Start the year with a raised bed garden

Design a raised planter to accent a garden theme like this Mediterranean-tiled garden.
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By Jane Gates, Signal Staff Writer

Here’s a way to start 2020 that is not only doable, but will make you healthier and happier for years to come: do some gardening this year!

Gardening is good for your physical well-being, mental and emotional health, fun to do (especially with friends and family), and can add beauty, food, herbs, medicines or crafting materials to your lifestyle.

And — here’s the trick — to make gardening easier and more efficient, you can do it in raised beds.

Raised garden beds are money-saving, easily controlled and comfortable to work in. Because they have so many advantages over planting on level ground — easier to plant, maintain and harvest — you might want to consider building your own.

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you want to start out this year’s garden to look great, be water-wise, easy care and highly productive with your own raised garden bed.

For most plants, choose a location that gets plenty of sun. For growing edibles, this is a must. And if you are growing fruits and vegetables or herbs, site your garden where it will be easily accessible from the kitchen.

You can fill a raised bed with organic composted soil that needs no amending and you can even create a growing area where there might not be one already conveniently located.

If you have gophers on your property, line the bottom of your raised bed with ½-inch gauge, hardware cloth where it meets the soil so the sides of the screening extend to the outside of the garden bed walls.

In other words, lay the bottom gopher-protection layer and build your walls on top of it, effectively sealing off entry points from below. This gauge hardware cloth still allows soil-friendly worms and other helpful micro-residents to travel up and through to populate the growing medium above.

For edible gardens, avoid treated wood, railroad ties or any other chemically treated materials unless you line the garden bed with a safe, waterproof fabric. You do not want toxins leaching into the growing medium or soil.

For a long-lasting liner, I use a sheet of rubber pond liner. It protects the inside of wooden walls from the soil moisture, works as a tough barricade to keep water in and pests out. It also keeps soil from filtering out between container wall gaps. And it won’t fall to pieces or tear should you scratch it with a gardening tool. It is expensive, but it can give you twenty years or more of protection — very economical in the long run!

Sides can be constructed of any stable material. Wood is most commonly used, and cedar and redwood are the most durable. Metal will work; steel being the safest for use with edibles, but it only looks good in an industrial type design. Most metals will rust or discolor over time.

Beware metals that leach toxins into beds with edible crops. Metal can also form a decorative patina over time and can create an attractive effect in an old-fashioned/antique or a contemporary style garden. Lining with plastic or rubber can keep soil and plants safe in metal raised beds the same as it does with wooden structures — an especially good idea if you are not sure of the metal content in the material you are using.

Stone can come designed as bricks, blocks, stacked slate, cast rounds or flagstone. Or it can be applied using the decorative facings. There are plastics and composites that will offer little maintenance since they will not rot, rust, crumble or split over time. 

Make your raised garden bed attractive. Echo the design of your house or garden in the materials you choose. A brick-walled raised garden bed with a decorative miniature white picket fence on top might look perfect in a cottage garden. Or a rustic, stacked stone raised garden may be perfect for a woodland styled landscape.

Wooden raised beds will last longer if painted, stained or water-proofed. This becomes an opportunity to decorate the sides with color or even designs or pictures.

Add to a theme garden by draping outdoor fabrics, dressing with bamboo or wicker, surrounding with rocks, logs, metal sheets, old lattice or anything else. It’s a fine opportunity to recycle left-over building or crafts materials. Have fun designing your raised garden bed.

You can even construct a raised garden bed on a patio or balcony by stacking up artistically placed, ready-made containers. Just make sure that however you build your raised garden bed you factor in drainage and some form of irrigation.

Hopefully, these tips will help you design and build a raised garden bed that will make gardening easier and more fun. By using drip irrigation you can be water-wise in your landscape — even with areas of thirsty plants. If you control your system with a timer, the important watering schedule will be less likely to be forgotten. Or you can create a special growing space for special-needs plants! 

Make your beds ornamental and they can become the focal point of your garden. Use your imagination this coming year. Add raised beds to your landscape. You may end up thanking yourself for years to come. 

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