A client recently looked at me a little sideways when I said she could plant her veggies either in raised beds or directly in the ground. "You can plant them directly in the ground? But what does it look like?" she asked. Raised beds are so common in Portland that I'm not surprised my comment resulted in a sideways glance. This conversation got me thinking about the pros and cons of raised beds and in-ground beds.
I've never thought twice about my decision to plant directly in the ground, for two reasons. First, in-ground beds are endlessly flexible and the layout could be adjusted every year if I wanted; and second, it's less expensive to just plant directly in the ground, usually with minor soil amendments.
When I say raised beds, I'm referring to framed garden boxes. They are usually made out of wood, although I have seen them constructed with other materials. Raised beds area a great way to keep your veggie garden neat and tidy.
RAISED BEDS: PROS
Clearly defined planting area
Clearly defined paths (this is helpful for children, pets, and wandering garden-unaware folks)
Choose your own soil/compost
Soil heats up faster in the spring
Easy to access, especially for those who cannot get to ground level
Rectangular shaped garden is easy to plan
Easy to add hoops/plastic for a mini-greenhouse effect
RAISED BEDS: CONS
Limited creativity for garden design
Inflexible as your sun/shade situation changes over the years
Up-front cost of materials and labor to construct beds
Up-front cost of soil/compost
May dry out faster than in-ground beds
Wood frame will eventually rot
Everyone is doing it - why not try a more unique design?
If you decide to grow your veggies in raised beds, there is only one thing I beg of you. Please don't grow any veggies or other edible plants in raised beds constructed with pressure treated wood! It's true that pressure treated wood will last a long time, but it is treated with chemicals that could be taken up by your plants, right into the beautiful veggies you just grew! Why take the risk?
In-ground beds have their pros and cons too. Here are a few photos of tomatoes grown directly n the ground, surrounded by an edible and medicinal landscape.
IN-GROUND BEDS: PROS
Endlessly flexible layout options (veggies don't need to be planted in rows!)
Easy to shift beds as sun/shade changes at your site
Blend your veggies right into your garden for a cohesive look
Little to no up-front material/soil cost
Can amend your existing soil if needed
Easy to transform lawn to garden beds by sheet mulching
Easy to transform garden beds to other uses as your surrounding garden matures
IN-GROUND BEDS: CONS
Garden bed/path boundary can be unclear to some (like my young daughter!)
Pathways and lawn can slowly move into the garden beds, so some upkeep is needed
Warms up slower in spring
Dries out slower in spring so you may have to wait longer to plant
More bending and reaching to tend and harvest veggies
Slugs have direct access to your beds
There is not one "right way" to garden. All gardens are unique and all gardeners have their preferred methods. Decide which type of bed works best for your lifestyle, site conditions, and design aesthetic. You may even do a combination of raised beds and in-ground beds depending on your situation. Experiment with different types of beds to see what works best for you. Happy gardening!
I'd love to hear from you! What's your choice? In ground or raised beds?