Deciding on Raised Beds or In-Ground Gardening

Dr. David Berle and Robert Westerfield of UGA have created a series of publications on community/school gardens.  One of the most popular circulars is Raised Beds vs. In-Ground Gardens.  It is an excellent resource when determining whether or not raised beds would work for your garden.

The height of these beds is helpful for the senior gardeners at Tobie Grant Manor garden.
The height of these beds is helpful for the senior gardeners at Tobie Grant Manor garden.

Raised beds are defined as elevated boxes that are manageable in size and are filled with enough soil to support plants without using the soil underneath the box.  The height of the boxes can vary.  Tall boxes can be very beneficial to senior gardeners who are more comfortable working while standing instead of knelling down.  When dealing with native soil of questionable quality, raised beds with imported soil are an easy solution.

Some other advantages of raised beds are:

  • Prevention of soil compaction- raised boxes can limit foot traffic on the soil
  • Less weeding and maintenance
  • Reduced conflict – raised beds are very defined and easy to assign to participating gardeners
  • Better drainage
  • Extended garden area – raised beds can be placed on slopes, compacted soil, and even parking lots
The in-ground gardens at Woodstock Community Garden make it easy for a tiller to work the soil.
The in-ground gardens at Woodstock Community Garden make it easy for a tiller to work the soil.

There are advantages to in-ground gardens.  Raised bed materials can be costly for a garden group just starting and in-ground gardening can allow a tractor or tiller to easily help prepare the area.  Other advantages include:

  • Use of existing soil
  • Less permanent – if the landowner deems the garden temporary or for good crop rotation
  • Easier irrigation
  • Less start-up work
  • Clay soils do have benefits that are not found in man-made soils

As you start, or change, your garden carefully consider which arrangement will work for your group.  Consider your current and future needs and decide how much time and resources you all are willing to commit.  Your local UGA Extension office is a great resource for help.

Happy Gardening!

Becky Griffin

Becky Griffin

Community and School Garden Coordinator at UGA Extension
Becky Griffin helps school and community gardeners succeed! This includes organizing school garden teacher training with county agents, assisting schools with STE(A)M goals, and creating resources on starting and sustaining successful gardens.

Becky is a Georgia Certified Beekeeper and works with community and school gardeners to increase beneficial insect habitat.In 2017, she created the Georgia Pollinator Census project.Ask her about it!
Becky Griffin

8 thoughts on “Deciding on Raised Beds or In-Ground Gardening

  1. Locally, we use raised beds but we do not use manmade materials for the sides. It is easy enough to mound up the soil so that the bed itself is raised while using mulch for the areas between the beds. There is no cost of materials; you are using some of the native soil, and we amend the beds annually to add the composted material from the mulched pathways.

  2. Aesthetically, raised beds make a garden very attractive and provide clearer walking paths. They can also raise the gardening area above potential soil contaminants.

  3. Marjorie’s suggestion echoes the wide-row method described by Dick Raymond in his book, The Joy of Gardening (one of my favorite gardening books!). Wide rows are a great choice for gardens that do not need more permanent boundaries, and where the soil is safe (as Millard pointed out). The wide rows may need to be bolstered a bit each year by raking the beds back into their original shape but this is not hard to do. Gardeners just have to remember (that’s the hard part). Hope that all is going well for you! -Amy

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