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All Things Garden,  Beginner Basics

How to Design & Build a Raised Garden Bed


So you want to build a raised garden bed, do you? Right on! Raised beds, also known as planter boxes, are a great choice for growing food at home! They’re a fun, useful, healthy, and beautiful addition to any yard. But maybe you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the process and decisions that need to be made? This article will definitely get you going on the right track! Coming from someone who has built over 20 raised beds over the years, I most certainly have some tips and tricks for you, including ways to learn from our mistakes.

From location and design considerations, wood types, supplies needed, and installation best practices, let’s explore everything you need to know about getting started with raised bed gardening. Follow the 10 steps below to learn exactly how to design and build a raised garden bed.


For all you visual learners, be sure to tune in to the tutorial video included at the end.


Benefits of Raised Bed Gardening

If you don’t already have experience with raised bed gardening, you’re going to love it! I promise. While there is a little more upfront cost than planting straight in the ground, it is totally worth it, in my humble opinion.

We personally love growing our veggies, flowers, and herbs in raised beds! While we do have some more wild areas of the yard, where things are planted right in the ground, that method is a bit more tricky for us. We have a bad gopher problem, and our native silty soil has really awful water absorption and texture.

With raised garden beds, you have way better control over the condition, quality, and texture of your soil. Raised beds can be filled with the ideal soil that your plants will love. Burrowing pests and weeds can be blocked off from below with hardware cloth and landscape fabric, protecting your plants. Our bodies and backs really prefer the ergonomics of raised beds over in-ground gardening. Last but not least, I love how they look. Raised beds create dimension, interest, and defined spaces in the garden.

A front yard garden with 6 raised wood garden beds of various sizes. The ground is covered in small blue-green gravel, with stepping stone pathways between the beds. Flowers, shrubs, vines, and potted plants surround the perimeter of the raised bed area.
Our front yard garden, complete with a fresh new raised bed on the right – the one we’ll build together in this tutorial!


Potential roadblocks to getting started

Don’t own a home? Don’t let it stop you! We built raised beds at several rentals prior to buying our little homestead. Check with your landlord; you may be pleasantly surprised. A couple of them were left behind in moves, but we were able to dig out a couple smaller ones to take with us too!

Not feeling up to building your own? That’s okay! There are some sort of flimsy kits out there, but there are also some really excellent, durable, beautiful cedar raised bed kits available too! These ones from Gardener’s Supply get great reviews. They come in a variety of sizes, and at 15″ deep, will provide a nice amount of root space for your plants.


On the other hand, if you’re ready to get building your own raised garden beds, here’s how we do it…


SUPPLIES NEEDED TO BUILD A RAISED BED


  • Lumber – We’ll talk more about wood choices and amounts below! We use 2 x 6″ heart redwood boards and 4 x 4″ redwood for corner support.
  • Miter Saw or Circular Saw – or you could have the hardware store cut wood for you
  • 2.5 or 3-inch long Deck Screws – we use 8 gauge
  • Power Drill
  • Measuring Tape


Optional:



STEP 1: Choose a Location


Choose a location in your yard that gets maximum sun exposure – all day long, in all seasons, if feasible. Yes, even if that means right in the middle of the front lawn, because… why not?! Most vegetables prefer to get as much sun as possible, with a few exceptions.

If you have a small space or obstacles to work around, creating a few garden areas that end up with partial shade is okay. We have a handful of beds that get far less sun than the others, shaded by our house or neighboring trees. We can still utilize them to plant veggies that are more shade-tolerant like lettuce, kale, asian greens, spinach, arugula, or mustard greens, to name a few. If you live in a climate with extremely hot summers, your garden may even thank you for a little late afternoon shade!

Is your only garden space on a hard surface, like a concrete patio? You’re in luck! I wrote an article dedicated to building and installing raised beds on top of hard surfaces – either right on the ground, elevated, or even some that are mobile. We just added raised garden bed to our asphalt driveway. The design is essentially the same as what you’ll find in this article here, but with a few modifications/options for the bottom. Plus, extra tips about drainage considerations. Check out that article here.


Changing Seasons and Shadows

Don’t forget that the sun’s path changes throughout the seasons! In the winter, the sun dips lower in the sky – on the southern horizon if you’re in the northern hemisphere like us. That is particularly important to pay attention to if you live in a place with mild winters and hope to garden year-round.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people place garden beds along a fence, wall, or house, and I have to cringe a little. It makes sense aesthetically, keeping the garden tucked up against something, “out of the way”. Whenever possible, I suggest to keep raised garden beds out in the open, away from structures. Because unless that wall or fence is facing south, it is going to cast shade on your garden. That is not ideal.


