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The Top 3 Raised Beds: What I Use & Recommend (Pros & Cons)

Raised beds are perfect for those who:

  • Don’t have a lot of gardening space
  • Want an easier garden

We’ve been using raised beds for many years, and we somehow keep accumulating more. Our neighbor recently noticed and asked us which raised beds we recommend. I figured others would have this same question, so I put together this guide.

In this post:

Let’s jump in.

6 Benefits of Raised Beds (Level Up Your Garden)

using hugelkultur in our raised bed
The raised bed we’ve had for 2 years

When we first got our raised beds, we quickly noticed some of the benefits and how they made it easier to garden:

  1. Better Drainage: Raised beds can improve drainage, especially if your soil tends to hold water. By elevating the soil level, you’re using gravity to your advantage and helping excess water flow away from plant roots, preventing them from becoming waterlogged and susceptible to rot or disease.
  2. Better Access: Because the soil is raised off the ground, you don’t have to stoop or kneel to tend to your plants, which can be a real lifesaver for people with back or knee problems. And if you build your raised bed tall enough, you can even work while sitting on the edge!
  3. Reduced Pests and Diseases: By creating a physical barrier between your plants and the surrounding soil, you can prevent soil-borne diseases and pests from reaching your plants. This is especially important if you’re dealing with contaminated soil, such as soil that’s been exposed to heavy metals or chemicals.
  4. Control Quality of Soil: Because you’re filling the bed with the soil of your choosing, you can ensure that it’s rich in nutrients and organic matter, which can lead to healthier plants and better yields. And if your soil is lacking in certain nutrients, you can amend it more easily in a raised bed than in a traditional garden plot.
  5. Significantly Reduced Weeds: Because you’re starting with fresh soil and compost, you’re not dealing with dormant weed seeds that are just waiting to sprout. Plus, the sides of the raised bed act as a physical barrier, preventing many weeds from creeping in. Fewer weeds mean less competition for resources, so your plants can thrive without having to share their nutrients, sunlight, and water.
  6. No Digging: Fill raised bed with your chosen soil and compost mix, and you’re good to go. This not only saves you a lot of physical labor but also helps maintain the soil structure and the beneficial microbes that live in it. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about compacting your soil by walking on it. It’s a win-win situation for you and your soil!

Pro-Tip: If you’re not 100% sure of a location for your raised bed, get one with wheels. This way you can reposition it as you need. After you learn the orientation and angle of the sun, consider getting stationary raised beds.

3 Cons of Raised Beds

building a raised bed with a plastic liner

While there are plenty of benefits, there are a few cons you should be aware of:

  1. Cost: Raised beds can be more expensive to set up than traditional garden plots, especially if you’re using high-quality materials like cedar or redwood. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of soil, compost, and other amendments to fill the bed.
  2. Maintenance: Because raised beds are essentially contained areas of soil, they require slightly more maintenance than traditional garden plots. You’ll need to regularly water and fertilize the soil, and may need to add more soil or compost as it settles over time.
  3. Root restriction: Depending on the depth of your raised bed, some plants may struggle to grow deep roots. This can limit the types of plants you’re able to grow in your raised bed.

However, we found raised beds are still worth using as the benefits far out-way the cons.

Which Type of Raised Bed is Best?

Fairly DurableDurableLess Durable
Mid-Range PriceMore ExpensiveLess Expensive
10-15 years20+ years10 years

1. Wood

our wood raised bed with strawberry and companion plants
Our wood raised bed with strawberries and companion plants (chamomile, marigold, thyme, and others)

Wood is my personal favorite raised bed for a couple of reasons. Wood provides a natural, organic look that blends into a garden setting. However, the type of wood matters a lot.

Cedar and redwood are both popular choices since they’re naturally rot-resistant. But remember, even these can start to break down after a while, especially if they’re in contact with moist soil all the time.

But another thing to remember about wood is it’s a renewable resource. If you’re sourcing your lumber locally and responsibly, you’re contributing to a more sustainable gardening practice.

