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Raised Beds: Preparing your Garden Beds for Spring

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Early spring preparation will yield rewards throughout the growing season.

By Greg Seaman, Posted Mar 15, 2011

Raised Garden BedsThis may sound odd to you, but my favorite season in the garden is early spring, after our raised beds are prepared but before anything is growing.

The sight of the raised beds topped up with rich soil, moist and crumbly, free of weeds and ready to plant is a brief moment of perfection, full of promise, a blank canvas awaiting the gardener’s vision.

When raised beds are well prepared, the hardest part of gardening is also done. And the better the garden beds are prepared, the less work there will be during the growing season, and the more likely the gardener’s vision will come to fruition.

Here are some tips for preparing your raised beds for a bountiful growing season.

Work from outside the beds.

When gardening in raised beds, try to adhere to the one basic ‘ground’ rule: Don’t step on the soil within the raised beds. The biggest advantage of raised bed gardening is the light, fluffy, well-drained soil you’re able to develop which facilitates vigorous plant growth. Stepping on the bed will compact the soil, reducing aeration and slowing the activity of valuable microorganisms beneath the soil surface.

When you build or buy raised beds, be sure you’re able to reach every part of the bed without having to stand in it. (Our raised beds are 4’ across.) If you must stand on the raised bed, lay a long board across the bed and ‘walk the plank’ while tending the soil. If the ends of the board can be set on top of the sides of the raised bed, so much the better, as this will take some pressure off the soil.

Turn under, or smother, green manure cover crops.

‘Green manure’ cover crops are commonly planted between crop rotations, or over winter, to add organic materials back into the soil and provide a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. These cover crops should be turned under before they go to seed, and several weeks before the bed is replanted.

Turning under a cover crop can be done several ways. You can cut the crop close to soil level using a grass whip, a shears or weedeater. Save the cuttings for the compost or for use as mulch. The remaining stubble can then be chopped and turned under using a hoe. For gardeners growing in raised beds, however, using the hoe can be awkward near the sides of the bed because you don’t want to cut into the bed sides or push the sides outward by the digging action. This can be accomplished though with some care.

Some gardeners do not bother turning under the stubble because it’s less work and they don’t want to disturb the soil. Instead, they plant in between the stubble. The new seedling roots will break down the cover crop root clumps over time.

Another method for turning under cover crops, which puts no stress on the sides of the raised bed, is to ‘smother’ the cover crop by laying down a thick layer of mulch and covering the mulch with black plastic sheeting. This method has the advantage of breaking down the cover crop without having to cut it down or deal with the stubble, and the underlying soil remains undisturbed. This method, however, takes time. In sunny weather, which increases the heat beneath the sheeting, it may take 2 – 3 weeks to effectively smother the cover crop. In cool weather this will take longer.
Seaweed mulch is used to smother the cover crop. The bed on the right shows a 'green manure' cover crop before the mulch is applied.

Inspect each raised bed for needed repairs.

The soil in raised beds gets wet and heavy over the winter, and the added weight can exert pressure on the corners of the beds and can bow the center of long spans outward. Now is the time to fix anything that needs attention, before you start sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings, since any repair will disturb the soil.

Raised beds which have corners screwed or nailed together can sometimes have a corner work loose. If this happens, you’ll usually need to dig back a few inches of the soil to be able to get the corners together. For fixing the corners on cedar beds, we have used coated deck screws for repairs, with good results.

Most raised beds which are sold commercially have corner constructions which won’t work loose. The manufacturers use designs such as mortise-tenon, half-lap with through pin, interlocking hardware, or winged brackets to ensure the corners hold together.

If the sides of your raised beds are bowing outwards in the center of long spans, this can be corrected in two ways. You can set a stake on the inside of the bed and screw the bowed side into the stake. This may last a season or two. A better method is to pull the bowed side in and attach it to the opposing side of the bed. Use ½” aluminum flat stock and drill a hole in each end for screws. Attach this bar to the top edge of the lower boards (if the bed is two boards high), or bend the stock to a 90 degree angle and screw it to the inside of the boards. Manufactured raised beds usually are designed with cross-supports or center pins so bowing does not occur.
Raised Garden Bed with Cross braces

For raised beds made from untreated wood, you can apply a non-toxic wood treatment to protect against sun exposure, water and fungal decay. A single application will last a lifetime, saving time and money required to maintain and replace wooden boards.

Pull or block any invasive roots.

Look for evidence of any fast-growing creeping roots from weeds such as horsetail, and pull them out toward the direction from which they came. In some cases, we’ve had to dig a hole in the pathway to pull the root under the side of a raised bed. Track the root to its source if possible and pull the whole root ball.