“South-Facing” Gardens

If you’re in the northern hemisphere, a south-facing garden is an ideal choice. This orientation will provide your garden maximum sun exposure from the south in all seasons. As an exception to what I mentioned above, placing a raised garden bed along a south-facing fence or wall does work well. The only time that orientation will create shade is in the very latest hours of long summer days.

If you live in the southern hemisphere the logic is just the opposite. There, a north-facing garden would be best.

From where I am standing and looking in this photo, I am facing South. You can see the kale and other plants are leaning forward that way. That is the predominant direction of the sun. Therefore, we kept our raised beds set on the north end of the yard, away from the house. The yard is on the opposite side of the yard, which casts shade on the closer part of the yard during winter.
The front yard garden. From where I am standing and looking in this photo, I am facing South. You can see how the kale and other plants are leaning forward that way. That is the predominant direction of the sun. Therefore, we kept our raised beds set on the north end of the yard, away from the house, which casts shade on the closer part of the yard during winter. This is a “south facing” garden.

Please note that I suggest keeping raised garden beds at least 6 inches from wood fences and definitely your house. Give everything some room to breathe! This will help prevent water damage, and also give you a little space to keep an eye on things.


STEP 2: Determine Your Ideal Bed Size & Layout


One of the many, many beautiful things about gardening is that it can be totally unique and individual! Whether you have a small yard or acres of open space, beds can be designed to fit that space. Within your limits, let your imagination run wild on the layout, number, shapes, and sizes of beds! On the other hand, there are definitely some sizing and layout best practices to consider during all that dreaming. Let’s discuss.


Layout

In addition to considering sun exposure, you want to think about working in and around your beds. Preferably, with comfort and ease!  Are there already other structures, plants, or features in your space that you need to work around? Do you plan to have multiple beds?

I have seen some very tightly spaced beds, like some spaced within one foot of another. While this can be excellent for maximizing yield in a small space, I also can’t help wonder… Isn’t that a pain in the butt? In our garden, we prefer at least 2 feet between beds, minimum. Most are 28 to 32” apart. That distance creates the perfect spacing to move a wheelbarrow or our favorite garden cart up and down the aisles between the beds. It is not only handy, but essential, for our backs sake.

Additionally, a garden bed in the hayday of summer can be overflowing with plants! They’ll come over the sides and encroach in your aisle space.


Test it Out Before Building

Before making any final decisions, grab some scrap wood, rope, broom sticks, or whatever else you can find! Lay it out on the ground in the approximate space and size you’re imagining.  This will give you a better idea of what the space would actually look and feel like once it’s all in place.

A few random boards lay in an open space in the gravel in a front yard garden, marking out where the future raised bed will go.
Using scrap wood to get a feel for the layout and spacing around the new-to-be bed. A wine barrel was previously in its place.


Another tool you could utilize is the Homestead and Chill garden planning toolkit! It includes a plot plan you can use to sketch your ideas out, to scale. If you don’t have one yet, grab it below. It also includes tools like a companion planting chart, and planting calendars for every USDA hardiness zone!



Garden Bed Length

Do you dream of one super long, continuous raised garden bed? Personally, I would consider reconsidering… Instead of one long bed, I suggest breaking up anything over 8 feet or so into sections. Especially if you are going to make your beds 18 to 24 inches deep. Any longer will be ridiculously heavy to move into place once it’s built, unless you plan to build it in place. The longer the bed, the more chances that the weight and pressure of the soil will cause stress and bowing on the longest sides. If anything ever needs repairs or replacement, it will be more difficult to work with.

Long beds can still be placed end-to-end to create the look of one piece. This is what we did both in our coop garden and patio garden areas. See the photos below.


Shown are 5 separate tall raised beds, installed end-to-end to create a "solid" wall of beds around the outside perimeter of a patio. Four beds are 6x2', and one is 4x2'. They'll all 24 inches deep. The beds are overflowing with vegetables and flowers. In the middle of the patio is a table, on top of a colorful outdoor rug. The sun is peeking through the trees in the background.
Shown are 5 separate raised beds, installed end-to-end to create a “solid” wall of beds. Four are 6×2 feet, and one shorty in the corner is 4×2 feet. They’re all 24 inches deep


Width

A raised garden bed shouldn’t be any wider than what you can reach across or access from either side. We do not want to have to step in the bed. That compacts soil, which is not a good thing! It also is not comfortable or ergonomic to have to reach and stretch too far in. Thus, I would not suggest building something like a 6-by-6 foot square bed.

