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Pros & Cons of Raised Beds

Raised beds have become a very popular. Some people may use them because they’re attractive but they also have several advantages. However, before you invest in the effort of creating raised beds here are a few pros and cons to help determine if they’re right for your garden.

Pros of Raised Beds

There are many advantages to using raised beds.

They warm up quickly in the spring.

They’ll be ready for planting before traditional garden beds. They’re great for heat loving plants like eggplants and peppers.

They drain well.

Many people find raised beds work well for them in wet climates particularly if they normally deal with heavy, clay soil. If your area experiences heavy spring rains having well-drained raised beds can help you get crops in on time. They’re also well suited for crops like summer squash that don’t thrive with wet feet.

You can put them anywhere.

One of the best things about raised beds is that they can be set up in places you couldn’t normally garden. You can grow on rooftops, old parking lots, or just places with poor soil. Note, if you’re using them to grow somewhere with contaminated soil make sure you seal the base of the bed with something.

They can be more accessible.

For people who have trouble gardening in traditional beds, raised beds can allow them to garden. They can be built on sturdy legs to accomodate folks in wheelchairs or those who have trouble bending over.

They can help prevent weeds.

While raised beds won’t eliminate the need to weed entirely, they can help reduce them.

Raised beds are perfect for root crops.

If you live in an area with heavy clay soils or have heavily compacted soil, growing root vegetables can be a challenge. Filling raised beds with compost and soil can allow you to grow perfect carrots, radishes, beets, and more!

How to Build a Hugelkultur Garden Bed

Cons of Raised Beds

Despite all their advantages there are a few reasons that raised beds aren’t the best choice for everyone.

They dry out quickly.

In hotter, drier climates what seems like an advantage elsewhere can actually become a problem. Raised beds heat up and dry out more quickly. If you live in an area where you need to conserve water, a raised bed may not be the best choice. 

You’ll have to purchase/find materials.

Depending on your circumstances and what you want your beds to look like. You may need to buy materials like lumber, screws, and soil or compost. Alternatively, you could use logs from your own property or weave walls with flexible sticks.

They require maintenance.

Unless you build your beds from stone or brick, your raised beds will most likely require maintenance and repair over the years. Boards and logs will rot and metal will rust. While it may seem like a good idea to use old railroad ties or pressure treated lumber these can leach chemicals into the soil and should be avoided.

Most raised beds cannot what be tilled.

Unless you make very large beds you probably won’t be able to use a tiller in them. You can use a broad-fork or garden fork instead.

Take these features into consideration as you determine whether raised beds are the right choice for your garden.

How to Build a Hugelkultur Garden Bed

For those of you who  aren’t familiar, a hugelkutltur bed is a permaculture garden bed that’s designed to provide your garden with a long term source of nutrients, require little watering yet not be subject to water logging, and encourage beneficial insects, fungi, and soil microbes. Hugelkutltur beds feature many layers including a bottom layer of logs or other woody material.

There are several advantages of hugelkultur. First the logs or branches slowly rot allowing for the slow release of nutrients back into the garden bed. For this reason it’s great for gardening in areas with poor soil.

Second it’s a no-till method. Any no-till practices are favored by many permaculturalists and gardeners for a number of reasons. First tilling is time consuming and difficult especially without equipment. Second tilling actually harms and/or kills beneficial insects and soil microbes that normally help plants grow. Tilling essentially flips over layers of soil which is not something that happens in a natural ecosystem. In nature soil is built from the top by simply adding more layers of organic material that slowly break down, exactly like hugelkultur beds.

Third hugelkutltur beds often require less watering than typical garden beds but as they are raised are also less prone to becoming water logged. Hugelkutlur beds are able to hold water well because of the decomposing woody materials that act as a sponge beneath the soil and the presence of mulch on the surface layer. Mulch is key in any garden as it keeps water from evaporating, reduces erosion, and provides habitat for beneficial insects, fungi, and microbes.

Woody Material

The first step to building a hugelkultur bed is to lay down woody materials in the area you want the bed to be. Branches, twigs, and even whole logs can be used.

It is important to note that certain species of wood are not ideal for this project. These include woods that are typically favored as fence posts like black locust and cedar. These woods are slow to rot and won’t provide nutrients as readily. Other species like black walnut use allelopathy, meaning they give off a chemical intended to keep other plants from competing with them for space.  Obviously it’s also best to avoid any would that has been painted or chemically treated.

You’ll want to pack the wood as tightly as possible. For this reason it’s typically easiest to work with a variety of sizes and start with the largest pieces on the bottom. There is no limit on how tall your pile is though many people choose to use at least three feet. Once you’re happy with your pile give this layer a good watering.

Nitrogen Rich Material

The next step is to add a thick layer of nitrogen rich material. This is necessary to help the wood decay and provide your plants with nitrogen. Good materials for this layer include manure, compost, and grass clippings. Once again you’ll want to thoroughly water this layer after adding it.


Now you can add soil. It doesn’t have to be anything special as the bed will soon be adding plenty of nutrients to it. You can use what you have on hand or purchase garden soil. Another option if you don’t mind the extra work is to dig a couple of inches of soil/sod out before laying your bed and then placing it back on, upside down as the top layer. This layer should also be watered well.


The final layer is simply a layer of mulch. Hay, straw, or old leaves are often used. As previously discussed mulch has a variety of important functions including preventing soil erosion, retaining moisture, blocking weeds, and creating beneficial insect, fungi, and microbe habitat.


Now your bed is finally ready for planting. Simply move a bit of the mulch aside to sow your seeds or transplants. Nearly anything can be planted in a hugelkutltur bed including perennials like strawberries, rhubarb, and asparagus or annuals like potatoes, peppers, and lettuce. Some people even make large ones to plant trees in!

They can be a lot of work up front but hugelkultur beds will provide awesome harvests with relatively little maintenance. There’s so many benefits and they’re relatively simple and cheap (if not free) to construct.

Have you made a hugelkutltur bed? What did you grow in it? Let us know how it went!