What is the Best Raised Garden Bed for You?

May 14, 2023

At the start of every great garden is a garden bed! Sometimes that start can be delayed due to the overwhelming variety of garden beds to choose from. Every gardener has their preference – and there is no one right answer as to which garden bed is the best choice. However, there are reasons why a particular one may be the best raised garden bed for you

Factors such as available space, budget, aesthetics and desire to DIY vs. buying a prefabricated garden bed are all to be considered. Some folks love the classic look of a wood garden bed next to their cottage style house vs. a Corten steel garden bed next to a more modern house. There is no right or wrong answer – let’s find the best raised garden bed for you!

Wood Garden Bed

When we think of a garden bed, we often envision a rustic weathered wooden bed filled to the brim with vegetables and flowers. I love a wood garden bed, because they are affordable (depending on a few factors) and easy to make. However, there are some downsides to wood beds – some of which may not make them the best raised garden bed for you. Let’s review the pros and cons:

Pros

Best Raised Garden Bed

Materials are easily accessible and affordable (potentially even free!)

At the time of writing this blog post, lumber costs have finally come down post pandemic. I remember building some of my own wood garden beds in the middle of 2020 and having sticker shock! However, wood is finally back to being an affordable option. Some of my clients have also successfully repurposed wood for their garden beds – making the materials free! 

One thing to keep in mind here is to make sure you know what kind of wood you are getting and whether or not it has been treated. You do not want pressure-treated or stained wood anywhere near your edible plants due to the chemicals that can leach into the soil.

Making a wood garden bed is not difficult for a DIY project

Making a garden bed was my first carpentry project! There were learning curves, for sure. But it is a fairly easy project to take on. If you are new to carpentry, then I highly recommend you use YouTube as a guide. There are a lot of options and styles to choose from. For a simple wood garden bed, you can find a great tutorial here.

A wood garden bed is a classic rustic look that many gardeners prefer

Again, this is a matter of preference. But the natural organic element of wood is synonymous with a garden. I’ve had many internal debates with myself about whether or not I want wood garden beds – simply because I love the look! This is your garden bed that you will be looking at for years to come – make sure you love it.

Cons

Wood will eventually rot

This is the reason I have not chosen all wood beds for my garden. I live in the Pacific Northwest, where it rains over 150 days a year. I know that wood will degrade faster than somewhere like Southern California. So, it is important to consider your climate and your desire to replace garden beds at whatever frequency.

Many folks make their wood beds out of either pine or cedar. Pine is a more economical choice, but will not withstand the elements as long as cedar. Cedar is considered to be more rot resistant than pine. Though to what degree is widely debated. 

Best Raised Garden Bed

While we generally consider cedar to be rot resistant, it turns out this is largely depending on whether that cedar is heartwood vs. sapwood. Oftentimes, the cedar boards we buy at the lumberyard or a hardware store are second growth sapwood, which is not as durable

There is another type of rot resistant wood that folks are starting to choose for their garden beds, and that is juniper! In Eastern Oregon, there is an overwhelming population of Western Juniper that is threatening the biodiversity of high deserts. Harvesting of this resource is helping improve the habitat, while also giving us an alternative to cedar. Sustainable Northwest Wood is an excellent business to source juniper for your projects!

When choosing your wood, make sure to choose boards that are at least 2” thick to further delay the onset of rot. You may also choose to line the interior of your beds with geotextile to minimize the exposure of soil to wood (which is one of the sources of decay). There are also food safe garden bed stains you may use to help repel moisture (another source of decay). Gardener’s Supply has a great option you can find here.

Overview

  • Affordability: Dependent on type of wood, but generally affordable
  • Ease of setup: Will require beginner level carpentry and some power tools
  • Longevity: Depending on many factors, wood garden beds may last anywhere between 5-10 years

Metal Garden Bed

Metal garden beds are a fairly new option in comparison to wood, but are gaining widespread adoption for many reasons. There are a range of sizes and configurations to choose from, as well as colors and finishes. There are even options to make your own metal garden bed from materials at the hardware store. Let’s review why metal may/may not be the best raised garden bed for you.

Pros

Best Raised Garden Bed

Lasts at least 20 years

Depending on the type of metal, metal garden beds can last anywhere from 20 to 50+ years! For folks who are not looking to replace their garden beds frequently, this is a huge plus. This is one of the reasons I like to work with metal garden beds in the PNW. They are guaranteed to last longer than wood beds.