That said, it is best practice to build raised garden beds no wider than 4 feet. Our widest bed is 4.5 feet, and that’s pushing it. It is very difficult, cumbersome, and even a little painful to bend and reach into the very middle when planting or harvesting.

If your raised bed is going to be up against something, like a wall or fence, or otherwise inaccessible from one side, then you’d want to size down the width even more. For example, the coop garden beds along the back of our house (a south-facing wall) are just under 3 feet wide. That way, we can still reach in comfortably from the front side only.

An image of DeannaCat in the coop garden, where a set of four large raised beds form a wide U-shape, with a large portion almost up against the blue house. She is standing in the middle of the U shape, and can reach all areas of the beds from the middle. In the raised beds are
By keeping these beds about 33″ wide, I can still easily reach to the furthest part by the wall from the front. The long beds are about 8 feet long each, and the two side beds are about 2.5 x 3.5 feet. They’re all 24 inches deep.



How deep should my garden beds be?

Keep in mind that most plants prefer at least 12 inches of soil depth for their roots to happily grow. 18 to 24 inches deep is even better! Particularly for large, deep-rooting plants like tomatoes. If allowed, tomatoes can grow roots over 3 to 4 feet deep! Even smaller vegetable plants like cucumber, eggplant, peas, and kale can develop roots up to 24 inches deep. By limiting their space for root growth, it also limits the overall growth and health of the plant.

Tall, deep beds mean less bending over. They are much less strenuous on your back! Deeper beds also retain moisture better. All of our raised garden beds are 18″ or 24” deep, using three or four 2×6” boards up each side. To keep your plants most happy, you should either plan on deep beds, or more shallow ones that are open to native soil without a barrier below.


So, should I block off the bottom of my raised beds, or not?

That is going to be a personal decision, and one that varies depending on your situation. See, we have to line the bottom of our beds with commercial duty landscape fabric. Before our garden looked the way it does now, our yard was full of invasive, weedy crabgrass. Gophers are also an issue, so we need to line the bottom with hardware cloth as well.

Once upon a time, we dug out and removed a nice large section of crabgrass from the front yard, making space for a couple raised garden beds. We placed the raised beds down on the bare soil where the crabgrass once was, thinking we had removed it all. We didn’t include a weed barrier. This was not a smart move. Within 6 months, the beds were insanely infested with crabgrass. So much so, guess what we did? Dug out all the soil, lifted the beds up, and re-did the entire space. That included removing the rest of the grass, laying down layers of painters paper and weed block fabric, setting the beds back down on top of it all, and filling gravel in around them.  

Yup, this was a feature in my post: “15 Mistakes to Avoid in the Garden”. Avoid this.

Yes the photos are a little out of order, but you get the idea. The top is the mistake, the middle is the corrected situation, the bottom is the unpleasant process in between: digging out alllll that soil from each bed, moving them, putting down fabric, and putting it all back.


Your garden is an investment. It is worth protecting. If you don’t have super invasive weeds or burrowing pests, good for you! These extra precautions might not be needed. But if you do have gophers or crabgrass (aka bermuda grass) I highly suggest using the hardware cloth and landscape fabric. For less invasive weeds, a good layer of cardboard in the bottom of the bed will usually do the trick.


Now that we have gone over some recommendations for choosing your ideal raised garden bed location, design, and size, let’s dive into supplies.


STEP 3: Determine Your Lumber Needs


To determine your lumber needs to build a raised garden bed, you’ll need to choose the type of wood you want to use, and calculate how much will be needed for the project.


Wood Choices for Raised Garden Beds

What kind of wood should I use for my garden bed? It depends on your personal preferences, budget, and what is available in your area. An ideal wood choice will be long-lasting, sustainable, and safe! Let’s review a few great options, as well as a few not-so-good options that should be avoided.

Redwood and Cedar are the most popular, high-quality hardwood options for building raised beds. Neither need to be stained or sealed in any way. They are naturally very durable on their own!

For any wood selection, look for ones marked with “FSC” – which stands for the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits. Also look out for bowed or cracked boards! Keep those out of your pile.

