What are the Pros and Cons in having a Raised Garden Bed compared to In-Ground Beds?
A question which divides generations of gardeners is whether raised beds are better than in-ground beds. More traditional farmers and gardeners will usually side with in ground beds, while many, especially suburban, gardeners will only consider raised beds.
But what is the actual truth? What are the pros and cons of raised and in-ground beds? You are about to find out!
Raised Beds Pros and Cons
Raised beds are becoming all the rage especially in small, suburban gardens. You must have seen them: vegetables and flowers growing in wood frames or even concrete cubes or, very often, what look like bins planted in the ground…
Pros of Raised Beds
They certainly have some great advantages, and this is why they are becoming so popular.
- They are more ergonomic: with a raised bed, you will not need to go down on your hands and knees and bend your back all the time! This is arguably one of the greatest advantages of raised bed, possibly the deciding factor for many gardeners.
- You have better soil quality control: from a purely qualitative point of view, even if a raised bed is not actually “a big pot”, it allows you to improve the soil very quickly and easily, as the nutrients and organic matter (sand, lime, acidity corrector etc.) will stay within the bed’s soil and it will not disperse.
- Raised beds will avoid soil compacting and give you a deeper layer of good soil for your plants. In the ground, soil gets compacted very easily and only the top few inches of soil are actually useful to roots…
- They are aesthetically pleasing: raised beds look good, especially if you choose wood or other natural materials to build them. This, of course, can be an important factor when you are decoding how to design your back garden…
- Raised beds have fewer weeds: both because they are easy to mulch and because they are not at ground level, raised beds will result in fewer weeds than in-ground beds. If you put in weed free soil, then, the results will be even more impressive.
- They will make it easier to keep pests at bay: you can easily cover them with a net when you plant tender seedlings, for example, which are very, very attractive to pests. Also, discrete beds offer fewer corridors for pests to jump from one bed to the other (especially slugs and similar pests).
- Raised beds have better drainage: this may depend on the soil you put in as well, but on the whole, raised beds are an excellent solution if, for example, the soil of your garden is heavy clay. In fact, it is easier to have a raised bed with new soil than improve clay soil on the ground.
- They give you longer gardening seasons: this is because raised beds will warm up faster than in-ground beds in spring, and they will drain better in fall. So, you will start growing sooner and finish later!
- Raised beds mark space very clearly: drawing a line on the ground with your neighbor and then sticking to it has caused many arguments among gardeners… But once you have your raised bed in place, that puts an end to all disputes. What is more, with a raised bed, if you have no fence, you can be sure that no passer by will step on your newly planted radishes.
Disadvantages of Raised Beds
Before you go out to your back garden and start building raised beds, though, wait… They are not perfect and there are some disadvantages that can make them unsuitable for you. Here they are…
- Raised beds have higher initial set up costs: you will need the beds themselves, which you can either buy or build, but in both cases, you will incur significant costs compared to in-ground beds. Especially if your garden is big, this may make having raised beds a non option.
- Raised beds require more handyman skills: building a raised bed or repairing it requires some DIY skills indeed…
- They will not last forever: sooner or later you will need to change them, and this means not only putting in a lot of work, but maybe even a few bucks…
- They have limited shapes: square, round, rectangular or even triangular, raised beds cannot, however be adapted to very strange, curving and winding shapes.
- Raised beds are not very suitable for slopes: this seems quite evident; if your garden is not flat, you understand that setting up raised beds may be a big challenge, if not impossible.
Here's a video showing how you can easily make your very own raised bed
In-ground beds have been the “conventional and accepted” type of garden beds for centuries if not millennia, so, they must have some good positive points…
Advantages of In-Ground Beds
- In-ground beds are easy to prepare. You will only need to prepare (till, mulch etc.) the soil with no need for structures and frames.
- They are also easier to irrigate: with raised beds you will need an irrigation system, while with in ground beds, you can use traditional irrigation methods.
- They are more adaptable: You can easily change crops and even the layout of your garden with in-ground beds. On the other hand, with raised beds you will have to stick to the layout of the beds year on year and from crop to crop…
- In-ground beds are cheaper to set up.
- You can use existing soil, which, of course will cut down on costs as well as work.
- In-ground beds can be of any shape: you decide the shape of your bed, and it does not need to be square or round, it can even have the shape of a butterfly, if you wish and you are artistically inclined.
- They are suitable for slopes. If you live on a hillside, the best, if not the only, option, is to have in-ground beds.
In-Ground Beds Disadvantages
A little word on the disadvantages of in-ground beds… If you look at the list of advantages of raised beds, you will find the disadvantages of in-ground beds: less control over weeds, pests and soil quality, soil compacting, shorter growing season can be the main ones, to cap it all up…
So, Which Are Better, Raised or In-Ground Beds?
The final choice is yours, but of course it very much depends on your land and on your needs…
For a small urban garden on flat land, raised gardens will give you much better results, but they require some initial set up costs and work.
On the other hand, if your garden is big, if it is on uneven land or if it is a patch with a strange shape, then old fashioned in-ground beds will be a much better choice for you.