Tree roots are attracted to moist, fertile soil. If you have trees near your raised bed, you might want to dig into the soil of the bed to see if there is any encroachment of tree roots into the fertile raised bed. In our garden, we had roots travel over 50’ from a tall fir tree and grow directly under our prime garden beds. It was a big job to dig up the bed and remove the roots, and then install a barrier. You may be able to identify potential invasive roots before they grow into your beds. Is there a fruit tree nearby, a large tree a little further away, or large shrubs close by? Anticipate future growth and contain it before any problems arise.

Some gardeners will advise laying carpet or some similar ‘blanket’ barrier on the bottom of your bed as a barrier to invasive roots. I think this is a mistake because it slows drainage and limits root growth for some vegetables. Instead of blanketing the bottom of your raised bed, you can block invasive roots from the outside of the bed. A narrow trench can be dug on the side of the raised bed which lies in the path of invasive roots. We dug the narrowest trench we could, which was about 8” wide, and dug down to clay. The depth varied from 3’ – 4’. Then we slipped down, on edge, large sheets of HDPE recycled plastic which we got for free from a feed store. (These sheets were used under feed bags on pallets.) Corplast sheeting is another option. Some gardeners use sheets of metal roofing for this purpose, but this will rust over time. Once the trench is filled back in, trim off any excess at soil level. This will now serve as a permanent root barrier for your beds.

Blocking roots

Appraise the soil for amendments and top up the beds.

The soil in raised beds is constantly settling. In early spring, the soil level may be several inches lower than it was last fall. Take a spadeful of soil and see if it’s light, moist and crumbly. If the soil seems compacted, some peat may be needed to fluff it up.

If you are using the no-till method of gardening, amendments can be applied by top-dressing. Amendments such as lime, peat, rock phosphate and compost can be spread onto the soil and covered with a thin layer of mulch. Once the plants are up, more mulch can be applied which will top up the bed.

Soils with a pH below 6.2 will benefit from the addition of lime. 6.5 – 6.8pH is ideal. Dolomite is the finest grind, and is recommended. With ground limestone it will take twice as long for plants to derive any benefit from it. Ideally, lime should be added several weeks before planting. Hydrate lime, or “quick lime”, is not recommended, as it can change the soil pH so rapidly that plants may be damaged. Cover newly limed beds with plastic during heavy spring rains to prevent runoff. Soil pH can be determined by using a soil pH test kit.

Once the base garden soil is in place, it’s time to feed it. The preferred method is to till in compost. Compost can be purchased from a nursery in bags, but a preferable way is for the gardener to keep a homemade compost pile. Different models of composters are available to suit garden size and residential restrictions. ‘Compost tumblers’ are sealed composters which speed the composting process and deter pests. If you are interested in compost tumblers, read our comparison of different types of compost tumblers.

Manure is best applied about two weeks before seeding in the spring.

Set stakes or poles and trellises for tall crops.

If you plan to grow tomatoes, peas, pole beans or other plants which will need support, now is the time to set these supports in place. If you wait until your plants are in, driving the stakes into the soil may disturb the young spreading roots of your vegetables.

For tomatoes, we recommend building a simple structure overhead and cover it with 6 mil clear plastic sheeting, or corrugated clear fiberglass panels. The purpose of this is to keep the rain off the tomato leaves, which will prevent tomato blight. During the growing season you will need to hand water your tomatoes, or use a soaker hose, taking care to avoid wetting the foliage. Once the tomatoes are established, adding a generous layer of mulch will reduce the amount of watering needed, and will also protect the plants during dry spells.

In our garden, we screw the upright supports for the tomato shelter directly into the inside face of the raised bed. This is simple to put together, and easy to disassemble in winter when we want the beds exposed to winter rains. Leaving the shelter on through the winter results in the soil being over-dry, which drives away the worms and other beneficial organisms which need some moisture in the soil.

Growing tomatoes

Cover the soil with mulch or plastic sheeting.

Covering the soil in your raised bed is a good practice throughout the year. It is especially useful in the early spring, after amendments and fertilizer have been added. The cover helps retain warmth which helps the amendments break down and ‘cure’ before seeds are planted or starters transplanted. The cover also serves to shed water so your valuable amendments aren’t washed away in heavy spring rains. The cover also discourages the sprouting of weed seeds which may lie dormant in the garden soil.

In colder, wetter climates, covering the bed with a layer of black poly sheeting will be more effective than mulch at helping warm up the soil in early spring. We usually wait until the weather warms up before putting down a thick layer of mulch.

Divide perennials. Clear and mulch perennial beds.

Existing perennial beds can be cleared of old plant debris and mulched to prevent weed growth. Perennials are easiest to divide when emerging shoots are only 2 to 4 inches tall. Early perennials like asparagus should have last years’ stalks cut at ground level and put in the compost. Prepare new beds for perennial flowers by spreading a 6-inch deep layer of organic matter (i.e. peat moss, compost, rotted manure) and work in deeply. Plants growing in deep, rich soil are less likely to suffer from summer drought. Mulch should be applied around, but not over the sprouting root mass of each plant.