A photo of DeannaCat at home depot in the lumber section. She is a blonde woman with slender build, wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt, holding up a long redwood board vertically, peering up at it, standing in front of racks of boards.
DeannaCat choosing the prime heart redwood pieces. I am nerd and always look for pretty patterns and knots, along with avoiding any cracks or bowed boards.


Redwood

We love and use heart redwood to build all of our raised beds. I emphasize heart-grade because this is a higher quality than common construction redwood. Common redwood is good too, but heart is that much more dense and therefore durable.

Redwood is naturally resistant to water, rot and termites, making it an excellent choice for building raised garden beds. Redwood raised beds should hold up for a decade or longer! I have heard of redwood beds lasting over 20 years for some people! I mean, they make water tanks out of redwood. That is saying a lot. Personally, I also think redwood is absolutely gorgeous. It starts off a beautiful pink color, changes to a slightly orange tan tone within a year, and then fades to a beachy barnwood grey.


Cedar

Cedar has a lot of the same excellent properties that redwood does. It is durable, beautiful, and rot-resistant. This makes it one of the most popular and common types of lumber used to build raised garden beds. We do not have experience working with cedar, though I have heard it is expected to last a few years less than redwood.

The cost of cedar and redwood vary by location as well. Cedar is more common and affordable on the East Coast, and redwood on the West Coast.

Other long-lasting hardwood options: Hemlock, walnut, black locust, and oak.


Softer Woods

Pine or Douglas fir wood are middle-of the road choices. They are often more affordable, which makes them very appealing if you’re on budget! However, as softwoods, they’re not known to last nearly as long as the hardwoods listed previously. Raised beds made from these materials are known to last about 5 to 7 years on average, depending on climate.


AVOID using these materials for raised garden beds!

  • Treated lumber, or pressure treated lumber – Historically, an arsenic-based compound called Chromated copper arsenate (CCA) was used for pressure treated lumber. CCA was banned in 2003, and was replaced with various “less harmful” chemicals to treat wood. These include Alkaline copper quaternary, Copper azole, copper-HDO, and copper naphthenate.  While these are all reported to be less toxic than arsenic, I personally still would not use them. Upon reading an article from Iowa State University, it explained studies have found that these chemicals do and will leach into the surrounding soil they’re in contact with. Our Home Depot is legally forbidden to cut pressure treated wood for you, though they will cut all other untreated lumber. That is saying something.
  • Railroad ties – These are treated with Creosote, deemed a “probable” human carcinogen by the EPA. It is also known to damage plants that are growing near it.
  • Recycled or reclaimed wood that you are unsure of the origins, age, or if it has been treated, stained, or painted. They could be toxic!


Alternative materials for creating raised garden beds:

Here I am, assuming that you want to create a wooden raised bed… However, there are other options aside from wood. Alternative materials that could be used to create raised garden beds include: concrete blocks, bricks, cinder blocks, felled logs, galvanized metal tubs, wine barrels, straw bales, or poured concrete, to name a few.

Each of these have their pros and cons. You’ll need to do your research to ensure the material you are using is safe, effective, and will work for your situation.  For example, if you choose cinder blocks or concrete, check to ensure that it does not contain fly ash. Fly ash is a concrete additive that contains heavy metals, which is not something you want leaching in your soil! Additionally, if you live in a hot climate, some of these materials (like galvanized metal or concrete blocks) may heat your soil to an undesirably high temperature.

A before and after of our back yard garden, when we had just finished building a raised bed "the pollinator island" from concrete blocks.  The before image shows a plain empty backyard grass, and concrete patio. In the after photo, the grass is gone and a curvy stone raised bed is in its place, and the patio is now surrounded with wood raised beds.
A before and after of our back yard garden, when we had just finished building a raised bed, “the pollinator island”, from concrete blocks. This bed breaks the rules in terms of width, hence my little pathway to get in the middle if needed. However, this bed is planted with dwarf citrus trees and perennials, so unlike veggie beds, we don’t have a need to change out plants or get in the middle of the bed often. In the background, you can see the patio garden area, surrounded by redwood raised beds.


How much lumber do I need to build a garden bed?

Once you know your desired bed size(s) and wood type, you can run some calculations! Drawing a sketch of your bed is very helpful in the process. It makes it much easier to visualize and add up the total lengths of boards needed. Note that you do not need one board for every piece of each side! You can often use one board to create many pieces of your puzzle. Let me explain.