If you’re worried about the longevity of the wood, you can extend its life by lining the inside with a thick plastic liner, which can help reduce moisture contact. It’s a bit of a trade-off though, as plastic isn’t as environmentally friendly, and some folks worry about potential chemical leaching.

I’d say, based on my experience and many conversations with other gardeners, you can expect a well-maintained wooden raised bed to last anywhere between 10-15 years.

2. Metal

a side view of our metal raised bed on wheels
A side view of our metal raised bed on wheels

Metal raised beds, often made of galvanized steel or aluminum, are a strong contender as well. They’re sleek, modern, and can be quite durable.

They’re not going to rot like wood, and good quality galvanized steel or aluminum can resist rust for quite a long time. On the flip side, if you’re concerned about sustainability, metal takes a lot of energy to produce and isn’t a renewable resource.

While they might not have the same natural aesthetic as wood, they offer a clean, industrial look that some gardeners really dig.

They also warm up quickly in the spring, giving your plants a head-start. However, they can also overheat in summer, potentially damaging plant roots.

So, if you live in a hot climate, you might want to think twice about these. Plus, there’s the issue of potential leaching of zinc or other metals, though this is usually minor and not a significant concern for most gardeners.

Regarding lifespan, metal raised beds, assuming they’re well-maintained and not exposed to extreme conditions, can easily last 20 years or more.

3. Plastic

our plastic raised bed with tomato plants
Our plastic raised beds with cherry tomato plants (front) and Early Girl tomato plant (back)

Plastic or composite beds are often made from a blend of wood fiber and recycled plastics, so they offer a middle-ground between the natural feel of wood and the durability of metal.

Compared to wood and metal, plastic raised beds won’t rot or rust.

They’re also lightweight and easy to install, which can be a bonus if you’re just getting started with raised bed gardening. However, they’re not as sturdy as wood or metal, so they might not hold up as well to extreme weather or heavy loads of soil.

As for sustainability, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While it’s great that they often use recycled materials, plastic production still has significant environmental impacts. If you’re going with plastic, look for ones that are UV-resistant to help them last longer.

Typically, a plastic raised bed might last you 10 years, possibly more if it’s well cared for and not exposed to harsh conditions.

My Top 3 Raised Beds

Now, let’s get into the raised beds that I use and recommend.

1. Best Overall: FOYUEE Raised Planter Box (The One We Have)

our metal raised bed on wheels
Our raised bed on wheels growing parsley, cilantro, thyme, garlic, and zinnias

We’ve had this raised bed since July 2021 and it has been truly great. We leave it out during harsh weather and it’s showing no signs of wearing or rusting.

Because it’s more shallow than other raised beds, we primarily use it to plant herbs.

My favorite thing about this raised bed is that it’s tall and has wheels. Not only do I not have to bend down, but I can reposition it anywhere in the garden.

To recap, this raised bed is:

  • Wheeled, so it can reposition
  • Great for herbs
  • Durable
  • Affordable
  • At waist height so no need to bend down

2. Most Affordable: Waaliji Raised Garden Bed with Steel Cable

A reader recently told me they bought this raised bed for their herbs and they’re loving it. It’s even more affordable than the one I have, and it’s rust and UV resistant.

They also have 3 different sizes so you can choose the one that best fits your garden space.

Because it’s made from polypropylene (a type of plastic), it’s fairly durable as well as immune to rusting and rotting.

Keep in mind that it’s bottomless, so it works best if you place it on the ground (and not concrete). While you can put it on top of concrete, tile, etc, the surface can easily become stained from the dirt and prevent water from draining.

This raised bed is 1 foot deep, so it’s great for herbs, leafy vegetables, as well as root vegetables. While it can work for dwarf fruit trees, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Fruit trees typically need at least 2-3 feet in depth. 90% of their roots are found within the first 2 feet of soil.