Wait till the soil is warm before planting.

Avoid the temptation of planting your garden at the first sign of a warm spell. If you work the soil when it’s too wet, you’ll risk losing all of its natural air pockets and your seeds will suffocate and rot. As a general rule, wait until the soil is 60 degrees F (15 degrees C) before sowing seeds. 68 – 80 degrees F (20 – 30degreesC) is optimum for germination. Even early spring ‘cool weather’ crops like peas will do best when the soil is about 75 degrees F. When a handful of soil feels and looks more like crumbly chocolate cake than either an ice cube or mud pie, its likely ready for spring planting.

It may sound like a lot of work getting your raised beds ready for spring, but routine garden maintenance throughout the year makes the early spring chores manageable. Most gardeners are eager to get outdoors in the spring, and these preparations are a labor of love. And the rewards will last all summer as your garden vision unfolds.


GregAbout Greg
Originally from Long Island, NY, Greg Seaman founded Eartheasy in 2000 out of concern for the environment and a desire to help others live more sustainably. As Editor, Greg combines his upbringing in the cities of New York, Boston and San Francisco with the contrast of 31 years of living ‘off-grid’ to give us a balanced perspective on sustainable living. Greg spends his free time gardening, working on his home and building a wooden sailboat with hand tools.

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  • MillieT

    It's a dream of mine to have a garden like yours. We hope to move soon to a home with more yard space. Do you have guidance for basic garden layout, we have so much to learn. Thank you for any advice, and for this article!

  • Deneene

    You mention putting plastic sheeting over your tomatoes to keep the foliage dry. But does this affect ripening? Does the plastic have to be clear, the sheeting we have is not totally clear, its a little milky looking. Is this OK to use? Thank you.

    • Greg Seaman

      We use 6 mil clear plastic sheeting. It is opaque,and not perfectly clear. This is probably what you are referring to when you say 'milky'.
      The sheeting over top of the tomatoes does not deter ripening.
      My tomato roof is 4' tall in the front and 5' in the back. It's a little low. I suggest making it 5 – 6' tall.

  • Bryan Staub

    We are putting in an herb garden in our back yard. We would like to come up with a nice clean look. the Garden Bed seems like it would be great. Thanks for the information. Bryan Staub,

  • Jenn B

    I have been wanting to plant a garden for quite some time, but we have SO many deer in our area that our huge back yard is wasted space for gardening. I recently told my husband that container gardening might be our best bet. Do u think this “green manure” idea could work for me? I’d never heard of it, but it sounds like fertilizer on steriod injections. I prefer not to use chemicals, but want to have the best yield possible, even from containers. Thanks!

    • Greg Seaman

      Green manure is not really fertilizer on steriods, it is more of a way of replacing what the previous crop has taken from the soil. Legume green manures such as peas, vetch and buckwheat fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it into the soil for the next crop. Cover crops planted in late summer and turned under in the spring, usually a few weeks before planting, wil also restore the populations of soil microbes which will help boost growth in spring plants.
      We do not rely on green manures alone for fertilizer. We add compost, and canola meal and sometimes we add some steer manure. We never use chemicals, and our garden produces very well. I believe that compost is particularly helpful.
      As regards the deer, why not fence your garden? This is our solution to the many deer in the area.

  • justin

    we've noticed how healthy the trees near our garden look, and I'm thinking their roots are reaching into the garden for nutrients. I'm going to take your advice and dig a test hole to check for roots coming from below. the idea of the root barrier is good and I may do this myself. thanks for all this.

  • MandM

    I like the idea of the no-till method, but how can you add lime to the soil. Does the soil have to be fully prepared before you can begin the no-till method?

    • Greg Seaman

      Just appy lime to the surface and watering will work it down into the soil over time.

  • greg

    awesome post, I am planning on turning my suburban home in Detroit into a working garden.

    The main focus will be privacy screens made with fruit-bearing crops but I also plan on having 3-4 raised beds for veggies. Your layout is exactly how I see mine…

    • Greg Seaman

      You're going to really enjoy the project. Converting a yard into an edible landscape is rewarding on many levels. Take photos as you progress, it's fun looking back and seeing the evolution.
      The privacy screens sound like a good idea. There are some great fruit varieties that can be espaliered along a screen that can be very productive. When designing the layout, bear in mind the fruit screens may attract bees so the location should be away from entrances and gathering spots.

  • K Prince

    We have a garden in the backyard. We used to plant flowers in it's location. We are missing the compost, but buy fresh planting soil every season. We enjoy the fresh produce throughtout the seaon.

  • Laura

    Thank you for sharing your garden tips. Your garden is beautiful and inspiring. I would like to see my garden develop in this way.

  • Jana

    This is our first year gardening in raised beds. When we dug up our old beds to fill the raised beds, we ran into some healthy roots coming from outside the bed area. There are several large fir trees but they are about 40 feet away. Could tree roots travel this far to get into the beds, or could they be from an old stump that is close to the garden beds? I'm so glad we found this out before starting our new garden.
    Thanks for any advice.

