Last updated: August 7, 2021

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Your garden is ready for an alternative to the traditional soil bed? Your plants don't take up much space and they don't grow deep roots? If so, you should take a closer look at the raised bed as an alternative.

In our raised bed test 2021 we present the best and most weather-resistant box and table raised beds. We also show you where you can use your raised bed and what materials are available.

In addition, we provide you with interesting tips and tricks for building and planting your raised bed. Information about watering, fertilising and the optimal location of the raised bed is of course also included.




Summary

  • Before buying a raised bed, think carefully about where you want to put it and what plants you want to grow in it.
  • When filling your raised bed, make sure that excess water can drain away.
  • When planting your raised bed, there are good and bad "neighbours". Make sure that the plants do not interfere with each other's growth.

The Best Raised Bed: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a raised bed

Raised bed: what is it and who is it suitable for?

Whether box, table or vertical raised bed, the raised bed can offer a good alternative to the traditional ground bed. As the name suggests, the raised bed is characterised by a raised, buildable bed.

This elevation comes from the fact that the raised bed is actually a bordered compost heap that is covered with soil to make it plantable (I'll get to how exactly this works later).

A raised bed allows everyone to realise their gardening dreams. Who doesn't enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables from their own garden? (Image source: pixabay.com/ congerdesign)

The raised bed can be adapted to the individual needs of its gardener. The raised surface allows even older or physically impaired plant lovers to exercise their green thumb.

A raised bed is also suitable for the urban hobby gardener. This is because it can be prepared for a balcony or terrace and adapted to space restrictions.

The raised bed can also serve as an alternative for a garden with unbuildable soil, or simply be a visual eye-catcher for your garden.

Build a raised bed or buy one?

Building a raised bed yourself can be an interesting project and allows you to create a highly individualised bed. However, building your own requires a certain amount of craftsmanship, strength and, last but not least, patience and time.

If you decide to build your own raised bed, take a look at this video, for example:

On the other hand, a bought raised bed is often more expensive and you are limited by the given dimensions.

A good compromise can be a ready-made kit. This has the advantage that it can also be assembled by a beginner and is often cheaper than a ready-made raised bed.

What plants are suitable for raised beds?

For the successful cultivation of your raised bed, it is important that you plan it carefully.

Although practically all plants can be grown in a raised bed, it is more suitable for plants that take up little space. Mobile raised beds also have a limited depth, which makes them unsuitable for plants that grow deep roots.

Another point you should pay attention to is that the different types of vegetables and fruits are compatible with each other and correspond to the substrate cycle of your raised bed (I will come back to both points later).

What do I need for my new raised bed?

To successfully create and cultivate your raised bed, you will need the following:

  • A raised bed
  • Pond liner or bubble wrap
  • Expanded clay, gravel or something similar as a drainage layer
  • Garden soil. Make sure you use the right soil for your plants.
  • Seedlings or seeds
  • A watering can or other watering system
  • A planting shovel is often helpful

If you don't have your own garden to provide compost for your raised bed, you can also buy it from your local DIY store.

How much does a raised bed cost?

The cost of a raised bed can vary greatly.

On the one hand, it depends on whether you have decided to build your raised bed yourself - in which case the material costs for your own creation play a role - or whether you want to buy the raised bed as a kit or completely.

When buying a raised bed, it also depends on the material, the size and the planting that is ultimately planned. A simple plug-in system can be purchased for less than 15 euros.

What alternatives are there to raised beds?

There is no general answer to the question of alternatives to a raised bed. First and foremost, it is a question of the benefits you expect from your "garden" and how much space you have available.

Potted plants are not only an eye-catcher in your garden or on your balcony, you can also plant different types of fruit and vegetables in them. (Image source: unsplash.com/ Jasmin Schreiber)

If you are looking for an alternative to a raised bed to grow fruit or vegetables in a small space, you can consider which plants can also grow in a pot.

Columnar fruit, for example, takes up little space and can also be cultivated well in containers such as pots.

Decision: What types of raised beds are there and which is the right one for you?

If you want to buy a raised bed, there are two typical types that you can distinguish:

  • Box raised bed
  • Table raised bed

The main difference between the two types is whether the bed is in contact with the ground or not. Both types of course have advantages and disadvantages that you should consider before making a decision.

What are the characteristics of raised beds and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

The box raised bed is in itself the classic raised bed: it usually stands directly on the ground, but offers a raised working surface. Because of the contact with the ground, not only is an improved exchange of nutrients possible, which of course benefits your plants.