This step is easiest if you already have your wood picked out and know where you are going to buy it. That way, you can see what size of boards they sell. The heart redwood 2×6 boards we use are most commonly sold in 8 or 12 foot lengths. So for example, let’s pretend we are going to build a 6×4 foot bed. We would want to buy the 12-foot boards – because those could be cut in half to create two perfectly-sized 6-foot pieces for the long sides of the bed.

A photo of two sketches of raised beds, one 2 by 6 feet and one 4 by 6 feet, showing the math and calculations being added up to see how much lumber is required for the project.
Hey… I never said I was an artist, engineer, nor architect! But it gets the job done.


See, if we didn’t plan in advance and purchased the 8-foot boards instead, we’d end up needing to buy twice as much wood to create all the long sides. We’d also have a lot of random two-foot sections left over. This would be a wasteful and costly mistake, especially since the 12 foot boards are only a few dollars more each than the 8 foot boards; no where near double the price!  On the other hand, if we were going to build a 6×2’ raised bed (the size of our patio garden beds) then the 8 foot boards would work out nicely – and, they fit in our Subaru.

Yep. The available lengths of lumber have indeed swayed our design slightly at times. You may find the same to be true.


Corner Supports

For this design, you’ll also need a durable 4×4” board for the corner supports. We use redwood for these too, though heart wood is not usually available. Definitely choose a hardwood like redwood or cedar here, even if you are using a softer wood for your side boards. A softer wood would not make the best support pieces. These are what hold your bed together! You want them to last. For an 18” deep bed, one 6 foot board can be cut 4 ways to create corners. If you’re doing a deep 24” raised bed, grab an 8 foot board.


Other lumber size considerations:

In regards to thickness, most wood will come in two options: 1-inch thick, or 2-inch thick. Keep in mind that boards labelled as 1-inch are really only 3/4”,  and 2-inch boards are only truly 1.5 inches. If you choose to build shallower beds that won’t be subjected to as much soil and pressure, you could choose 1-inch thick boards, which may help keep costs down. However, thicker boards will most definitely last longer. They’re also the most sturdy choice for deep beds.

One last consideration when choosing lumber is: do you want to use 2x4s or 2×6 board? We prefer using 2×6. Fewer of them are needed to reach the desired height of the bed! Or maybe you’ll even be able to locate 12” wide boards, though we don’t see those much.



STEP 4: Purchase Supplies

Make a list, check it twice, and head out shopping! As much as I would love to say “support your local lumber yard!”, we honestly don’t. The prices for redwood boards at our local lumber supply company are literally five times the cost of a big box store like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Maybe your area will be different! Call around to compare prices first.  


Cost

I’m sure a question that is burning in the back of many of your minds is: How much does building a raised bed cost? As with many things in this post, the answer is going to vary depending on your location, along with the size of bed you choose to build and materials used.

The cost of the bed that we built in this post (5 x 3 foot, 18 inches deep) was around $250. The lumber was $130, and the organic bagged soil and compost was about $120. We’ll talk more about soil choices in an upcoming post! Note that we already had screws, hardware cloth, and weed block fabric on hand as well, so the price would be more like $300-350 with those included. (One roll of hardware cloth and fabric will last you many projects)


STEP 5: Prep Your Bed Materials


Now that you got your lumber home, it is time to cut it into the sizes you need.

Mark your cuts

Using a measuring tape and pen, measure and mark you wood to the desired lengths for the long and short sides.

NOTE: Using our design and instructions, your bed will end up being about 3 inches wider than you intended, unless you cut your shorter sides three inches shorter in advance. Wait, what? Let me explain… The shorter sides of the bed, which are built first, are going to be sandwiched between the longer sides. Because the longer sides are 1.5” thick boards each, you will gain a total of 3 inches in width for the whole bed. See the photo below.


A close up image of the corner of a garden bed, looking down. It is pointing out the way the wood connects, to consider while measuring.
You’ll gain this inch-and-a-half in width to one side of your bed, plus another on the other side. Again, this is only a big deal if you’re working in a limited spaced.

If your raised beds are going to be installed in a fairly open space, this is no big deal. However, if you are working within more restricted space limitations and need your bed to be exactly the width you intended, cut the shorter sides three inches smaller than the final width you want your bed. For example, if you wish for your final outer dimensions of the bed to be 48”, make the short boards 45” each.