    • Greg Seaman

      Roots from a fir tree can travel the distance you describe, and this is probably the source of your problem. Roots from an old stump would not appear healthy. Cut the root and see if the flesh inside is moist.
      Assuming the fir tree is the culprit, there will likely be only a few roots under your bed and they'll be easy to find and pull out. It sounds like you may want to dig a root barrier, or relocate the beds.

  • jeannie

    we set boards down in the paths and on top of the beds before planting. after a few days, flip the boards and the local slugs are caught! this gives the spring seedlings a fightin chance.

    • Greg Seaman

      Good one. Black plastic sheeting also works for this.

  • Fran

    Do you mulch your asparagus plants?

    • Greg Seaman

      We mulch the asparagus beds but do not apply mulch directly over the rootballs, so the sprouts can emerge without any obstructions. This is about a 12" wide clear path over each rootball row.

      In general, we apply mulch lghtly (or not at all) in early spring, since we want the soil to warm up under the direct sun. As the weather warms, we add mulch, and keep all beds topped up with mulch through the hot summer.

  • Alyssa

    Thanks so much for this advice, particularly about problems with roots. I suspect this is a problem in my garden and the barreier on the outside of the bed is a neat solution!

  • Eti Sharma

    Thanks for suggestions,we need it.
    I wish to have a garden like yours..

  • Anthony Vanwhy

    I love how the garden looks, but I've never had the passion or patience to put in enough work to make it look that beautiful. A lot of my family members are crazy about it though.

  • BarbaraMcdalty

    Wow what an organised gardens, hats off to you that must of taken quite a bit of physical labour. Very motivating. Some pretty big tomartoes in that picture ! congrats on your success.

  • Larapons

    Hi, I am starting my first raised beds and the weather here (Chihuahua, Mex.) is very dry.  I used pine wood for the beds.  How do I preserve the wood? is it ok to use a primer for protecting the wood from rotting? 

    • Greg Seaman

      We advise against using wood preservatives when building raised beds for vegetable gardening. In a dry climate, your wood should last many years before needing replacement.

  • Greg Seaman

    Worm castings, like compost, are a valuable component in building rich soil. They should be mixed into the soil, but not used as the exclusive growing medium.

  • Geet

    Thanks for such useful information! I’m going to make raised beds with mesh bottom in the backyard, is it necessary to cut/remove the grass underneath or I should just put in the bed over it?

    • Greg Seaman

      I would recommend that you dig the grass and soil beneath the bed before setting the bed in place. This gives you a chance to clear and rock or debris in the soil, and to see the composition of the soil.

  • Kwhyte02

    I’m starting my first raised flower bed it’s 6×6 would it be a good idea to but a walkway through the middle on top of the soil I put down? And if I use rocks around the border will the rain wash away the soil through the rocks?

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes, a walkway down the middle is a good idea since your beds are 6′ across. We do the same in one of our beds.

      How much soil you lose to erosion between the rocks depends on how closely fitted they are. When we used rocks, we lost most soil at the corners of the beds. Eventually we switched to all boards for our beds.

      • Kwhyte02

        Would a bed with boards look right with stepping stones in it though or would you use something else?

        • Greg Seaman

          Gardeners do use stepping stones or pavers within large beds, and it’s up to you if they look right or not. I think they would look fine but of course they do compress the soil under each stone.
          For my one oversize bed, I use a long 2 x 6 cedar board laid on the flat, set on top of the bed sides in their centers, and screwed down. (You can just see a bit of it in the photo above just behind the tomato shed.) In the center of the board I put a block (12″ length of 2 x 6) beneath the board. This directs the weight so there is only soil compression at this one point. It also makes for an easy plank to walk down the bed.

          • Kwhyte02

            Thanks for the advice! It was very helpful :)

  • Nicole

    Hi, I have had several raised gardens since 2009 and have grown to more and more each year. I am looking to move then to one side of the yard and fence it in due to my dogs (one likes to lay in them and the other like to dig up and eat my plants). We have had problems with grass and weeds growing in them and the area I have now has a lot of grass. What are your suggestions in preparing this area with removing the grass? Also I have tons of rock and thought about putting in paths around each one, what is your advise in preventing weeds and grass in this area as well?
    Thank you Nicole Miller

    • Greg Seaman

      You may want to chop into the grass with a spade and turn over the clumps to speed the breakdown of the grass. Then set your bed in place and fill with soil. The soil will suppress any remaining grass and the roots of your vegetables will be able to access the soil formerly given over to grass. Don’t bother putting a lot of work into removing the grass, it would be waste of good nutrients and soil for the new crops.
      Unless your rocks are flat and easy to lay as a pathway, I would not use them. It would be a lot of work to lay a stone path and you will still have weeds poking through any gaps. We prefer to either mulch the pathways or, in one of our gardens, to let the grass be in the pathways and keep it cut short with a weedeater.

