Planting: In-Ground vs Raised Beds

If you are considering creating a new vegetable garden, one of the first decisions you will need to make is whether to use raised beds or work with the soil you have and plant directly in the ground. Which is best? Both can be great - but to make the right choice for your garden, there are a few things to consider.

In praise of planting directly in the ground …

For a large garden, raised beds are simply not economical or practical. The most inexpensive option is to build beds out of lumber from the hardware store or you can purchase pre-made beds in a huge variety of styles, materials and colors - but they all cost more than nothing. If feasible, in-ground planting is certainly cheaper and faster. If the soil is reasonably good (always test this premise with an actual soil test processed through your local extension service), it is generally not that difficult to improve it with appropriate amendments or cover crops. Besides being cheaper and easier, it is also more flexible - allowing you to easily change the layout of your garden whenever you want. Years of gardening the same plot will teach you things about your land. Without raised beds you can adjust. In-ground planting makes it a lot easier to use power tools; once you change to raised beds, you likely will find it difficult to use anything but hand tools to work the soil.

In praise of using raised beds …

Raised beds - which are large planters placed on top of the soil - give you many options, can solve a multitude of problems and give you more control. You can determine your soil mix, which is useful for places where the existing soil is difficult to improve (rocky, clay, highly acidic, etc.), or where there is no soil at all (like on a rooftop or in a place where topsoil is sparse).
Raised beds also offer height control. Higher beds require less bending over which is convenient for anyone whose body is not as flexible for continual bending, sowing, weeding and harvesting. Raised beds can also be made to accommodate wheel chairs or no bending at all. Beds more than 18 inches tall will be less likely to fill with weeds, as blown seeds tend to travel in lower ground currents. Because they are not as insulated as the ground, raised beds warm earlier in the spring, allowing you to plant sooner. And lastly, raised beds provide some pest control options that in-ground planting does not. Some pests - like slugs and snails - are less inclined to climb the sides of containers (and if you have a particularly persistent set of slugs and snails, you can add copper flashing to the edges and they won't cross it). Additionally, you can put chicken wire at the bottom of a raised bed to prevent underground pests - like gophers, moles and voles - from eating plants from the bottom up.


The Dirt from Troy-Bilt®
March 2017