10 Raised Bed Gardening Mistakes
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10 Beginner Raised Bed Gardening Mistakes to Avoid

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Raised bed gardening has become increasingly popular among gardeners of all experience levels, offering a range of benefits such as improved drainage, soil quality, and ease of maintenance. However, like any gardening method, there are potential pitfalls that beginners may encounter. Avoiding these common mistakes can ensure a more successful and enjoyable gardening experience.

In this article, we will discuss 10 beginner mistakes in raised bed gardening that, if avoided, can lead to a thriving and productive garden. We will address issues related to bed design, location, soil quality, and planting strategies to help you make the most of your raised bed gardening efforts.

Mistake 1 – Poor Bed Positioning

Perfect Raised Bed Spacing
Perfect Raised Bed Spacing

If you place your raised bed in the wrong spot, then one poor decision can affect your entire time gardening in that bed. The things you need to keep in mind when positioning your bed are the following:

Orientation – If possible, you want your raised beds to be orientated so the longest side is south facing and not blocked out from direct sunlight.
Space Between Beds – You want to ensure you have enough room to get around your beds and bend down in between them to garden.
Sunlight – Your raised beds will be a large investment, so you want them in prime positions. Do not place in the shade if it can be avoided.

Mistake 2 – Filling With 100% Compost

I am putting this down as a mistake, but it is only a mistake in that it will cripple your wallet. Nothing would be wrong with a 100% compost raised bed, but it would be very wasteful. There are much cheaper materials to fill the bottom of your beds with before topping them off with compost.

I have a whole article dedicated to this which you can find here.

Mistake 3 – Incorrect Bed Size and Depth

If placed on a hard surface you need a deep raised bed
If placed on a hard surface you need a deep raised bed

Choosing the right size and depth for your raised bed is crucial for optimal plant growth and accessibility. An incorrect bed size may make it difficult to reach the plants or maintain them properly.

One recommendation is to keep the width of your raised bed no more than a reachable distance if it is situated next to a fence or wall. This width ensures that you can comfortably work with your plants from one side.

This still applies to beds where you have access from each side, but obviously, the distance is doubled.

Now, let’s discuss the depth of the raised bed. This obviously only applies to raised beds situated on hard surfaces like concrete or with a weed membrane underneath them. If your bed is on soil, your plants will be able to access this soil, so the depth of the bed itself is not an issue.

With raised beds on hard surfaces, ideally, you want to make the raised beds as deep as possible. This will allow you to grow a broader range of crops, such as root crops, prevent the raised beds from drying out too quickly, and mean there is more nutrition in your bed.

Mistake 4 – Inappropriate Plant Selection

Overwintering Blueberries
Blueberries love acidic soil and do not do well with many other plants

One common mistake beginner gardeners make when setting up their raised beds is selecting plants unsuitable for their beds. This could be planting root crops in shallow beds that don’t have the depth to grow correctly.

Or it could go the other way, and someone plants a tall crop such as sweetcorn in an already tall bed. This will result in you needing a step ladder to harvest your corn!

When selecting plants for your raised bed, also consider their growth habits and size at maturity. Avoid overcrowding by ensuring that each plant has sufficient space to grow and spread its roots. Plant spacing can vary depending on the species, so following the recommended guidelines for that specific plant is crucial.

In addition to this, some plants may have different water, soil, or nutrient requirements, so grouping them with other plants with similar needs is essential.

This is particularly true for acidic-soil-loving plants like blueberries. You won’t want to plant these in a raised bed next to a vegetable that prefers alkaline soil; they are just incompatible.

Finally, select a mix of plants to create a balanced and diverse garden ecosystem. Including various species can encourage beneficial insects and reduce the risk of disease or pest invasions.

Mistake 5 – Overcrowding Plants

Fungal issues are common in crowded plantsa
Fungal issues are common in crowded plants

One common mistake beginners make when gardening in raised beds is overcrowding their plants. This is understandable, a raised bed will be your prime real estate and you will want to fill it with as many crops as possible.

To avoid overcrowding, you need to provide adequate space between each plant. This ensures that each plant receives sufficient sunlight and air circulation and makes it easier for you to access them for watering, pruning, and harvesting.

The required space can vary depending on the type and variety of plants you are growing. Here are some general guidelines for common vegetables in raised beds:

Always consult seed packets or planting recommendations for specific information on the ideal spacing for your chosen plants. Remember, providing the right amount of space is essential for happy and healthy plants in your raised bed garden.

Mistake 6 – Inadequate Watering

One common mistake beginners make in raised bed gardening is neglecting to provide an adequate watering system. Ensuring your plants receive a consistent and appropriate water supply is crucial for their health and growth.

Manual watering is fine for many of us here in the UK that get a lot of regular rainfall. But dry summers are becoming more and more common, particularly in some areas of the country. Not here where I live in the North West though – we still get plenty of rain!