Measure 4×4″ corner pieces

Just as how 2×6″ boards are not truly 2 inches wide, they are also not really 6 inches tall.  Their actual dimensions are closer to 5 1/2 inches. This is important to keep in mind when you’re cutting the corner pieces from the 4×4”. When the 2×6 boards are stacked 3 or 4 tall to create a side of your bed, you will lose about a half inch in height per board. That means our “18-inch” tall bed is actually about 16.5″ tall – so that is the length to measure and cut the corner pieces. If you cut them at 18″, you will end up with funny pieces sticking out of the corners on either the top or bottom of your bed.

Some folks do like to leave longer corner pieces on the bottom of their bed, dig holes in the corners, and use those nubs to anchor the bed in place into the ground. You could do that too, but note that it makes it a little bit more tricky to install hardware cloth or landscape fabric on the bottom. We don’t feel the need to “anchor” our beds. They aren’t going anywhere.


Cut the lumber

To cut lumber at home, we like to use this miter saw. We can mount it on a portable workbench, which makes the work surface very sturdy and safe, and our cuts accurate and straight. It has been a great tool to have around the homestead! We used it when building our new front yard fence recently, which required angular cuts. It is also capable of cutting 4x4s! Not all saws can do this.

Two side by side images of a miter saw on a workbench, being used to cut redwood boards on a garden patio.
He loves this toy!

Before we upgraded to the miter saw, we used a trusty basic circular saw. We positioned our lumber on top of two 4x4s or sawhorses to get clearance off the ground, and ran it through.  However, it wasn’t large enough to cut 4x4s. This meant we either had to rotate the 4×4 and cut it from multiple sides, or have the lumber cut at the hardware store for us. Speaking of…


No power saw?

If you are not comfortable with a power saw, or do not intend to invest in one, don’t let that stop you! While they may charge a small fee per cut, you can have the kind folks at your local lumber yard cut it for you at the time of purchase. This can be particularly helpful if you don’t have the right tools, or a large enough vehicle to bring longer boards home in. Make sure to bring a list with your measurements with you!

An image of a dozen cut redwood boards laying on a concrete patio, waiting to be put together into a raised bed.
All our short and long side boards, and corner pieces, cut and ready to be assembled! This bed is going to be 18″ deep, 5 feet long and just under 3 feet wide, to fit the space we marked out in the corner of the front yard garden.



STEP 6: Assemble the shorter ends of the raised bed first

When we build raised garden beds, we have learned to start with the short sides first. You’ll see why in a minute.

On a level surface like a table, garage floor, or concrete patio, lay out two of the now-cut 4×4” corner pieces. Position them the same distance apart that your shortest side boards are. Place the short boards on top. Keep the ends of the 2×6” boards flush with the outer edge of the corner 4×4” piece. To make sure everything is nice and square, measure the distance between 4×4’s at both ends.

Two 4x4s lay on the ground, equal distances apart at each end. Then the 2x6" cut boards are being laid on top.
I measure the distance between the inner corners of the 4x4s, to make sure everything is nice and square. 1 and 2 should be equal!

Next, using 2.5 to 3-inch decking screws and a power drill, add two screws to the end of each 2×6” board, attaching them to the 4×4 below. To prevent the 2×6” from splitting, keep the screws at least 1” away from any edges of the board, preferably sinking it into the center of the 4×4”. No, we don’t find the need to drill pilot holes first. The decking screws are great in that regard! If loose boards shift around while you’re working, re-adjust to bring everything back to square.

Repeat this process for the second short side.



STEP 7: Connect the shorter ends with the long boards

Now that you have both short sides assembled, stand them up on their sides. Set up each end at the distance that the longest side of the bed will be, with the corner 4×4’s facing inward towards each other.

Next, set your long boards on top, creating a table of sorts. Line up the outermost edges of the long boards flush with the outer face of the short sides. Repeating a similar process as above, measure the distance between the end corners, ensuring one side isn’t all crooked. They should all be almost exactly the same distance apart. See the photo below.

A photo of DeannaCat on the patio, measuring boards for the raised garden bed.
We set the two short ends up on their sides (already connected to the corner pieces) and place the long boards on top. After the long boards are on top, I always measure the inner distances between the 4x4s, in ALL corners (top and bottom) to ensure everything is square.


Once everything is all square, attach the long boards with 2 screws on each end of each 2×6” board. Make sure you’re driving the screws into the center of the 4×4, not the short-side 2x6s. This means your holes are going to be a little further in on the board than they were on the short sides. After attaching all boards along one side, flip it all over and repeat the process on the final side of the bed.