  • luke

    hey Luke here; this is very helpful info.First time gardening solo and hoping for a set work for my young family and I.Sustainability is what we seek and just real nourishment from our food. Wonderful articles I can’t even think of thing to ask ;but I’m sure I will in time.Hooray from the Bahamas.

  • Greg Seaman

    I like your idea of burying stones and chips in the pathways to discourage weed growth. Thanks for your comments.

    • george

      your welcome anytime ill share my help and experience with you although alot of it has been passed on by my ancestors and some trial and era experience

  • Celeste Gothorp

    I am constructing my raised beds from cinder block (my soil is horrid) so we are putting down a barrier beneath the block. I am using 8x8x16 block so stacking gives me 16″ of planting soil. I understand that the concrete block can change my ph – do I need to look for this in the first year, or subsequent years? Also, should I add a third row for extra height or is that overkill?

    • Greg Seaman

      It is advisable to check soil pH every few years regardless of bed construction. The presence of moss is a simple indicator of acidity, but having your soil tested is ideal.
      As we get older, the taller beds are appreciated. If you have the blocks, my suggestion is to go with the taller beds.

  • Stephanie

    Hello Greg, thanks for this wonderful website. This is only my second year having a raised bed 4’x 8′ for vegetables and herbs. i live in SE PA. I am having a problem with bamboo shoots that line the perimeter of the property, in the area where my raised garden is the bamboo is just about 3 feet on either side (it is the sunniest part of the yard) Through the winter and late last summer the bamboo roots have traveled and made its way into the bed, though it is sparse, Im concerned that it will deprive my vegetables of nutrients when i begin planting for this season. Any tips on how to control the bamboo around and in the garden? Many thanks!

    • Greg Seaman

      Bamboo can be a nightmare to gardeners. It is extremely invasive and the new shoots can be hazardous when they first poke up from the ground.. In your situation the best alternative would be to eradicate the bamboo and transplant it into large pots if you want to maintain some bamboo. Otherwise, you will have to dig a trench around your bed and line it with something impermeable to the roots. We have used sheets of HDPE plastic in our gardren to block invasive roots. We got the sheets free from a feed supply which uses them between pallets of feed.
      At the very least, you should track back the roots and cut them close to the source. This will only be a temporary fix.

      • Stephanie

        Hello Greg,

        i hope you’re off to a great season. In follow up to my post in late April, i went ahead and tried to eradicate the bamboo right around my raised vegetable garden, but unfortunately it was not successful. Just about a month into the growing season there are small bamboo shoots popping up in my veggie garden, i pull them like I would weeds but i can tell they are part of the larger root system in the surrounding area, so they will just keep coming back. My question is, other than it being a nuisance.. is it hazardous or toxic to my vegetables? or does it just deprive them of nutrients?

        Many thanks!


        • Greg Seaman

          Hi Stephanie,
          Bamboo is not hazaradous or toxic to your vegetables. However if left to grow and spread, it will crowd out your vegetable plants and deprive them of nutrients.
          Bamboo shoots coming through the ground can be hazardous if you go barefoot or wear thin soles. You might consider trenching around your vegetabe bed to cut invading roots, and you might want to consider a second effort at removing the bamboo for good.

  • Stephanie

    Thank you very much for the tip, I will be looking into eradicating the bamboo at least around the garden. Happy gardening!

    • Greg Seaman

      You’re welcome Stephanie.
      We keep our bamboo in large clay pots. They look great and can’t spread.
      Have great gardening season!

  • Greg Seaman

    What a lovely comment. Your father would be proud. Thank you for this.

  • Leeann Shawn

    Help! I have a truck load of left over organic potting soil that I just picked up. I will be using in a couple weeks. Should I leave it in the back of my truck? It is covered with a tarp on bottom and on top or should I lay a tarp down in the yard and cover it. Thank you!

    • Greg Seaman

      Either way, just try to keep the soil dry since it will be easier to work with.
      If you plan to store the soil outside of the truck, find a spot (maybe in the driveway?) and lay a tarp down first, then add the soil and put another tarp on top. This makes the clean up easy.

  • Greg Seaman

    Thanks Dan, great comments, eloquently stated.

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Dan. I’m going out to put the strings on right now, the young beans are ready to climb.

  • Therese


    I love the tomato shelter. Could you possibly tell me a bit about how you built it. Is the top flat or on an angle? I know you send it’s simple, but how did you make it? And how did you attach the structure with the plastic sheeting to the upright posts? Are those posts 2x4s or 4 x 4s? I’m from LI originally too but clearly didn’t get the instinct for these simple structures.