Thin material maximizes planting space

Despite this material being incredibly durable, it takes up very little planting space. This is a big advantage for folks who may have limited gardening space and want to maximize every single inch available.

Prefabricated models lends to ease of set up

There are lots of different metal garden bed options on the market these days, which give a variety in configurations and colors. And I can personally say that they are quite easy to put together! Oftentimes all you need is a socket wrench in terms of tools. If you are looking for a garden bed in a box – this is it!

Modern aesthetic

Again, this will depend on your personal preference. Companies like Vego Garden and Birdies offer steel beds with a food safe protective paint that allows you to choose from a variety of colors. Another option is Corten steel, which develops a weathered patina look that blends in beautifully with the garden. My favorite Corten steel beds are from Veradek.

If you have any concerns with Corten steel in the garden, rest assured that the patina is a protective layer to the steel that not only helps prevent corrosion, but also adds beneficial micronutrients such as iron, manganese, copper and nickel into the soil.

Cons

Prefabricated models limit ability to customize size

The Vego Garden and Birdies models offer a lot of configurations! But what if they don’t offer one that fits your needs? There is another option! You could make your own with galvanized steel sheets from the hardware store. My first raised garden bed is one I built with a wood frame and galvanized steel sheets lining the inside. I still have them – and love them! If you want to try to build something similar, you can follow this tutorial.

Best Raised Garden Bed

Metal can be hot to the touch in the summer (though the soil and plants will be fine)

Metal will heat up in the sun. But if you keep your soil well watered, it should keep the metal beds relatively cool. Also, rest assured that the soil and plants will be perfectly fine. This is just something to keep in mind and to make sure you water well. Your plants will thank you either way!

Overview

  • Affordability: Mid-range in affordability for initial set up cost, but they will not need to be replaced often
  • Ease of setup: Minimal tools necessary – easier than IKEA furniture!
  • Longevity: 20-50+ years 

*Note: The best types of metal for garden beds include galvanized steel and corten steel. Both of these materials are food safe.

Stone garden bed

If longevity is a concern, then look no further than stone garden beds! Stone will stand the test of time – and look beautiful along the way. I love the natural beauty that stone offers in a garden. And the fact that it doesn’t have to be processed in any way to do so. There can be many different types of a stone garden bed – but before we look at those, let’s weigh the pros and cons.

Pros

Best Raised Garden Bed

Extremely durable 

Simply put – stone will last forever. One of the oldest buildings in history, the Knap of Howar in Scotland, is made of stone and is dated back to 3,500 BC. These stone houses are still in great condition, which means your garden beds will far outlast us all.

Flexibility in design

Stone comes in different shapes and sizes and lends well to creating curves. If you have a vision in mind of creating curved or circle shaped beds, that will be far easier to do with stone than a material like wood. 

Will heat up your soil faster in the spring

Stone will absorb and radiate heat quite effectively. This means your stone garden bed will heat up faster in the spring. Which also means your plants will be happy!

Cons

Materials can be quite expensive 

This will depend on what kind of stone you choose. Landscape rocks can be quite expensive! But there are other options. You may consider pavestones that you often see used for retaining walls. These are often made of concrete and can be less expensive than natural rock. You can also look for bricks or urbanite (pieces of concrete from construction and demolition projects).

The stone itself can take up a lot of space, which means less planting room

Every inch is precious to a gardener! Many landscape rocks and pavers are about 4-5 inches wide, which means they can take up quite a bit of planting space. If you have enough room to accommodate, this may not be much of a concern. But if space is limited, then it may not be the best raised garden bed for you.

Best Raised Garden Bed

Installation is difficult and may require professional help, which is also expensive

Installation complexity will largely depend on the material you choose. If you choose natural stone or pavestone, then you may want to consider getting professional help. It is not as simple as stacking rocks. It will involve leveling the ground, placing the stone appropriately, and making sure they are secure.

Not a lot of flexibility after installing 

Have you ever heard the phrase “set in stone”? A stone garden bed will be quite permanent! If you think you may want to change your garden design in the future, it will take quite a bit of effort to do so with stone. If you are looking for flexibility, it may be better to choose wood or metal.

Overview

  • Affordability: Mid to high range, depending on materials and installation costs
  • Ease of setup: Difficult. May need professional help for installation
  • Longevity: Will last indefinitely

The Best Raised Garden Bed for You

The best raised garden bed for you is the one you love most! Make to take into consideration the lifespan of each garden bed, your budget and available space . If you need help picking our the best raised garden bed for you, let’s set up a coaching session to discuss!

Happy gardening, dear friend!

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