Ta da! You just built a raised garden bed!

Now do you see why we started with the short sides? If we did the long sides first, and then stood them up, you may be trying to work 6 feet up in the air when attaching the rest!  

Yes… you could do all of this keeping the bed down on the ground, positioned as it would be in the garden. That is totally up to you. Yet, we have learned over the years that using this “stand-the-bed-up-while-you-attach-it” method has a few perks. One, it provides natural resistance and better support while you’re drilling in screws. By pushing downwards against the ground, you’re able to take advantage of your body weight and gravity. Two, it is far less awkward than drilling sideways into something that may shift and move when you do so. It helps us keep everything more square.

Aaron standing next to the just-built raised bed, still on the patio and on its side. He is smiling, wearing sunglasses and bright blue shirt, has dark brown hair, a short beard, and medium build. The patio garden and other raised beds (in use) are in teh background.
New bed! 5′ x 3′ x 18″ using heart redwood



STEP 8: Add the bottom protection & side support (optional)

Back to the conversation about pests, be it weedy or furry types… As we already discussed, you may or may not need to line the bottom of your bed with anything. If you have burrowing pests, like gophers or moles, I highly suggest adding hardware cloth to the bottom. If aggressive weeds are a concern, do not skip the weed block fabric. Gentler weeds can usually be kept at bay with a layer of cardboard on the bottom of your raised bed, if you prefer.

If you’re going to do both, we have found it easiest to install the hardware cloth first, then the weed block fabric. The other way around, the pokey hardware cloth is more likely to grab and potentially rip your fabric while you’re trying to attach it.


Hardware Cloth

What is “hardware cloth” you ask? It is a mesh wire fencing material made from strong galvanized metal. Thus, it won’t rust and disintegrate with time as chicken wire does. It also can’t be chewed through by rodents like chicken wire can. This makes it the ideal material for lining garden beds, making gopher baskets for fruit trees, and predator-proofing chicken coops.

Commonly sold in 2, 3 or 4-foot wide rolls of varying lengths. If your bed is narrow enough, one 3 or 4 foot wide piece could stretch across the bottom of the bed. If not, combine two pieces, overlapping and attaching them in the middle if needed, with either zip ties or bits of galvanized wire.

An image showing hardware cloth being attached to the underside of a garden bed. One section wasn't wide enough so another piece was added to cover it all. The bed is flipped upside down on the patio.
We only had two-foot wide hardware cloth on hand for this project, not wide enough to cover the bottom of the bed, so we needed to overlap an additional section to make up the difference. We usually buy 3 or 4 foot wide rolls for garden beds. This was leftover from a gopher-basket tree planting project.


To attach the wire to the bottom edge of the bed, we use a couple different things. The most sturdy option is using wide head cabinet screws, which pinch the wire between their head and the wood. A staple gun can also be used. Sometimes we do a little of both, depending on what we have on hand. To cut the hardware cloth, decent wire snips or cutters are needed. We love these ones! The long blades make it easier to cut through quicker, almost like scissors, instead of one tiny snip at a time.

A close-up of the the bottom of the raised bed with hardware cloth attached, and photo of the metal snips used to cut it being held in front of them.
We ran out of the wide head cabinet screws so I added them just in the corners and a few spots along the sides. For the rest, I used a staple gun. We usually cut the piece of hardware cloth pretty close to the size of the bed and cut off excess overlap after. These Milwaukee aviation snips make the job much easier.


Weed-blocking Landscape Fabric

Not all weed blocking material is made the same. When I mention it, I think most folks conjure up images of that thin black plastic-like stuff that rips and makes a hot mess. Nope! That isn’t what we use. We use this heavy-duty, commercial material. It is thicker, far more durable, but still provides excellent drainage.

A hand holding grey white fabric over a raised bed. The weed block fabric used under the beds.
The landscape fabric we use to stop crabgrass.


How you attach it to the bed is up to you, or maybe you won’t attach it at all. By not attaching it at all, I mean how we usually make use of it: we often times lay down weed block fabric over a large area, set our beds on top, and then cover it with the green rock gravel or mulch we use around our beds.

If you don’t want it sticking out beyond the bed, use a staple gun to attach it to the bottom of the bed, or lay the fabric inside. However, if the area you are installing the raised beds is very weedy, I highly recommend extending the weed barrier fabric well beyond the perimeter of the bed itself. Weeds will be drawn to the moisture in your raised bed and are very good at finding a way in.