But if you suffer from long, dry summers or are growing indoors, you may want to think about an automatic watering system.

Drip irrigation: A slow but consistent watering method that delivers water directly to the plant’s roots, reducing water wastage and promoting root growth. You can achieve this by installing a drip irrigation system with tubes or hoses along the bed.
Soaker hoses: Porous hoses you can lay throughout your raised bed, allowing water to seep out gradually and evenly across the garden. This method is easy to set up and can be a simple alternative to drip irrigation.
Spray heads: If you have a larger raised bed, you may want to consider using spray heads. This watering method distributes water in a gentle shower-like pattern, covering a wider area more evenly. Be sure to select spray heads suitable for raised bed gardens and position them correctly to avoid overwatering or waterlogging.

Regularly monitor your beds for signs of over or underwatering, such as wilting leaves and stunted growth. Adjust your watering method and schedule accordingly to ensure your plants receive the right moisture for optimal growth.

Mistake 7 – Lining Your Beds

Im going out on a limb here and going against the grain as many people line their beds with plastic and advise others to do so. But I think this is a very poor idea.

There is one simple reason for this – and something I often see happen – and that is that you are simply making a slug/snail B&B.

The gaps in between your raised bed and the liner are the perfect slug habitat. They thrive there where you can’t get to them before coming out at night and munching on your plants before returning to their slug hotel.

A snail in the lining of a raised bed
A snail in the lining of a raised bed

I make my beds out of wood and leave them un-lined. Sure, they will rot quicker, but not quickly. They still last years and years before rotting away, even if the wood is untreated. When they do start to rot you can repair and replace them, I much prefer this option to dealing with the slugs.

Mistake 8 – Neglecting Weeding

One of beginner gardeners’ most common mistakes when starting with raised bed gardens is neglecting weed control. Weeds can quickly take over your raised beds, just as they provide excellent growing conditions for your plants, they also make excellent conditions for weeds.

You should weed throughout the summer and then apply a mulch over winter or in the spring to smother weeds. This can just be a compost mulch, which has the added benefit of adding nutrition back to the soil.

Covering your beds over winter with a weed membrane or something more natural like cardboard is also a great way to weed easily. This will block out the light to your weeds and kill many of them off without you having to do anything.

Mistake 9 – Poor Drainage

Raised Beds On Waterlogged Ground
Raised Beds On Waterlogged Ground

Raised beds are often a great way to fix drainage issues as you are raising the beds above the soil. But there are still mistakes you can make that can lead to drainage issues even in raised beds.

Choose the right location: When setting up your raised bed, select a spot with level ground that avoids low-lying areas prone to water collection.
Sealed Bottoms: People often seal the bottom of their raised bed with either weed membrane or plastic and make no drainage hole. With this, you are essentially making a huge planter with no drainage holes, and it will collect water like crazy.
Good quality soil mix: A high-quality soil mix will ensure adequate water-holding capacity and good drainage. Incorporating organic matter like compost or aged manure into your soil can improve soil structure and water management. Adding lots of large organic matter to the bottom of your bed, like sticks and logs will also help with this.
Layer with gravel: Adding gravel or crushed stone at the bottom of your raised bed can further improve drainage by allowing excess water to flow down and prevent soil compaction.

Mistake 10 – Not Enough Support

If you make your own raised beds then you may well have called foul of this mistake. If you make large beds and don’t properly support the sides then they will begin to bow out and sometimes even break.

All of the weight of the soil in the bed is trying to push outwards and break down the sides of your bed.

Adding support and bracing is the way to fix this. You can add supports around the outside of your beds which is ugly but very effective or add bracing inside the bed.

Conclusion

In summary, avoiding these common beginner mistakes in raised bed gardening will help ensure a successful and thriving garden. By paying attention to details such as proper location, soil composition, and watering methods, you can create a productive and sustainable growing environment for your plants.

If you have any questions about raised beds or anything gardening related then let me know in the comments below.

Happy gardening,
Daniel.

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3 Comments

  1. yes yes yes to all 10 comments of raised beds i,ve made all 10 of those mistakes I WILL DO. .IT YOUR WAY. Empty them & start afresh 2024. thanks for the advice.

  2. I have to disagree with the points made in section 7, lining.
    Today (if used) timber will be one of the largest costs for raised beds. Constant contact with damp soil/compost will rot timber, it will also stain too, looking awful.
    A good lining will help keep timbers longer, help retain moisture longer and keep the general appearance looking nicer for longer.
    Providing the lining is snug and your filling is settled, the pressure of the soil/compost against the wall of the bed will keep slugs/snails out. Around the top of the bed, a timber baton nailed into place will stop anything living between. (I have pictures to the method if that would help).
    One benefit of using rough sawn timber to build your box is that slugs and snails don’t like splinters. Mostly slugs and snails will be introduced into a raised bed by soil/compost transfers.

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