We are well past the bleak midwinter and impatiently looking forward to spring, but this is still the dead time when it comes to growing cycles and garden prep. If you have already finished your 4th binge-watch of The Office and are in the mood to switch from winter baking to winter building, DIY raised garden beds may be the perfect project for you.
Why build a raised garden bed?
- You may have trees in your yard and don’t want to disturb their roots (or have the tree roots disturb your plants).
- Your garden may have clay or rocky soil that is inhospitable for growing flowers or vegetables.
- With raised beds, you can control the composition of the soil more easily, including the alkalinity and acidity levels (soil pH).
- You may be concerned about pollutants in your ground.
- Your garden may be on a slope, causing you to be worried about erosion.
- The soil warms up more quickly in the spring when you have raised beds that aren’t frozen solid.
Where should I build my garden beds?
- The location depends on what you plan to grow. Unless you will be cultivating shade-loving plants, choose an area that will get 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
- If you are going to build more than one garden bed, make sure to leave enough space between them for you to pass through with a wheelbarrow.
- Stay as far away from hedges or trees as possible so you can avoid roots.
Type of lumber:
- Many people build 4X4 square raised beds, but the most popular size is 4X8 rectangular beds. You can adjust this step-by-step guide and the size of the planks you use accordingly.
- If you want rot-resistant wood that will last 10-20 years, buy oak, cedar, or redwood. The drawback is that these types of wood can be quite expensive.
- You can buy pressure-treated lumber, which is resistant to rot and insect damage (but which may be treated with chemicals), or wood that is not pressure treated, but which may last for only 5-7 years.
- 3-2X10s, 8 feet long
- 4-2X4s, 8 feet long
- A track saw or circular saw
- A power drill
- 3-inch decking screws (these are made of stainless steel and won’t rust)
- Cardboard, newspaper, or contractor’s paper
- A spirit level
- Peat moss, mulch, and organic compost
- Clear the spot where the bed will be located. For the 4X8 rectangular bed described here, you will want to build it in place, but smaller beds can be built in a garage or woodshop. If you are cutting into sod, put it aside for later.
- Cut one of the 2X10s in half to make 2 boards, each 4 feet long. These will be the ends.
- Cut one of the 2X4s into 8 sections, each 1 foot long.
- Stand one of the long 2X10s on its side and attach it to one of the end 2X10s to make a corner. Use the drill to predrill where the screws will go so that you don’t split the wood. Put a countersink bit on the drill so the screws don’t stick out. They should be placed in a perpendicular line about ¾ “ in from the side of the board. The deck screws are long enough to go through into the top side of the frame.
- Repeat this step to attach all four sides together to form a rectangle.
- Now attach the 8 short sections of 2X4s that you cut and attach them around the inside of the frame, flush with the top. These cleats are going to reinforce the whole structure. You can put 2 of them spaced out on the long sides and two at each end up against the corners.
- Attach one (8 foot long) 2X4 to the top of each of the long sides, resting on the cleats and on top of the 2X10s. Start by putting one screw into the board that it is parallel to and one screw into the board that it’s perpendicular to.
- Cut the remaining 2X4 to length by marking it against the top and bottom. Attach these.
- You now have a raised garden bed with a 2X4 ledge that goes around the top, reinforcing the whole structure. This is something you can perch onto (with one buttock) to comfortably reach into the middle of your garden bed.
- Use a spirit level to make sure that the entire structure is level. If it is not quite level, dig dirt from underneath until it is.
- If you have sod from where you dug out this section of your yard, turn it upside down (with the grass facing down) to line the interior of the bed. If you don’t have sod, line the bottom of the bed with newspaper, cardboard, or contractor’s paper, which should be soaked with water. This lining is to prevent weeds. (Landscaping fabric is another option.) Never line your garden bed with plastic because you need it to be water permeable. You also want earthworms to be able to make nutrients available to your plants.
- Fill the raised garden bed with a mixture of peat moss and black leaf mulch. You can also use organic garden soil for vegetables and flowers. Top the entire mixture with compost, either your own or from a garden supply center. Make sure to add organic material every year.
If you don’t have the right tools you need to build your raised garden beds, Northside Tool Rental has everything you need for the job. Contact one of our experts today to discuss what tools you need and how we can fully equip you to get the job done. We have convenient locations in Marietta, Gwinnett, Doraville, and Buckhead. Call us at 404-233-6722 to get your project started.