raised beds
Published October 6, 2022 by Nicole Burke

Three Mistakes to Avoid When Building Your Raised Beds

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how to build a raised bed
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Mistakes to avoid when building your raised beds with Nicole Burke of Gardenary

Raised Garden Beds Are the Key to Success in the Kitchen Garden

Raised beds gave me my first success in the kitchen garden, and now I use them for all my clients and students to make gardening so much easier.

When it comes to building or setting up raised beds, I’ve seen all kinds of mistakes that could prevent you from having success in your garden as soon as possible and enjoying the full benefits of raised beds.

wooden raised beds

Reasons to Use Raised Garden Beds in the Kitchen Garden

Raised beds allow you to maximize productivity, improve drainage, start with the best soil for vegetables, and plant earlier in the spring and later in the fall. Plus, they look beautiful even when nothing's growing. They also make tending much easier because the plants are closer to your level.

Learn more about why raised beds are better for gardening.

Avoid These 3 Mistakes When Building Raised Garden Beds

If you’re paying for your material, you should get the maximum amount of growth possible for your efforts. Here are the top three mistakes to avoid to save you time, money, and frustration. 

building wooden raised bed

Mistake Number One

Don’t Make the Mistake of Not Building Your Raised Beds Tall Enough

You don’t have to have two-foot-tall beds like mine, but you do need enough space for the root balls of the kind of plants you want to grow. The very first raised bed my family ever put together was only four inches tall, which wasn’t quite tall enough to hold good soil we could grow with. Also, the closer a bed is to two feet, the easier it is to tend since you don’t have to lean over as much.

Here are some height options so you can see which might work best for you: 

  • 6 inches
  • 12 inches
  • 18 inches
  • 24 inches
  • 30 inches

Now, let's look at each of these heights and what they allow you to grow.

best raised bed height

6"-Tall Raised Garden Bed Benefits

This is the minimum height I’d recommend. Six inches gives you enough good soil to grow leafy greens like lettuce plants, spinach, and arugula. You can also grow herbs and other very short-rooted plants. If herbs and leafy greens are your priority in the kitchen garden, then you can absolutely find so much success growing in raised beds that are only half a foot tall (and save a lot of money on raised bed materials)!

raised beds for herbs and lettuce plants

12”-Tall Raised Garden Bed Benefits

This is the minimum height I'd recommend for gardeners whose priority is growing a wider variety of plants. While still not deep enough for tomatoes or other deep-rooted plants, you’ll be good to go for carrots, radishes, and peppers with just one foot of raised bed height. We set up our second set of raised beds in Houston to be 12 inches tall and enjoyed so much gardening success.

As you can see in the picture of a Rooted Garden installation below, raised beds that are one foot tall do require the gardener to bend from the waist, squat, or kneel in order to plant and tend.

1 foot tall raised bed

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18”-Tall Raised Garden Bed Benefits

Eighteen inches is a great height for plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, zucchiniplants that have a bigger root base and need more nutrients and space to spread out. Going up to a foot and a half means your raised beds are tall enough to tend and plant easily because you don't have to lean over very much. This height, a fan favorite, is overall easy to manage and allows you to successfully grow pretty much any plant you want. Building 18"-tall garden beds is a great way to save on materials if you don't specifically need 2'-tall raised garden beds.

18-inch tall raised beds made of brick

24”-Tall Raised Garden Bed Benefits

This height is mostly for convenience and aesthetics. Few, if any, plants really need two feet of depth for their roots, so the extra six inches of height is for ease of the gardener. My two-feet-tall beds are easier on my back because I don't have to bend over much. Plus, I like this height best in my landscape. 

24" tall raised garden beds

Over 2’-Tall Raised Garden Bed Benefits

Plant-wise, it’s not necessary to have anything over two feet, unless you have a specific reason, like a dog you want to keep out of your beds. 

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Mistake Number Two

Don’t Make the Mistake of Building Your Raised Beds Too Narrow or Too Wide

The width of a raised bed really matters. I’ve seen a lot of new gardeners set up beds that are only one foot wide, which doesn’t give them the full benefits of growing in raised beds. The magic width for raised beds is somewhere between two and a half feet and five feet, depending on how many sides you can access the garden bed from.

raised beds how wide

1’-Wide Raised Garden Bed Challenges

There's just not enough horizontal space for you to have more than one or two plants across, especially not if they need to spread out. You will still find some success, but you won't enjoy the full impact of the benefits of growing in raised beds. Overall, you'll be paying for a lot of material but not getting nearly the amount of growth from your garden that's possible.

If you have a small space, it’s easy to end up with a smaller bed than you hoped for, so I encourage you to find a spot where you can fit at least 18 inches of bed across, though two feet is preferable. 

2’-Wide Raised Garden Bed Benefits

The minimum width I usually recommend for raised beds is two feet. Two feet gives you room to grow several staggered rows of small, medium, and large plants. If you can only tend from one side, I’d recommend staying under two and a half feet, which is probably about as far as your arm can reach. 

raised bed width

3'-4’-Wide Raised Garden Bed Possibilities

If you can tend your bed from all sides, you could go as wide as four to five feet. The wider you build your raised bed (up to five feet), the more rows of herbs, leafy greens, and vegetables you'll be able to grow.

5’-Wide Raised Garden Bed Challenges

Anything beyond five feet would make it difficult to tend the middle of the bed. Unless you have very long arms, you'll find it hard to reach into the center of the bed from either side.

best raised bed width
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Mistake Number Three

Don't Make the Mistake of Choosing Materials for Your Raised Beds That Are Too Thin

This is in particular if you're building raised beds that are made of wood. The reason buying flimsy materials is a mistake boils down to durability.

thickness of boards for raised beds

1”-Wide Raised Garden Bed Challenges

With the price of lumber skyrocketing, it might be tempting to buy a board that’s only one inch thick. That’s fine for trim, but you want to build the main body of your raised beds with something more durable. These beds, after all, will see stress and weather over time. Wood is a natural material that's prone to wear and tear, but the thicker the wooden boards, the more durable they will be.

This is why I don't recommend purchasing most of the inexpensive raised garden bed kits that are available online and at hardware stores. They're made of material that is often too thin to last.

2”-Thick Board for Raised Garden Bed Benefits

I recommend getting at least two-inch thick boards to build the sides of your raised-bed garden, even though thicker boards tend to be more expensive. There’s always a balance between cost and quality, right? If you buy the thickest board you can afford now, you'll get more life out of your raised beds and enjoy them for longer.

how thick boards for raised bed

Best Thickness for Steel Raised Garden Beds

The thickness of your materials also matters for steel and stone raised beds. I generally say 3/16" is great for a steel bed. You don't want the sides to warp once all that heavy soil is added.

corten steel raised bed thickness
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Best Thickness for Stone Raised Garden Beds

If you're building a stone raised bed, make sure you're using the thicker part of the stone as you're stacking it to maximize your raised bed's durability.

stone raised beds

Build Your Raised Beds Right the First Time

Making good decisions when you start to build your raised beds can save you time and 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 start all over again. 

We've got tons of resources to help you build your own gardening haven. Learn how to build your own raised beds for around $100 each in this step-by-step guide.

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.

We’ve made all the mistakes so that hopefully you won't have to! Maybe now you can get the raised beds of your dreams set up and start growing!

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Three Mistakes to Avoid When Building Your Raised Beds