Looking for a DIY Project That Will Change Your Gardening Game?
Unless you live somewhere with the perfect soil for growing edible plants, switching from an in-ground garden to a raised bed can mean the difference between a disappointing harvest and a continuous stream of delicious leaves, fruits, and veggies to enjoy.
If you're not sold on the benefits of raised beds or if you're not sure how tall your raised beds should be, check out our free guide.
The raised beds in my family's various gardens were all quite literally done ourselves until my most recent garden, when I shook up the aesthetic a bit with corten steel raised beds from the Gardenary shop. I also built many of the first beds installed for my company, Rooted Garden. I'm still far more comfortable with gardening tools in hand than power tools, but I learned some important lessons along the way from being a DIY'er.
The first is to choose materials that are natural, beautiful, durable, sustainable, and also affordable. I wish that cedar were more affordable than it has become lately, but it's still a relatively inexpensive option when you consider its beauty, durability, and overall sustainability.
The second lesson is that most DIY'ers regret cutting corners in the long run. Do the worst first when starting a raised bed project (more on that later). Making good decisions now can save you money in the long run and ensure you’re able to enjoy your gardening space to the fullest. I hate seeing people build their first raised beds, only to be disappointed and have to start all over again.
The third might seem obvious until you're in throes of project planning: make sure the materials you need fit in your car before you buy them. It's easy to get carried away at the hardware store, and the next thing you know, you have a wooden board bursting through your windshield (trust me on this one). If you don't have a truck and you're purchasing large materials or large quantities, delivery is your friend. Again, making good decisions now can save you money (and back aches) later.
Now, let's explore different materials you can use to build your own raised beds.
DIY Raised Garden Bed - Cedar
When I first started my garden consulting business, Rooted Garden, I made all of the raised beds myself. Not being much of a carpenter, I created a simple way to construct a wooden raised bed using only a drill and a bolt tightener. To avoid the need for a saw, I had the boards cut at the hardware store.
I like working with cedar because it's an incredibly durable timber that will perform well for years to come. You can also use pine, cypress, redwood, hemlock, or another type of wood that won't decay quickly and that's readily available in your area. Whichever wood you're using, make sure to avoid boards treated with chemicals that could then leach into your soil (and therefore into the food you're going to eat). If you do want to stain the outside, go with a high-quality, eco-friendly, and weather-resistant stain.
I also recommend buying the thickest boards you can afford, preferably at least two inches thick. You'll get more life out of your raised beds and be able to enjoy them for longer if you avoid the temptation of buying something only one-inch or so thick. The reason I issue a buyer beware for most of the raised bed kits popping up for sale online is because they're often made of wood that's just too thin to last very long.
Check out my step-by-step directions to make a 4' X 4' X 1' raised bed. I call it my $100 raised bed since that's how much the cedar boards, framing angles, and hardware originally cost. Unfortunately, the price of cedar keeps increasing, so budget for over $100 on lumber.
I also include DIY raised bed garden plans for the following sizes:
- 2’ X 8’ X 1’
- 4' X 4' X 6"
- 4' X 6' x 1'
- 4' X 8' X 1'
- 2' X 6' x 1'
You can find framing angles in the decking department of your local hardware store. Framing angles allow you to create a clean design with minimal wear to your boards and no extra trim.
I also have plans for a raised wooden bed with extra corner and top trim. These are the Gardenary signature raised beds, and I followed these plans to build the six raised beds in my Chicago garden that are featured in my book, Kitchen Garden Revival. You can find the full tool and supply list, plus easy step-by-step directions with pictures to follow, in my book or in our Gardenary ebook, the Complete Guide to Gardenary Raised Beds.
Get three books in one and learn how to make each of Gardenary’s signature raised beds.
You’ll learn the step by step to create:
-the $100 raised garden bed used in Salad Garden School
-the rolling steel planter used in Herb Garden Guide Course
-the Gardenary signature raised bed, complete with corner and top trim
Easy DIY Raised Garden Boxes
If you like the look of wooden raised beds but are worried about the assembly, you can skip some of the hard part by purchasing a set of raised bed corners. These brackets eliminate the hassle of ensuring your corners are perfectly trim. You simply place your boards into the slots, and you're good to go.
If you're purchasing corners, make sure to double check the thickness of the boards that they'll accept. Most fit the standard of 2"-thick boards (which is really a bit thinner than that).
- The raised bed corners from Gardens Alive are made of powder coated aluminum, so they won't rust. You can purchase extenders to easily create deeper raised beds. (These come in twos, so make sure you grab two sets.)
