bowing.
NOTE: if you are building your beds on grass, you’ll want to lay your cardboard down first (unlike how we did it in these photos) – make sure it goes under the sides and extends about 5 inches all around the outside. Then you can lay your walkway material right on top and it will help keep the grass from growing up the sides of your bed. If you’ve used hardware cloth, you’ll have to get creative and lay cardboard under the bed sides and out some to prevent grass growing.
- Pound two rebar pieces into the ground evenly spaced along the long sides and one in the center of each shorter end.
- Add 2 tube straps to to each rebar (one for each board level), attaching them to the boards with 1/2-inch screws, bending as needed to hold firmly (our tube straps were too big, so we cut a few small pieces of the flashing to make our own tube straps).
And your no-wood, truly long lasting bed is complete! Now it’s time to fill it.
This is where you get to build that wonderful soil raised beds are known for. When you’re building a deep bed like this, you’ll want to add free or inexpensive materials at the bottom so it doesn’t cost as much. The benefit is that you can add things that will help enrich your soil – or in the case of cardboard, kill any grass or weeds.
- Layer 1: cardboard and/or newspaper laid thickly.
- Layer 2: composted horse manure (free from a friend). Other options: straw and then manure, used chicken coop bedding, other barnyard manures, grass clippings, leaves, homemade compost, etc. Basically, anything that may grow weeds can be used as the second layer (horse manure is notorious for this, since they eat grain), because the other layers will suppress weed growth by lack of oxygen and light. We didn’t have straw this time, but I will make sure to add that on the cardboard for our next beds.
- Layer 3: good quality planting soil. This bed took about 1/4 yard of soil which is only about $7 at our favorite landscaping place.
And now your bed’s ready to plant – in just a few hours without any back-breaking digging. Isn’t that great? But first, let’s set up a watering system so it can be as low-maintenance as possible.
Inexpensive Raised Garden Bed Watering System
In addition to thinking about creating raised beds that wouldn’t disintegrate, I also spent some time thinking about how to set up an easy watering system. It seems like most places I looked at online suggested drip systems for raised bed gardens. The problem? They are expensive and time consuming to set up. Even the so-called ‘easy’ systems seem pretty complicated.
It’s no secret around here that I love soaker hoses both for raised beds and flower beds. They are cheap, easy to set up, and work great. And at around $10 each, they are a lot less than the $40-$75 I’ve seen raised bed drip kits on sale for.
Here’s what we did for this bed (oh, and stay tuned for more as we build our new garden – we will be sharing how we will hook all the beds together to create a truly hands-off watering system!):
- Lay a soaker hose evenly over the top of the bed’s soil before adding any plants. TIP: If you think about it in time, uncoil the soaker hose a few days before, leaving out in the sun to soften which will make it easier to lay. Also, using garden staples to hold some areas in place helps, too.
- Attach soaker hose to a quality garden hose like the Flexogen Super Duty Hose. These have served me so well over the years without cracking and very little kinking that I didn’t want to leave them at our old house – these were hoses I made sure to bring with us!
- Attach your hose to a quality electronic timer, like this one from Gilmour. Set it to water just once every 4-5 days for about 4 hours, depending on your weather. Remember, soakers water slow and deep, so they don’t need to run like sprinklers do. If you’re unsure, do a test watering before setting your timer and see how long it takes the soaker to water the bed to a depth of 10-12 inches.
- Reset your timer for the seasons. Observe your beds and see if they need less watering in the spring and fall and more in the summer.
Planting A Raised Garden Bed
You can plant in rows, square-feet, or alternating rows – it’s up to you. When I have a trellis like this bed for peas, I either like to set it in the middle of the bed to be able to plant on either side or on the ends if I’m only growing a small amount.
Here are some tips for planting for success:
- With a trowel dig a hole slightly bigger than the root of your transplant.
- Add a couple tablespoons of a slow-release organic fertilizer (or according to package).
- Before planting the transplant, gently pry apart the roots. This helps the plant start growing in the new soil. If the plant is root-bound, use a tool like Fiskar’s garden knife to score the roots to help open them up. I promise, this won’t hurt the plant – if you don’t do it, you may find that the roots never grow into the surrounding soil!
- For seeds, use the trowel to create a long furrow, add fertilizer, and drop the seeds along the furrow according to the seed package directions.
- If any of your transplants have browning tops or leaves (the onion starts I found were in a clearance bin, a-hem), use small garden snips to clip them off which allows all the plant’s energy to go into establishing roots and new growth, not getting rid of old growth.
- Water in your newly planted areas with a gentle-spray nozzle to help them get established and settled in the soil.
Raised Bed Maintenance
Now we’ve come to the easy part – you just get to monitor your plantings and harvest! Since the bed pictured here is planted with spring crops, I will be able to replant with summer and fall crops once these are all harvested.
For longer term maintenance, at the end of the season cover the bed with a thick layer of leaves, straw, or black plastic to prevent erosion and weed seeds blowing in. The next spring, add a 2 to 3-inch layer of compost to the bed a few weeks before planting and then plant as usual.
Have I convinced you that raised garden beds are awesome? Done from start to finish in a day and very little care after that – all you have to do is the fun stuff, planting and harvesting. I love this type of easy care gardening!
Disclosure: I received product and/or compensation for this post. As always, the opinions, thoughts, and projects are all mine and I will NEVER promote something I don’t love and think you will find helpful – promise! This post also uses affiliate links that earn commission based on sales, but doesn’t change your price. Click here to read my full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.
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