Published on 09/02/98

Popularity of Raised Beds Rising

Gardening in raised beds instead of conventional rows is becoming more and more popular. It's easy to see why.

Raised beds offer earlier crops in the spring, later crops in the fall and better root crops. They require less fertilizer and no costly machinery. They have better drainage, fewer weeds and almost no soil problems and yield more produce in less space.

Gardeners who have tried raised beds discover that the soil is loose, allowing air, moisture, warmth, nutrients and roots to penetrate more easily. Raised-bed gardening helps correct the problems of poor, rocky or compacted soil and extends short growing seasons.

There is no best time of the year to make raised beds. Here are three possibilities.

Winter. Gardeners have the most time on their hands. This is the most popular time for creating beds because it enables the gardener to plant extra early in the spring.

Get the frame made up and mix the soil. However, make sure you dig into the existing soil before putting the mix into the bed. This is called "interfacing" and is vital for plant growth. If you don't dig before mixing, the plant roots will hit the hard area and won't penetrate for maximum root growth and uptake of nutrients and water.

With raised beds, too, you can cover that small area with plastic and not worry about wet soil and late planting. Raised beds drain well. They get more sunlight from both the top and sides, too, so they warm up quicker in the spring.

Spring. If you can work the soil in early spring, raised beds allow you to plant earlier and to protect plants against too much rain, lengthy wet spells and other bad weather.

Summer or Fall. Planting in raised beds helps fall crops produce longer. Remember, working in the late fall is much cooler and easier than trying to put in a raised bed in the summer.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.