Note: You do not see our weed block fabric under the bed in this example because it is already on the ground, under the green rock gravel.


Side Supports

One final touch you may want to consider adding to your raised garden bed is a support brace. I suggest this for any beds over 6 feet in length, attached along the middle of the longest sides. This is to add extra support for the wood, to prevent bowing with time. We generally use a galvanized steel mending brace. Some folks add an additional strip of wood, like a 2×4”. I have seen this done both on the inside and outside of the bed.

A hand holding a long meal mending brace along three pieces of wood it will attach to
A mending brace is being added along the inside sidewall of a 7 foot-long raised bed.



STEP 9: Put the Rasied Bed in Place

The raised bed is built, all the finishing touches are in place. It’s finally time to get it settled into its new home!

It is best for raised beds to be as level as possible, though perfection isn’t necessary. A level bed promotes even water distribution. If needed, adjust and level out the soil or surface that it is going to sit on. For sloped surfaces, it is best practice to dig out and terrace the bed space to make it more level.

If you can create a little nest for the bed to sit down in to, rather than flush on top of the soil surface, that’s even better. For example, by digging out just an inch or two of soil, mulch, or gravel to nestle the sides down in to a bit. This can help prevent the water or soil from running out the bottom too quickly. If you built a more shallow bed, or did not line the bottom, this is even more worthy of a step.

Speaking of not lining the bottom… If you chose to not line the bottom of your raised beds and are going to set it straight onto the native soil, you may want to consider amending and tilling the soil below a little. Even though we are not usually proponents of tilling soil, it could be helpful when first setting up a bed. If your native soil is rocky, compacted, clay, or otherwise less-than-ideal for growing plants, try to loosen the soil and work in some good aged compost before setting the bed down on top. Particularly if your bed is 12” deep or less. Your plants and their roots will thank you!

Showing we dug away a couple inches of the existing gravel to nestle the bed into. We then packed the gravel back around the sides after. There is already landscape fabric below the rock. The finished raised bed is sitting on its side in the background, waiting to be put in place.
It’s sort of hard to tell in the photo, but we dug away a couple inches of the existing gravel to nestle the bed into. We then packed the gravel back around the sides after. There is already landscape fabric below the rock.



STEP 10: Fill Your Bed with Soil

The new raised bed settled into place in the front yard garden, surrounded by other plants and raised beds, and gravel between them. It is full of soil, but nothing is planted in it yet. It appears to be shining and standing out from everything else, due to the bright pink color of the fresh wood.
Isn’t she pretty?!

After your raised garden bed is all situated in place, it needs to be filled up! This very important subject deserves a post of its own: “How to Fill a Raised Bed: Build the Perfect Organic Soil”. Read along to learn all about our soil choices, compost, aeration, natural amendments, and mild plant-based fertilizers.


Please enjoy this video tutorial of everything we just went over together!


Check out our YouTube channel for more videos by clicking here!


That’s all there is to it!

Now you know everything you need to know to confidently site, design, and build a raised garden bed! It is only a matter of time that you’ll be harvesting delicious and nutritious homegrown produce to feed your family!


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In all, I hope you found this helpful and informative. Feel free to ask questions, and spread the raised bed love by sharing this article!

DeannaCats signature. Keep on Growing



45 Comments

  • Kayla

    Thanks so much for the VERY detailed plans for a raised bed. I am more of a visual person when it comes to measurements and plans and you were spot on helping me figure out what and how I want to place my beds and where! Love, love, love all the detail. Thanks again for all the help! 😊

  • Joanna

    Do you have any suggestions for lining the bed to prevent water warping the wood? I’m considering plastic lining, but I am worried about leaching into the soil.

  • Melissa

    Hi, just wondering if you got my question about the stain on raised beds? It seems that my comment didn’t post. I can re-write it if necessary

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Melissa – Sorry for the delay! I’m a bit behind on comments here… I don’t see your original question about staining, but I can take a guess? We don’t stain our beds, but we also have a very mild climate here. I know others in more extreme/wet locations do stain the outside of their beds periodically to help protect them. I would seek out a non-toxic food safe version. I have heard Gardener’s Supply has one, maybe some sort of sealing oil? I think they need to be reapplied every year or so as well. I hope that helps! Thanks for your patience, and for being here!

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