    Thanks so much for doing this work


    • Greg Seaman

      Hi Therese,
      The structure for the tomato shelter is built using the same basic method used for my pole bean trellis, the key being the small triangle pieces which connect the roof to the uprights, and also connect the uprights to the bed. Here is a link to see how the bean trellis is made:
      The uprights are 1x2s (full dimension rough lumber). If you can’t get rough lumber then use 2x2s. Use screws to attach the triangles, this way it is easy to move or to replace the triangles when they eventually degrade. This design also makes no marks on the outside of your raised bed.
      Here is my personal email if you need to ask additional questions –

  • Greg Seaman

    Yes. the rear uprights are a foot taller to give slope to the roof.
    The roof is made first, as a separate unit. It uses 1 x 2s. You cut the two length and two width pieces and screw (or nail) them into a simple frame. Then put in the “rafters” which are just more 1x2s spaced about 18″ apart.
    Once this is finished, cut the uprights and screw the triangles onto both top and bottom ends, extending 2″ beyond the ends of the uprights. The 2″ overlap is what meets the bed sides and inside of roof frame for the screws to attach to roof and secure the structure to the beds.
    Once you attach the upriights to the bed, get a friend to help hold the roof in place while you screw the triangles to the roof frame. Then add a couple 1x2s (or any thin wood) cut to about 3′ length for diagonal bracing (so the structure doesn’t sway). Attach these to the tall uprights in back, and diagonally to the roof.
    Once the structure is done, then drape the plastic over the roof and staple in place.

  • Greg Seaman

    Hi Carol.
    For the basic information about planting in raised beds, and for the type and depth of soil to use, you can read these two articles linked below:
    You can also go to our site and enter ‘cover crops’ or ‘green manure’ to see various articles we have written on these topics.

  • Macushla Hayden

    I use a mix 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 of peat moss and 1/3 of mixed compost. This blend is keeping my square foot gardens weed free and the moist in the dirt stay’s in balance. I live in South Texas 3 hours from the Mexican border and I am harvesting crops successfully doing the organic square foot gardening where my neighbors who are doing conventional row gardening are failing . There plants die and all attempts are failing. Using good soil is the most imported step of starting a garden!

    • Greg Seaman

      An interesting growing mix, it must drain very well with all that peat and vermiculite.
      Thank you for your comment.

  • Ritch

    This year i have built my raised beds and filled them with top soil. Some of the beds which will have potatoes,leeks,onions in next year i have added horse manure to the bottom and top and covered up them up for the winter with frost matting. My question is what would you recommend i put onto the other beds for a fertilizer for over the winter so when spring comes these beds will full of fertile soil.

    • Greg Seaman

      Sounds like a great method for your onion and potato beds. We use green manure crops for overwinter but it may be too late for you, since September is the ideal planting date. Another option is to put compost down if you have a good supply, covered with straw or leaves, then topped with black plastic sheeting. You could also put your peat moss, seaweed or clean sawdust in now. Grass clippings are also a good addition and they can go in now – just be sure to sprinkle them and mix with the dirt, then sprinkle more – this is to prevent the grass from matting, which slows down decomposition.
      We do not put in our most valuable fertilizers until a few weeks before spring planting, this is to ensure they are not flushed through with winter rains.

      • Ritch

        Thanks Greg :)
        I was wondering if there was anywhere on your site where i can put a slideshow of images which i have of the progress of my allotment.

        • Greg Seaman

          You could email them to me ( and I can see if there is any place where this is possible. We don’t yet have a section where people can upload their garden images, but it sounds like a good idea. I’ll ask our tech person what he thinks. Thanks Ritch.

  • ChilliFan

    It’s always interesting seeing what other people have been doing.

    This year was my first attempt at growing my own veg. I’ve never been much of a gardener so it was more a contrived experiment than anything that was particularly well planned. I’d grown some Apache chillis from a kit on the living room windowsill and had decided I wanted to be more adventurous on that front, this progressed to tomatoes, peas, beans, beet leaves and root veg with mixed success. Our back garden is largely paved so I put a variety of pots and tubs out. I was also given one of those plastic greenhouses that helped the seedlings, sadly the winds knocked it down and the cover is folded up in the shed whilst the frame is stacked at the back of the garden. It may need replacing entirely.

    We did well with our potatoes and enjoyed plenty of meals from them. I only planted a handful of pea and bean plants but they gave a reasonable crop per plant. The birds decimated the perpetual spinach, beetroot, radishes and even the carrot tops so we only got to enjoy the perpetual spinach for the first month of growth. The beet and chard never got a chance. They even had a go at the chilli plants but I got a sizable crop from the jalapenos, Santa Fe Grandes and Ring of Fires. The cherry tomatoes did well too.

    We’ve dug up some of the paving slabs and turned them on their side to make a raised bed for the coming summer but unfortunately due to their age and composition they’ve cracked and fallen so instead we’re looking at assembling wooden kit form beds in the same area

    Rather handily we have been able to scoop up several barrows full of dead leaves from the ground in the nearby park so we’ve spread this over the exposed soil and poured the contents of this year’s used growbags and tubs over the top. A friend has also offered to drop a few sackfulls of well rotted horse manure around.

