Pro and Cons of Raised Bed Gardening

Everyone LOVES raised beds! They are beautiful, orderly, and easy to reach and work. There's a ton of information on this site on how to build raised beds as well as on raised bed vegetable gardening. And...

There is also information here about how to grow in-ground gardens, because there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, There are also a bunch of other "methods", but they all are basically either in the ground or a raised bed.

Which method is "better" depends entirely on what YOUR goals are. It's important when you're starting out to be familiar with both the upsides and downsides so you can make the choice that best aligns with your vision.

Advantages of Raised Beds:

  • Can get up and growing quickly first year
  • Beautiful
  • Easy to reach and work (easy on back)
  • Drains well (advantage in wet climates)
  • Warms up earlier in the spring
  • No need to prep soil
  • Few tools required

Advantages of In-Ground Beds:

  • Works with natural soil ecology
  • No need to purchase materials
  • Roots can spread widely for maximum nutrient uptake
  • most sustainable, "green" method due to minimal resource use
  • Plants are generally healthier and higher in nutrition due to symbiosis with soil ecology over time
  • Expanding the garden is free

Disadvantages of Raised Beds

  • Often high up-front expenses: lumber or other materials
  • Must be filled with  potting mix or other high organic matter mix, not topsoil
  • Does not work with natural soil ecology, so generally lower nutritional quality of produce
  • If wood, will warp and decay over time, needing to be replaced
  • If cinder block, can release heavy metals into soil
  • May constrain larger root systems giving smaller yields
  • Dries out quickly (disadvantage in hot dry climates)
  • Resource intensive: not "green" in terms of sustainability
  • Repeated costs as garden expands

Disadvantages of In-Gound Beds

  • Soil prep required, can be significant for the first couple of years
  • Requires more tools in order to work the soil, especially at the beginning
  • Slower to warm up in spring
  • Have to bend over farther to reach

Healthy Roots Go Much Deeper Than a Raised Bed

Here are a couple of examples of how deep the roots of a healthy plant actually go when it is not restrained (each square represents one foot):

Drawing of the root system of a beet plant at 14 weeks of age. The roots of a single plant spread 8 feet wide and 10 feet deep.A Single Beet's Roots at 14 Weeks of Age
A 6-week old pepper plant's roots stretch 7 feet wide and 4 feet deep.A Pepper Plant's Roots at 6 Weeks of Age

More Raised Bed Articles:

Raised Bed Garden Kits
The fastest way to get up and growing is with a raised bed garden kit. Just open the box, assemble, fill with potting mix, and plant! Available in many different designs, raised bed garden kits also come in different sizes and depths to fit your needs. This article is a side-by-side comparison of the best.

Raised Bed Corner Brackets
If you want to use local lumber but don’t have much in the way of tools, you can buy pre-made corners to join your lumber together. This is less expensive than buying kits, and allows you to make your raised bed garden any width or length. All you need is a screwdriver!

Raised Strawberry Bed
Everyone loves raised beds, and everyone loves strawberries. A raised strawberry bed combines the best of both worlds.

Raised Bed Construction
No matter what design of raised bed garden you choose to build, observe these construction details which hold true for all raised bed construction. By following these simple do's and don'ts you can build a custom raised bed any width and length you choose, out of 2x6s, 2x8s, 4x4s, 4x6s or any other sturdy lumber.

Raised Bed Garden Designs: Photo Gallery
This is a photo gallery featuring 9 different raised bed garden designs. The close-up photographs of the corner details should make it easy for those who are even a little handy to duplicate the construction. Make the dimensions fit your taste or space.

French Intensive Raised Bed Garden (Double Dug)
There is another type of raised bed, too: one with no frame at all! It costs nothing for building materials or imported potting soil, honors and supports natural soil ecology, and is sustainable indefinitely. You can watch a You Tube video showing how to use the method, if you would like to compare it with framed raised beds.

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