Whether you’re new to growing your own vegetables in a raised bed garden or are a gardening beginner in general, you’re bound to make a few errors here and there. In fact, there are a few mistakes everyone makes when they’re starting out. Mistakes are meant to be learned from, so don’t worry. In fact, we’ll help you learn from some of the most common mistakes before you even get started.
You probably already know that a raised bed garden is awesome for providing a better harvest with less weeding work. That said, some mistakes made in the bed’s beginning stages can set the stage for all kinds of issues with your crops. Here are the nine most common mistakes to avoid with a raised bed garden, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro.
Planting your garden in the wrong spot is a huge mistake, and nearly impossible to correct with a raised bed. The garden box is difficult to move or rearrange once you have the soil, watering system, and plants in place.
First, set up your raised bed with the sun in mind. If you orient the bed east-west instead of north-south, for example, the plants may not receive the right amount of sunlight. Vegetables require six hours or more of sunlight each day.
Placing sun-loving plants in the shade—or vice versa—is another problem a beginner can face. Tomatoes, for example, need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Eggplants, chiles, and many herbs will do well in the sunniest section of your raised bed, while lettuce or peas do better in shady placements.
Plants on the south side will receive the maximum amount of sunlight, but they also need to be lower-growing as to not block all the sunshine from other crops.
While most raised beds are created using wood, you can make them a variety of ways. Check what materials are safe to use near your plants. Safety standards and health regulations may vary based on the state or region.
Unsafe materials, like chemical-treated lumber or other pressure-treated woods, should never be used to create your raised beds. Older materials can contain harmful creosote or chemicals harmful to your garden.
Look for locally sourced and sustainable options that are untreated, FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council), long-lasting, and rot-resistant. This will help your raised bed perform and look wonderful for years to come. You can find more info on how to choose the right wood for raised beds.
Don’t start out too big. You want your raised beds just the right size, making them easy to work in and around. Raised beds should never more than four feet wide, as you want to be able to reach the plants in the middle to work your garden.
If your raised bed is near a fence, you may wish to take the width down to under 30 inches. For the best results, make sure you also leave enough space in between multiple raised beds. You must be able to work between the beds comfortably and walk through the pathways. Leave at least two or three feet between beds.
Overwatering is also a hugely common mistake that can cause your plants to drown and rot. On the other hand, underwatering is just as big of an issue.
If you’re not sure how much water your raised bed will need, take some of the guesswork out by investing in an irrigation system that has a smart controller. Its moisture sensors will automatically adjust the amount of water.
Your irrigation system doesn’t need to be expensive or state of the art to work well and save you some time. That said, if a system is too expensive for you, just pay attention to the soil. When it looks hard, it’s time to water. If you can’t tell by its appearance, pick up a handful and squeeze the soil into a loose ball.
If it stays together, the soil is just right. Indicator plants like lettuce, which wilt quickly when dehydrated, will also help you tell at a glance if your bed needs water.
If you don’t plan for irrigation when you build your raised bed, you’ll need to water by hand using an old-fashioned watering can or a long hose. If you can’t set up an irrigation system, then keep a rainwater barrel close to your raised bed garden for the sake of convenience.
Similar to a living organism, soil changes and evolves over time. Its conditions can change with rainfall, runoff, or drainage issues, and some plants will extract more nutrients from the soil than others. It’s important to pay attention to the type of soil you use, its pH and mineral levels, and what organic matter may be needed to give it a boost.
The type of soil you fill your garden with is vital to your garden’s future happiness. Never, ever use regular potting soil in your raised bed: it will drain too quickly. You can find some raised bed soils on the market that work much better.
You can buy an at-home testing kit from your local hardware store to test your soil each year. This will help you learn the type of soil you need, taking the vegetables you want to grow into consideration as well. Test the soil before you plant and throughout the lifetime of your raised garden bed.
For the best results, mix your soil with an equal measure of organic compost. Your plants will take better advantage of the nutrients from the soil.
6. Weed Killers
Using the wrong chemicals near or directly on your raised beds can decimate your garden. Even if you use these chemicals elsewhere in your yard, the wind can carry the toxins into your beds, killing your plants.
Chemicals that contain herbicides linger in the dirt for years and poison the soil. Sure, you’ll get rid of grass and weeds, but if you spray too closely, you’ll lose your raised beds. These toxins also become dangerous when it rains, as runoff water can carry them to other parts of your garden.
Avoid using toxic herbicides. Opt for a mixture of equal parts hot water and vinegar to rid your plants of grass or weeds. Just pour the mixture over the offending plants once per day until the weeds’ leaves turn brown, then pull up the rest by hand.
The pathways between your raised beds will probably grow weeds and grass at some point, but instead of planning to mow and spray them, you can create a barrier. Flattened cardboard boxes with a small layer of organic mulch on top is an easy cure, and the materials will last longer than other options.
Preparing the beds between seasons leads to healthy, happy harvests. If you neglect to prepare your soil from last year, the vegetables you grow may be stunted or diseased, if they grow at all.
Instead of planting the same veggies in the same place year after year, you can grow healthier plants by rotating your crops. Avoid placing plants of the same family near each other or in the same spot one after another. Common pests, fungal diseases, and soil fertility are common issues different types of plants face.
To keep an issue from spilling over into all your plants, rotate where each plant goes each year. Follow our helpful guide to crop rotation to ensure healthy harvests year after year.
8. Raised Bed Garden Vegetable Choices
Selecting the right vegetables in the right combination is a mistake you can correct later, but if you choose the wrong varieties, your introduction to raised bed gardening may become more difficult.
Let’s say you begin with a tougher veggie, like asparagus. A beginner can become discouraged waiting the two or three years it could take to finally yield a harvest. Or, you might plant a cool-weather crop like lettuce during the wrong season.
Start out with some vegetables that are easier to grow while you learn what works well in your raised bed, including:
- Bell peppers
Make sure the options you select aren’t just easy to grow, but also will be enjoyed by your family. There’s no point in growing tomatoes if your children are allergic. Choose the veggies you’ll eat the most and you’ll be less likely to lose interest in the varieties your garden holds.
It’s also important that the options you select will do well in your yard. Some vegetables are more susceptible to pests, don’t work well in humid locations, or can’t withstand fluctuating temperatures throughout the year. Take the weather where you live into consideration.
Beginners may even want to start out their first year growing an all-herb garden, with easy-to-grow herbs that you can grow both indoors and out. The easiest herbs to start with include:
Mark where you plant each new addition to your garden or mark your rows to avoid overcrowding. It’s easy to forget to keep track of where you plant what, but doing so can help you avoid replanting over seeds because you mistake seedlings for weeds.
For the best results, label where each plant is. Simply put that little plastic tag from the store in the soil or get as creative with your tags as you like.
Gardening is a process in which you will make mistakes from time to time. Learning from these mistakes is the only way to progress, and there’s no harm in trying something new. Hopefully these tips will save you before your first error.