How to Make and Fill a Raised Garden Bed

Follow these expert-approved steps to cultivate this versatile garden, which you can create almost anywhere. 

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If the conditions in your yard are less than ideal—perhaps you have hard, rocky clay soil or uneven terrain—raised garden beds are the ultimate work-around. These elevated mounds of earth, often contained by a rectangular frame, offer total flexibility: You can plot them wherever you want, fill them with your ideal blend of soil, and plant them more densely than a regular garden, which means fewer weeds. Plus, they warm up quickly in spring, so you can start growing earlier than if you were digging in the still-frozen earth.

While raised beds can initially be more expensive to set up and fill, they pay you back with productivity. Take the vegetable garden, above, for example; in Northern California, the Pine House Edible Garden landscape-design firm, in collaboration with Homestead Design Collective, filled 2-foot-tall Corten steel raised beds with a mix of produce and ornamentals. Plants with similar water requirements were grouped together. To recreate the look and learn more about what to plant in a raised garden bed, see our step-by-step tutorial complete with insights from gardening experts.

raised steel bed vegetable garden
David Fenton

Benefits of Making a Raised Garden Bed

Discover the many perks of raised garden beds, according to Tammy Burke, a horticulturist at the American Horticultural Society.

Versatile Location

You can place a raised garden bed almost anywhere, so long as it has access to sunlight and water, says Burke. "Because garden beds can be almost any shape, size or height, the sky is the limit!" she says.

Better Drainage

Raised beds are also known for draining faster because of the "amended, loose, and friable soil," says Burke. The result? "Better soil means bigger, healthier plants," she says.

Soil Management

You can fill your raised garden bed with the best possible soil for the varieties you hope to plant. "With raised garden beds, no one can complain that the soil is too rocky or dry or malnourished," says Burke. "Just put a garden bed over that clay soil and fill it with your own soil mixed with plenty of nutrients."

More Accessible

Importantly, a raised garden bed allows for a more accessible gardening experience. "Gardening can require a lot of physical activity—bending, squatting, kneeling—that can be hard on our back and knees," says Burke. "Raised beds make it easier for those with physical disabilities to garden. In fact, there are wheelchair-accessible raised beds that are available to purchase online. Gardening should be for everyone!"

wood-framed garden beds on slope
Rachel Weill

How to Make a Raised Garden Bed

Follow these steps to create a raised garden bed the right way.

What You'll Need

  • Frame material (Corten steel, stones, bricks, or wood planks)
  • Lining material (landscape or weed-blocking fabric, newspaper, or cardboard)
  • Brackets
  • Screws
  • Drill
  • Top soil
  • Compost

Size It

Scout out your yard and decide what you want to grow, then plot a bed where it will get the right light; for example, edibles need at least six hours of sun. The length of the box will depend on your space, but width is important: You want to be able to weed and reach plants without stepping in and crushing them or compacting the soil. Keep it under 2 1/2 feet wide if it's against a wall or fence, or 5 feet wide if you can reach in from both sides. Plan for each bed to be at least 1 foot deep.

Frame It

You can construct a raised bed from Corten steel, stones, or bricks, but wood planks are the most common material, and the easiest for beginners. Choose untreated lumber, such as rot-resistant cedar, cypress, or black locust. Untreated cedar wood is a favorite for garden beds, says Megh Wingenfeld, a home and garden creative. "It's not full of chemicals, it's a natural insect repellent, and it's rot resistant," she says.

No matter the type of frame you choose, avoid pressure-treated boards, which have been preserved with chemicals that can leach into your soil—this is especially important if you plan to grow food.

Line It

If your ground soil is healthy, you don't have to line your garden bed—but if you live in a city where soil contamination from lead or other chemicals is a concern, or want to plant on a patio or another concrete surface, staple heavy-duty landscape or weed-blocking fabric across the bottom of the bed before you place it. This water-permeable cloth holds off the bad stuff and keeps your soil from washing away.

You can line your garden to insulate the soil, keep pests at bay, and prevent weeds, too, says Burke. "I would possibly consider newspaper, cardboard, or some other recyclable product that can break down easily as lining to help smother out grass and weeds," she says. Otherwise, you can choose a bed with legs that sits well above the ground. To attach the legs to the frame of the raised garden bed, use brackets, screws, and a drill, says Burke.

Fill It

Pour a mixture of top-soil and compost into your box (ask an expert or consult your county's cooperative exchange for advice on the right ratio), leaving about 1 inch of space below the top of the frame. A bed that is 6 feet by 4 feet and 13 inches deep, for instance, will need approximately 1 cubic yard of soil (for a handy calculator, go to The organic matter will help nourish your plants, says Burke. Remember, you need to top off your beds every year with more soil and compost. And now comes the fun part: start planting!

What to Plant in a Raised Garden Bed

Since you're planting in a small, concentrated area, you'll want to place your plants a little closer together than you would if they were going directly into the earth. Placement should be intuitive: Put the crops you need more access to on the sides and ones that take longer to harvest in the middle, says Annie Novak, a farmer, writer, and educator.

Choose From a Variety of Plants

Almost anything you grow in regular ground-level soil—herbs, vegetables, flowers, natives, and smaller perennials—can be grown in a raised bed. "If you're growing shrubs, trees, or larger perennials, you most likely don't need a raised bed, per se," says Novak. "Although you can make the aesthetic choice to have one."

Add Companion Plants

It's also important to figure out which plants are friends and which are not. This is no joke: "Classic [examples] are alliums and legumes," says Novak. "Onions and their kin exudate chemicals which limit the growth of beans. I have experienced it personally. It's a real problem."

She recommends writing down everything you plan to plant and looking up their relationships in Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte—or turn to our companion planting guide for more pairing tips.

Updated by
Nashia Baker
Nashia Baker, Associate Digital Editor for Martha Stewart
Nashia Baker is a skilled writer and editor in the journalism industry, known for her work interviewing global thought leaders, creatives, and activists, from Aurora James to Stacey Abrams. She has over five years of professional experience and has been a part of the Martha Stewart and Martha Stewart Weddings teams for the last 3 years.
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