    I pledge to make a more organised attempt with the veg this year. Although we used netting over half of the plants the sparrows were sneaking in so next time around we’ll make sure the netting is more secure. We’re also hopeful that slightly denser arrangements of plants in the larger container as opposed to lots of small pots will help. Certainly the chilli plants that were clustered together did better than the isolated ones.

    In the meantime I’ve got some winter radishes and parsnips that I’m hoping will be of a reasonable size.

    • Greg Seaman

      Sounds like you’ve got the gardening bug! The leaves and horse manure are going to make a big difference next season. I like your idea of turning the pavement on edge, even if it didn’t work. Before long you’ll probably get rid of all the pavement – there’s so much more return from your property when planted in a productive garden.

      • ChilliFan

        Hello Greg, it’s looking like I’ve got the bug as you say. Even if it wasn’t the most successful year in the garden the potatoes were a real treat and I had a regular supply of tomatoes throughout. Hopefully better planning will help next summer.

        In the meantime I’m enjoying reading up a bit more on suitable veg to grow and when to plant them. There’s a lot for a novice to learn but I’m hopeful about the results.

        • Greg Seaman

          I think your satisfaction will grow each year as your methods evolve. Just remember to focus on the soil and the plants will take care of themselves.

  • Garnet M. Hunter

    I have a question. I have many gophers. How do I get rid of them–not using poison?

    • Greg Seaman

      You can take a look at this product for nontoxic gopher control.
      You can also lay a sheet of 1/4″ galvanized mesh under your raised bed and fold it up the sides (on the inside) and staple to the bed.

  • Joseph Tiberius Orabona

    Hi Greg, great article. I have a couple of questions. This spring will be year two for me. I have one 4×8 bed. I filled it last year with organic potting soil. This year I was planning on just on a bag or 2 of compost and mixing it into the soil. Is there anything else you would recommend that I add to it as well?

    Most plants I had in there last year did pretty well. The exception to that was my roots, beets and carrots. My beets sprouted really well, but never really formed. My carrots had trouble sprouting and the ones that did performed poorly. Any idea what went wrong with them? Thank.

    • Greg Seaman

      Hi Joseph,
      After a season of gardening the beds are diminished in nutrients, so adding the compost is essential. You may also need to add lime and rock phosphate. In our garden we usually need to add some peat or forest duff each season to lighten the soil.
      Your carrot growing problems may be due to the carrot rust fly. We cannot grow carrots in the open, they need a row cover such as Reemay.
      The beet failure is a mystery to me since beets are hardy. They do like consistent watering.

  • Greg Seaman

    You can do a soil pH test to see whether to add lime. We add lime when any moss appears on the soil surface. Rock phosphate should be applied during the spring once per year, but can be applied seasonally for intensive growing.

  • Greg Seaman

    You’ll have to dig out the old beds and asses the ground for root incursion from nearby trees, such as the alder. If roots are getting in then you may want to trench around the bed and cut the incoming roots. Ideally you would then put in a root barrier – we use sheets of HDPE plastic for this (free from the feed store).
    Then start building soil – you probably need peat to lighten what you have. And rock phosphate, and compost or organic fertilizer. Aside from that, you can browse our Grow section of the Guides for lots of information about building soil and starting a garden.

  • Teri Hunter

    I created 2 raised beds last year, but it am deploying in a few weeks for 6 months (I’m in the military). How should I prepare my raised beds to be dormant for this growing season? I really don’t want to return to a weed infested mess. I have a lawn service set up, but all my flower and garden beds will not be planted. Any advice? Thank you!

    • Greg Seaman

      Cover the beds with black poly sheeting or large sheets of cardboard. Weight them with rocks along the edges. It will be easy to restore the beds for gardening on your return. Safe journey!

  • Greg Seaman

    Yes, Douglas Fir can be used for raised beds, though not as long-lasting as cedar. Your dry region will favor use of this lumber. I suggest reading the ingredients of Cedarshield for toxic ingredients, we’re not familiar with this product. We recommend EcoWood Treatment for treated raised beds where edible crops will be grown.

  • Ray

    Hi, I started a raised garden on top of dirt a few years ago with a few bags of miracle grow vegetable and garden, from lowes/home depot. Do you have any recommendations on what to add to the soil each year to keep it growing well and healthy? was great the first year….just continued to add more of the miracle grow….tomatoes were fine, but cucumbers were very leafy and not much fruit. So i be adding compost instead of more bags of miracle grow? composting on my own is not an option right now. Thanks

  • Kieran Kirkhope

    Hi, I’m starting to get my raised beds ready for 2015, the weather here is very wet in Scotland Argyll and Bute, is it too early to do the beds

    • Greg Seaman

      You can build the beds and fill them with soil, then cover with a tarp or plastic sheeting till early spring. Wait until a few weeks before planting to add your amendments such as compost, fertilizer, lime, rock phosphate and peat, as required.