- The raised bed corners from Gardeners' Supply give a clean look to the edge of your beds thanks to their thin profile and the addition of the corner caps at the top. You have the option to purchase their naturally insect- and rot-resistant cedar boards; if not, the corners will fit any 2"-piece of lumber.
- The Oldcastle planter blocks from Home Depot are stackable up to 2 feet high. The material is food-safe concrete. This option doesn't give you the nice clean lines I prefer but definitely gets points for ease of assembly. There's not even any hardware involved.
DIY Raised Beds - Galvanized Tubs and Cattle Troughs
Repurposing galvanized tubs and cattle troughs (AKA stock tanks) as raised beds is a great and cost-effective alternative to wooden or more expensive steel raised beds. Most tubs and troughs are the ideal height to grow salad greens, herbs, and edible flowers, and the sturdy metal sides will warm your soil up early in the spring and keep it warm late into the fall.
I have a raised bed I use for my herb garden made out of a steel cattle trough container, which I know to be food safe. I made two alterations so that this DIY project would be an ideal planter for my herbs:
- I drilled holes in the bottom, one hole every couple of inches. Most edible plants don’t like their roots to stay wet, so good drainage is key. You'll need to add holes to a cattle trough or a similar stainless steel container.
- I added casters with brakes so that I could roll my large planter around since it's too heavy once filled with soil to carry.
I have instructions on how to make this raised beds on wheels here. Learn more about the benefits of using cattle troughs as planters and where you can purchase your own by clicking on the article below.
DIY Raised Garden Box - Corrugated Metal
Due to the ever-increasing price of lumber, gardeners have been getting creative with materials they can combine with wood to cut down on the overall cost. Many have turned to corrugated roofing panels as an inexpensive but sturdy option.
You've probably seen a lot of this type of raised bed on social media. Most involve an outer frame built of wood; the roofing panels are so thin that they would bow once you fill the bed with soil without the lumber frame there to hold them in place. This combination is ideal if you like the farmhouse aesthetic, but if you're trying to cut costs, it won't save you all that much on lumber in the long run.
I've found two alternatives that rely on significantly less wood but still have built-in support.
The first option comes form Growfully. They followed the steps from this Garden Gidget post to bury supports in the ground and add additional supports in the corners. The panels are then screwed into those supports. The only wood they used was the addition of an attractive trim piece on the top, which they stained. Find their complete tutorial here.
You can watch a similar bed being built in this video from Haxman. His 4' X 8' x 2' raised bed is made from reclaimed cypress and galvanized metal sheets.
A wood-free option is the selection of cold-rolled galvanized steel raised beds from Birdies. They make their beds following a process that results in stronger, more durable beds, and the powder coating they use is food-safe and non-toxic. Beds arrive in panels, so you'll need to use a hand wrench to assemble the pieces with nuts, bolts, and washers.
DIY Raised Garden Bed - Cinder Block or Brick
Like stone, bricks used to build the walls of a raised bed can create a very attractive look. The outside of both brick and cinder blocks can be painted to match your space, like the raised beds in the garden designed by Rooted Garden below.
The downside of cinder blocks is the thick profile, which is not great for smaller spaces. I've seen people plant in the smaller side holes of the cinder blocks to make use of that negative space, but that's not the most polished of looks for a garden.
When choosing your cinder blocks or bricks, it's better to go with newly made products. Recently, cinder blocks have been made with concrete, which is food-safe. Older materials could have been made with dangerous materials or used for something that would render them harmful for growing edible plants. Bricks once used in a fireplace, for example, could contain creosote, a carcinogen. Avoid bricks with old mortar still attached (which can contain toxic adhesives) or that are painted.
When stacking materials to build a DIY raised bed, it's incredibly important that the area you're building on is level. You have to start with a strong foundation in order for this project to be successful and durable. As you place the first layer of bricks, add or remove dirt or paver sand so that each brick is level.
You have two overall options for building your own raised bed from brick or cinder blocks:
- You can stack your blocks only three to four pieces high so that you don't have to use mortar or another adhesive. For greater stability, consider building double-layered walls so that it's harder to knock your walls over (though you lose even more growing space this way).
- Apply a sand-based mortar for residential use to hold your blocks together. Check that the mortar you're using doesn't contain any harmful contaminants that could leach into your edible plants as it breaks down. BBC Gardener's World recommends a mixture of five parts building sand to one part cement in their instructions for building a raised bed with breeze blocks. Make sure you give the mortar plenty of time to cure before you fill your beds with soil.
The video below from ToolBox Divas shows her building a simple bed from cinder blocks. I like how she added a piece of wood on top to cover the holes in the cinder blocks.