3. Most Durable: Ornesign 2 Pack Premium Galvanized Raised Garden Bed Kit

Another reader mentioned they bought this one and they highly recommend it. While it’s a bit more expensive, they really liked that it comes with two (although you can buy a single if you’d like). They said the assembly was fairly easy and took about 30 minutes.

Unlike the above, this raised bed is made from galvanized steel, so it’s likely to be more durable.

These raised beds are also bottomless, so keep that in mind when you’re placing them in your garden. The good news is that bottomless raised beds have far better drainage.

Similar to the Waaliji raised bed above, this one is also 1 foot deep. So, I’d recommend sticking to herbs, leafy vegetables, flowers, and some root vegetables. Avoid fruit trees as mentioned earlier.

They also have several different sizes, so feel free to check them out.

Other Choices:

How Deep Should Raised Beds Be?

Generally, raised beds should be at least 6 to 12 inches deep. This depth is usually sufficient for most annual vegetables, herbs, and flowers, which have relatively shallow root systems. This depth also allows for good drainage, which is essential for plant health.

However, if you’re planning on growing crops with deeper root systems like tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, or perennials like some berry bushes, it’s a good idea to aim for at least 18 to 24 inches. This gives those roots plenty of room to stretch out and grow strong. Remember, healthy roots make for healthy plants!

There’s also another factor to consider: the quality of your native soil. If it’s heavy clay, rocky, or poor quality, then a deeper raised bed can help provide a better environment for your plants. On the other hand, if your native soil is pretty good, you can save some money and effort by going with a shallower bed.

One last thing to keep in mind is accessibility. One of the great advantages of raised beds is that they can be easier on your back. If bending or kneeling is difficult for you, a taller bed (maybe even waist-high) could be a game changer.

Just remember, the higher the bed, the more soil you’ll need to fill it.

Pro-Tip: Use 50% less soil in your raised beds by using Hugelkultur.

Where Should You Put a Raised Bed?

Most veggies and fruits need a good amount of sunlight to thrive, which is at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Scope out your garden space and watch how the sunlight moves throughout the day. Pick a spot that gets plenty of sunshine.

Second, consider the condition of the ground. Ideally, your raised bed should be on a relatively flat area. A slight slope is okay, but if it’s too steep, you might end up with soil erosion and water management issues. Plus, it’s just a lot easier to work with a bed that’s level!

Consider water access. Your plants are going to need regular watering, so make sure you’re not placing your raised bed too far from a water source. Trust me, you don’t want to be hauling heavy watering cans across your whole garden every day.

Remember, one of the main benefits of raised beds is their ease of access. You want to be able to easily reach all parts of the bed without stepping on the soil (which can compact it). A good rule is to make sure you can comfortably reach the center of the bed from all sides. This might mean making your bed narrower if you can only access it from one side.

Also, your raised bed is going to be a prominent feature in your garden. So think about how it fits into the overall design. Will it block a view you love? Does it work with the flow of your garden?

Speaking of design, check out my 30-day garden design course if you haven’t already.

Final Verdict

Since there are many pros and cons, writing down a list of what you’re looking for can help reveal which type of raised bed is best for you.

For example, consider:

  1. Your Needs: Are you wanting to plant herbs? Root vegetable? Dwarf fruit trees? This will greatly determine the size and function of the raised bed.
  2. Your Aesthetic: Is a good look a must-have for you? If so, consider investing in a higher-quality raised bed.
  3. Your Philosophy: Are you a gardener on a budget, or are you an environmentalist no matter the cost? Know what’s important to you and your ideal raised bed will reveal itself.

I hope this helped! If you’re still not sure, consider just browsing the popular raised beds (this is what we did when we started). I’ll provide a link for you below. Enjoy!

For some more pro tips on raised beds, consider using the square foot method. See how James Prigioni does it in the video below.

Need More Help?

You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.

  • Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. Check out this list to see your local services.
  • Permaculture Consultation: Need help with a bigger project? Send us a message.
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