The larger volume of a box bed allows more heat to be released through the rotting process, often resulting in a larger crop.

On the other hand, the raised bed quickly becomes very heavy, making it unsuitable for balconies. It is also immobile, so be sure of the location before you fill and install your raised bed.

Advantages
  • Increased working surface
  • Improved nutrient exchange
  • Increased internal temperature
  • Drainage layer
Disadvantages
  • Very heavy
  • Immobile
  • Unsuitable for balconies

Because of the height of a raised bed, you have enough space to create a drainage layer, which allows excess water to run off easily, but retains moisture well, and can be released back into the soil when needed.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of tabletop raised beds?

The table-top raised bed is characterised by the fact that it usually stands on stable castors or feet. This makes it well suited for balconies or terraces and very mobile.

This is especially helpful if you want to change your planting from sun plants to shade plants, as you can simply move your raised bed into the shade.

Advantages
  • Suitable for balconies and terraces
  • Very mobile
  • No direct ground contact makes it difficult for pests to access the bed
Disadvantages
  • Limited filling volume
  • Difficult drainage and water storage

On the other hand, the filling volume of table-top raised beds is limited, making them less suitable for deep-rooted plants such as carrots or peppers.

The deeper fill volume may lack an adequate drainage layer, making drainage and water retention difficult.

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate raised beds

In the following lines we will show you which criteria you can use to decide between the numerous raised beds.

The features that can help you compare raised beds include:

  • Place of use
  • Material
  • Shape
  • Size
  • Filling quantity
  • Weather resistance

In the following, we will explain what you need to look out for in the individual criteria.

Place of use

The choice of your raised bed should primarily depend on its use. Accordingly, it is important that you are clear in advance where your raised bed is to be used.

You should also consider the condition of the ground: Water should be able to drain away freely to prevent waterlogging, and beneficial insects should have unhindered access to your raised bed.

If the ground is sealed, make sure there is minimal air between your raised bed and the ground. If your soil is on a solid surface such as stone or concrete, you need a separating layer in between to prevent the soil from being washed out.

Raised beds for balconies or patios, on the other hand, usually stand on feet or castors and are generally more mobile and lighter.

Material

Although the material your raised bed is made of should of course primarily suit your style and budget, the construction material also has an impact on your bed.

The most popular materials include wood, stone, metal and plastic.

Wood

The classic wooden raised bed is not only sustainable, the natural building material is also versatile: you can get creative with different wooden materials such as pallets when building your raised bed.

However, not all wood is the same. It is important to make sure that the wood used has not been chemically processed to ensure that the material does not emit any harmful substances.

Furthermore, it must be taken into account that wood needs to be cared for in order to withstand the weather in the long term and to combat pests. Depending on the type of wood and the care it receives, a wooden raised bed can last from 4 to 15 years.

Stone

Not surprisingly, a raised bed made of stone has a virtually unlimited lifespan.

But robustness is not the only advantage of the building material: stone is a very good heat accumulator and insulates your plants against extreme heat and cold.

However, stone is unsuitable for terraces and balconies due to its weight and is inflexible in the assembly and disassembly of the raised bed.

Metal

A raised bed made of metal can not only look elegant and timeless, the material is also durable and weatherproof.

Metal is not only suitable for balconies and terraces, it also lends itself to the garden, as the metallic texture offers natural protection against pests.

However, it should be noted that metal is a good conductor of heat and cold: accordingly, without heat and moisture insulation, the raised bed dries out quickly in summer and needs to be watered often. In winter, on the other hand, the natural composting process can be delayed by the cold.

Plastic

There are almost no limits to the diversity of plastic raised beds in terms of colour and shape. The lightweight material is also particularly suitable for balconies and terraces, where it can be easily assembled and disassembled.

Although the colour can discolour due to strong exposure to sunlight, a raised bed made of plastic is weatherproof and durable. However, it is important to note that plastic can contain plasticisers, which can affect the soil and your plants.

Size

The size of your raised bed should, of course, depend first and foremost on the space available. You should make sure that the raised bed is easily accessible.

To be able to work comfortably standing up, the raised bed should have a height of about one metre. The width of the raised bed should not exceed 130 cm so that the entire working area can be used without any problems.

It should also be noted that raised beds can quickly become very heavy, which is particularly important for their use on balconies and terraces.

However, the size of the raised bed is not only important for practical work, but also because of the pressure that is exerted on the contents (more on this later).

Filling quantity

Note that the pressure of the interior on the walls of your raised bed increases the larger the filling quantity and raised beds quickly become very heavy.

