10 tips for creating a raised-bed garden | SteamboatToday.com

10 tips for creating a raised-bed garden

Melinda Myers

Want your garden to grow to new heights, while saving your knees for Steamboat's ski slopes? Try a raised bed for easier access and greater productivity. Raised beds let you overcome the region's poor, clayish soil by creating an ideal growing mix, while making gardening time easier thanks to less bending and kneeling. A few things to consider:

Sun rules: Locate it in a sunny area if possible. Most plants require at least six hours of sun, and vegetables like tomatoes and peppers produce best with a full day of sunlight.

Material matters: Select a long-lasting material such as interlocking block, fieldstone, plastic lumber or long-lasting wood like cedar. The bed's material will influence its shape. Some materials allow for curved beds while others are limited to squares, rectangles and other angular shapes.

Space needs: Design your raised bed to fit your space constraints. A 3- or 4-foot width makes it easy to reach all parts of the garden for planting, weeding and harvesting. Raising your bed eight to 12 inches improves drainage and provides an adequate space for plants to root and grow. To minimize bending, go higher and add additional benches. For plans visit and http://www.bonnieplants.com.

Soil concerns: Roughen or loosen the existing soil surface if your bed is built on compact, slow-draining soil, allowing water to move from the raised bed into the soil below. Cover the bottom of the bed with newspaper or cardboard, if needed, to suffocate existing weeds and grass.

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Lining: Line the bottom of your raised bed with hardware cloth to reduce the risk of animal burrowing. Lay the hardware cloth over the ground and bend it up along the inside of the raised-bed walls.

Mix: Fill the bed with a quality growing mix that is well drained but able to retain moisture and nutrients (i.e. quality topsoil and compost, high-quality potting mix, or planting mix designed for raised-bed gardens).

Plants: Grow any plants that you normally would grow in ground. Make sure they're suited to Steamboat's growing conditions. While a better soil mix and drainage will let you grow more plants per square foot, leave sufficient room for plants to reach their mature size.

Watering: While critical for any garden, proper watering is even more crucial in a fast-draining raised bed. Raising the garden height increases drainage, meaning more frequent watering. Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses for watering ease, and water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is dry.

Mulch: Add mulch to reduce watering and ease maintenance. Spread a layer of evergreen needles, pine straw, shredded leaves or other organic matter over the soil surface. This helps conserve moisture, suppress weeds and add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.

Fertilizer: Add an organic fertilizer at planting if your planting mix does not already contain one. Apply again mid-season if the plants need a nutrient boost (follow directions on the container).

—Gardening expert Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, hosts the nationally syndicated Melinda's Garden Moment TV and radio segments and is a columnist Birds & Blooms magazine.