Building a raised vegetable bed

By The Secret Gardener

Raised beds are a fantastic way to grow fruit and veg as well as many other plants such as alpines, herbaceous perennials and smaller trees and shrubs.

What are the benefits?

  • Improving drainage - they are above the surrounding ground level, though they will need more watering during a drought.
  • Increasing soil temperature - the soil warms up faster in spring
  • Improving access - they reduce the need to bend
  • Growing plants in a different soil type than in your area - fantastic for ericaceous or lime-hating plants like blueberries

Those are the perks, but how do we make them?

You can build a raised bed at any time, but most gardeners build them in winter as long as the soil is not too wet or frozen.

How big does your bed need to be?

Walking or stepping on beds is not recommended so it’s a good idea to go for a width of less than 1.5m (5ft). This will allow you to reach it from the sides. For ideal ease of use I would go for 1m wide, or 0.5m if you can only access from one side.

In terms of height, it depends on how you would like to use the bed. These are my recommendations:      

Your needs     Height  
Standing 1.0m
Sitting 0.7m
Wheelchair 0.6m

Ideally you should always build to at least 0.6m so that the plants can root deeply (which will also reduce their watering needs), but you can build smaller if you prefer.

Choosing your materials

If it is a small-scale project you could consider a ready-made kit. If you are looking for a slightly larger bed then you will need to consider the materials:

  • Sleepers are long-lasting but expensive. They are also difficult to manoeuvre and cut.
  • Timber is cheap, but the most short-lived.
  • Masonry is expensive but potentially permanent.
  • Recycled plastic sleepers and lumber are a great new option that is again potentially permanent and can be a little cheaper than wood.

Building your beds

  1. Clear the site and level it but keep any turf you remove because we’ll use that later.

  2. Mark out your bed using stakes and strings. Be sure to check your levels, accuracy at the start is key.

  3. Unless you are building a masonry wall you should now insert retaining stakes at the corners and every 1.5m (5ft) between. These will support the sides so they should be at least 5 x 5cm (2 x 2in) and buried 30-45cm (12-18in) into the soil.

  4. Attach the sides to the retaining stakes, preferably with screws, as they are less likely to split the wood.

  5. Now that your sides are in place you want to cultivate and enrich your soil. Use any turf you saved from earlier in the lower levels to enrich the soil as it decays.

Unless you are looking to use a different soil type or if your bed is deeper than 50cm (20in) you’ll want to remove the underlying topsoil for use later in filling up the bed. Replace it with subsoil, rubble or old inverted turves. Then replace the topsoil, enriched with organic matter and fertiliser. Well-rotted compost or manure works great here. Firm in layers to prevent undue settling.

If you are using a different soil type then leave the topsoil in place but loosen it, and then fill the bed with your soil of choice.

And that’s it! You’re ready to get planting those delicious fruits and veggies!


Meet the author

The Secret Gardener

The Secret Gardener is an award-winning landscaper, specialising in bringing colour and ambience to any space.

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