Raised beds can weigh a lot. Make sure that the ground on which your raised bed stands can bear this load. (Image source: 123rf.com / 40630502)

On the other hand, it needs a certain amount of filling so that enough heat is released by the decomposition process to benefit optimally from your raised bed.

Facts worth knowing about raised beds

Where should I place my raised bed?

The optimal location depends on what you are using it for, whereby you should pay particular attention to sunlight.

For vegetable raised beds, a north-south exposure is recommended, while heat-loving plants feel particularly comfortable in front of a south-facing wall.

If your raised bed is in contact with the ground, you should make sure that it is placed on unsealed soil where water can drain away freely. It is also important that beneficial insects have access to your raised bed.

At what time of year should I build my raised bed?

Spring and autumn are the best times to build your raised bed, partly because there is a lot of compost available at these times of year, such as leaves or lawn cuttings, which you can use to coat your raised bed.

If you decide on spring, you can plant the raised bed with the first seeds and seedlings as soon as it is established. However, the settling of the soil can damage the young roots.

In autumn there are plenty of leaves that you can use for your raised bed. (Image source: unsplash.com / Scott Webb)

If you plant your raised bed in autumn, the soil can settle over the winter and the first microorganisms can settle in your raised bed. This way your raised bed will be ready for planting in spring and you won't run the risk of damaging the roots of your young plants.

What layers do I need in my raised bed?

How you layer your raised bed depends not only on its type, but also on how often you want to renew it.

Below is the order you need to build your raised bed from the bottom up:

Height Filling
30-40 cm Coarse branches, twigs and shrub waste
15 cm Foliage
10 cm Grass or straw
10-20 cm Coarse compost
20-30 cm Universal soil or compost soil

The raised bed method described here requires a depth of at least 85 cm and should be renewed every 4 to 5 years.

In return, you do not need to fertilise it in the first few years and your plants benefit from the heat released by the rotting process and the resulting nutrients.

How do I plant my raised bed correctly?

You should plan the planting of your raised bed in advance. You should differentiate between strong, medium and weak growers, as they have different requirements for the soil.

On the balcony, the raised bed is often not deep enough to follow this raised bed method. However, the following video also helps balcony gardeners.

In the first year after you have created your raised bed, the soil has the highest nutrient content. Accordingly, this time is particularly suitable for planting high-growth crops, such as onions, leeks, tomatoes, carrots, courgettes or pumpkins.

Heavy growers medium growers weak growers
1st year 2nd-3rd year 4th year
Tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, potatoes, melons, leeks, pumpkins carrots, peppers, beetroot, garlic beans, peas, strawberries, lamb's lettuce.

In the second and third year of your raised bed cycle, you should cultivate a majority of mid-range crops such as peppers, radishes and carrots.

In the fourth year, the soil has only few nutrients left and you should therefore favour weak growers. These include, for example, beans, lettuce, herbs or strawberries.

Which plants go well together?

Your raised bed can benefit from a mixed culture in many ways. For one thing, a diverse planting reduces the risk of pest and disease infestation, as the spread of such things is limited. Furthermore, a mixed culture can prevent soil fatigue.

Each plant species secretes substances through its roots that attract various microorganisms.

A diverse microbial flora in the soil can promote the nutrient concentration in your raised bed, which benefits your plants.

You can easily find a detailed table of favourable bed partners on the internet. Basically, you can combine shallow and deep-rooted plants.

When planning your raised bed, you should also consider crop rotation so that the different plants do not compete for nutrients at the same time.

How do I water my raised bed?

Due to the increased temperature inside your raised bed, which is released by the rotting process, the raised bed needs to be watered more regularly than a soil bed.

In summer you should water your raised bed daily. Note that the water evaporates less quickly if you water the cooled soil in the morning or evening. (Image source: pixabay.com / annawaldl)

However, you can reduce the loss of moisture by lining the inside of your raised bed with pond liner or something similar. Either way, you should avoid waterlogging your raised bed to prevent the roots of your plants from rotting.

When do I fertilise my raised bed?

The compost heap provides a freshly created raised bed with sufficient nutrients for the time being. However, fertilising depends on the types of plants grown and the density of the planting in your raised bed.

For newly planted seedlings and freshly sown seeds, little or no fertiliser should be applied, while for weak growers it is often sufficient to fertilise the top layer of humus in spring.

For medium growers it may also be necessary to fertilise again before and during the main growth phase.

Picture source: 123rf.com / 41207727

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