Archived Story

What goes in a raised bed? [UPDATED]

Published 7:54am Monday, April 9, 2012 Updated 9:55am Monday, April 9, 2012

Now that you have your raised bed built, what are you going to put in it? Start with the soil. You know we all go back to the soil eventually but only the garden does it while still alive. We want live soil in our beds. Start with the best soil you can buy. If it doesn’t look and smell good, refuse it. Mix as much compost into the soil as you can get your hands on.

Don’t just layer different soils or compost in your bed. Different soils have different pore sizes and water has a difficult time passing between them. Mix it before you put it in the bed.

Forget rocks, or gravel or anything else in the bottom of the bed. Again, it may just stop the water from draining. If the bed is to be on top of moderately good soil, dig lots of compost into it before you add soil on top. This will help any roots that get that far down.

Next, consider what type of plants that are going into the bed. Most annuals, including tomatoes, need from a foot to 18 inches of soil to grow well. A small ornamental shrub needs more, up to 3 feet deep and 3 feet wide and long.

If you are in a wheel chair, don’t make the bed wider than you can reach sitting down. That is usually 18 inches in all directions. If you can find a good builder, have a cut out built into the bed for the chair to fit under. The shallower sides can be planed to annuals while the middles can take deeper rooted plants.

Tomatoes and the vine crops can be trained to grow on a trellis or some type of frame. This will give you more room for plants below and around the vines. Bush cucumbers are short enough to hang over a 2 to 3 foot tall bed. Because you won’t have a lot of room to deal with, plan on secession planting. Start with radishes, lettuce and spinach.

When they are done, the carrots planted with the radishes will take over. A celery plant can grow in the lettuce row and spread when the lettuce is pulled out and composted.

The tomato will be small enough to go in the back of the radishes. Peas can be on a trellis, pulled in late June and replanted the first part of July for a fall crop. The spring vegetables, radish and lettuce can be replanted then too if the tomato hasn’t taken over. You can plant almost every vegetable or flower other than corn in a planter.

If you are planting flowers, keep them deadheaded and if they get scraggly, trim them to keep the planter looking good all summer. Plan for fall when you plant. An annual grass or late bloomer is the base for a fall show. Pull out any tired annuals. Add a potted mum or two and maybe a gourd and you have a whole new look to your bed.

For winter, evergreen boughs or tree tops with or without lights, a Christmas deer or snowman, or whatever you can find for a Christmas display and you are golden. Pull the Christmas ornament in January, add some bird suet balls or dry cookies or other bird treats and you have a fresh look. It all comes out in April when you add a fresh layer of soil and plant.

Because the planter has a limited amount of soil in it, you will need to fertilize your bed. Use a liquid fertilizer at half strength weekly, along with a long acting granular fertilizer dug into the soil. This will keep all your plants fat and happy.

Happy plants make for a happy gardener.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.



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