Other DIY raised bed ideas
DIY Raised Garden Bed with Legs
A raised bed on legs is appealing for those with back pain or mobility issues since the bed brings the plants closer to you for easier tending. The height will also help to keep out voles, moles, and rabbits. This cedar raised bed planter box on Amazon is an attractive option, and there are tons of other options available online for under $250. If you're set on building your own, just know that the construction will be a bit more difficult thanks to the raised bottom of the planter box.
Minnesota State Horticultural Society has rounded up the best videos for making raised beds with legs here.
Cheap and Moveable DIY Raised Beds
I got this idea from our Gardenary community online: use grow bags or large planters placed on plastic chairs or benches to make them more convenient to tend. I've seen gardeners make this option look cute, but it's not really creating that stunning kitchen garden that will look good even when nothing's growing. Nevertheless, it's okay to start small.
This is an inexpensive way to try out raised bed gardening before committing to more permanent raised beds. It's also a great option for apartment balconies or small patios, as well as for gardeners with mobility issues, since you'd be tending these beds more at your waist level when standing. A major installation bonus: you don't have to worry about clearing and leveling the ground beneath the raised bed space.
(Shop our recommended grow bags here.)
Elevate your backyard veggie patch into a work of sophisticated and stylish art
Kitchen Garden Revival brings you step by step to create your own beautiful raised bed kitchen garden. You'll learn every aspect of kitchen gardening, from design to harvesting—with expert advice from author Nicole Johnsey Burke, founder of Rooted Garden, one of the leading US culinary landscape companies, and Gardenary, an online kitchen gardening education and resource company.
Tips for installing raised beds
How to Install DIY Raised Beds
There's something I call "worst first", meaning building and installing your own garden beds requires you to do the hardest work first before you get to do the fun part, like planting. Even though it's the worst, it's important to get it right so that you have a good setup for your kitchen garden.
Here are some of the hard decisions and hard work you'll have to put in before you can get to the gardening part:
Find the best spot for your garden
I always struggle to pinpoint the best spot for my raised beds. You'll need a level area with at least six to eight hours of sunlight for your plants. Find our tips for choosing an ideal location.
Remove the sod
If you're installing your garden over lawn, you'll need to remove the sod first. I like to think of this as getting rid of the plants I don't like (grass) to make room for all the plants I do like (and can eat).
Level the ground beneath the bed
When you’re setting up a raised bed, be certain the box is on level ground. We didn't take this step with our first beds, and we ended up spending a lot of time trying to raise parts of the bed with bricks once we realized the entire structure of our wooden bed was compromised. To level the area, you can dig to remove higher areas or you can spread paver sand or gravel to raise lower areas.
Line the bottom of the bed
If the bottom of your raised bed is open, put down a layer of weed barrier cloth or raised bed liner on the bottom and up the sides to prevent the soil from spilling out after a heavy rain and to deter weeds. If you have an issue with animals that come from the ground, add a layer of hardware cloth to keep them out.
If you’re using a container with a closed bottom, make sure you drill your own drainage holes to ensure that your roots are never sitting in water.
Fill your bed with good soil
Fill your raised bed with the best possible soil to keep your kitchen garden plants happy and healthy. Remember that this opportunity to start fresh with incredible, nutrient-rich soil is one of the main reasons for building a raised bed in the first place. For years, I've used a sandy loam garden soil that's organic, natural, and doesn't include any peat moss products. Use our soil calculator to determine how much soil you'll need for your raised beds.
"Do It Yourself" Doesn't Have to Mean "Do It All by Yourself"
If you're feeling stuck or intimidated over building your own raised bed, you're not alone. Gardenary exists to give beginner gardeners a place where they can find all the resources they need to keep on growing.
My book, Kitchen Garden Revival, delves deeper into picking a location for your kitchen garden and then walks you through the planning, designing, and building of your raised beds, plus how to plant and tend your favorite edible plants.
If you're more an online-course-type of person, check out our popular course, Kitchen Garden Academy. Over the course of eight modules, we walk you through the complete step by step to set up and grow in your own kitchen garden.
For maximum help setting up your own kitchen garden, find a garden consultant near you to come out to your space. A garden consultant in your area can also connect you with local carpenters or masons if you need a little extra help with the bed construction process.
I'm confident that you're going to love having raised beds if you choose to install them in your outdoor space, and we've got tons of resources to help you build your own gardening haven and start growing!
We've trained gardeners all over the country to help gardeners grow in their own space. Find the consultant closest to you for expert advice on local gardening resources and what to grow in your climate.