  • linda rose

    i am about to purchase eco growth prime garden all purpose rock mineral based fertilizer. or should i get straight rock mineral dust

    • Greg Seaman

      We prefer to apply rock phosphate to all the garden beds, and tailor fertilizer needs by crop. The eco-growth is more of a broad spectrum timed release fertilizer.

  • DR

    I have lots of gum trees on our property.
    Can I used them for my raised bed borders and how long do you think they will last. We live in east Texas.
    Thank you

    • Greg Seaman

      Gum wood is only moderately rot resistant, and is given to insect damage. However, in your climate the wood should last longer than usual when used for raised bed sides. You should get 10+ years for the boards if you cut them at 2″ thickness.

  • Sacha

    Hi great post esp re advice on holding beds together and tree protection and the tomato roof (that might blow off here in NI but it would definitely aid outdoor growing). Question tho: manure two weeks before seeding? We’d generally be advised to manure autumn before or, what I do is bury the manure a space deep when prepping the bed. Also peat is a complete no no for sustainable gardening round here due to the CO2 implications and destruction of peat bogs. We use our own compost and leaf mould. Happy gardening!

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes, manure applied two weeks before seeding should be well rotted. Alternately, it can be dug in deeper as you like to do.
      I agree about using peat, we try to be sparing. Coir is an alternative but we found it impractical in a large garden. Forest duff , leaves and wood shavings also help aerate the soil but not nearly as effectively as peat.
      Compost is also helpful but difficult to produce enough for soil amendments to a large garden.
      Thanks for your comments.

  • Greg Seaman

    We use 6 mil plastic sheeting to cover beds in winter, they’re not used during the growing season. We have no evidence to suggest toxic leaching, although I would welcome an alternative.

    • kathy burke

      Hi Greg newbie fan here , today we cleared a lot of brambles from an area we hope to plant with trees , my question is as the grass is really tough and still contains many brambles in this are we are thinking of covering parts with black plastic would it speed up the breakdown of the matted grass and brambles to put a layer of fresh manure under the plastic the grass is uneven and clumpy we have cut it down as much as possible and realise it may take a year for this particular area to be ready to work with as it is large area we need to get it covered as soon as possible or else the brambles n weeds will be up again , at the moment I am trying to source the best place to by very large black plastic sheets if they come 10 foot by 10 we will probably need about 40 so the manure wont dress the entire area but will try and put it on as much as possible , may even lift the sheets to add more if we run short in the begining , I think it is important to get the plastic on as soon as poss. We have made raised no dig beds , and used straw and cardboard and also a few traditional beds in the other areas here that were easier to tame , love your blog here so helpful , if you have any suggestions about putting the manure under the plastic it would be great. Thanks for reading Kind regards Kathy.

      • Greg Seaman

        Hi Kathy,
        You can use black poly sheeting for solarizing your matted grass and brambles instead of rigid sheets of plastic. A loppers can be used to cut the brambles and thick material so the plastic lies fairly flat. We use 6 mil sheeting for this, and it is available in 10′ or 20′ widths.
        It will take most of this season for the process to take effect.

  • Carol Marini Savner

    Hello sir, I’m new at gardening. I have two raised beds. I have filled them with miracle grow top soil, not knowing that it should be mixed with regular top soil. Ugh. What are my options. Can I plant in full strength miracle grow top soil, if not what is the easiest stuff I can add to this soil to get ready. Carol

    • Greg Seaman

      Hi Carol.
      The MiracleGrow topsoil by itself is too rich for al-season growth, it needs to be diluted at least 50/50 with your native garden soil.
      I suggest you decant some of the MG into sacks or other containers and add regular soil to mix with the MG remaining in the beds.

  • Greg Seaman

    Well I hope the hay didn’t have seeds in it, straw is preferable for this reason.
    The mix you bought should be fine to use as a compost, but likely too rich for direct growing. Usually a garden bed is filled with native soil, then improved for gardening. It may need lightening with peat or similar medium, and may need lime and some phosphate. Once your bed soil is ready, then you add your compost and any other fertilizer, which are only a small percentage of the total soil mass.

    • Ava

      Hi there, thanks for your answer. I was afraid of that, lol. He did say straw now that I think of it. The bed is full so I guess I will have to do my best to add what I can. I appreciate your help.

      • Greg Seaman

        Thank you.

  • Greg Seaman

    Better to dig into the lawn beneath the bed and remove any rocks or debris, then add your soil. There is no need for the layer of newspapers. For lots of information about preparing and growing in raised beds, please see our guide:

Blog > Organic Garden > Raised Beds: Preparing your Garden Beds for Spring