Do Raised Garden Beds Need Drainage? - Backyard Boss
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Do Raised Garden Beds Need Drainage?

A raised garden bed is a great way to grow your own crops without straining your back and knees. They’re a practical solution for people who lack gardening space, those living in concrete jungles, and those with physical limitations.

But, the same rules that apply to pots and containers apply to raised garden beds — it must have proper drainage. When you buy pots and containers, they usually have pre-made drainage holes, or you drill some before using them to grow your plants. Although you typically don’t have to worry about holes with raised garden beds, ensuring there’s proper drainage is crucial!

Drainage plays a significant role in the health of your plants and prevents stunted growth. Learn more about the types of raised garden beds and how important drainage is for your plants.

Types of Raised Garden Beds — Pros and Cons

A horse trough being used as a creative outdoor planter in a rooftop garden.
Image credits: SalHar via Shutterstock

There are four types of raised garden beds:

Raised Ground Bed / In-Ground Beds It requires nothing but soil to make a raised ground bed. These are usually flat-top mounds (directly dug on the ground) with an average height of 6 inches to 1 foot. Raised ground beds don’t have support frames, and they’re temporary structures.
Supported Raised Ground Bed This is the same as a raised ground bed; only they have an edge or a frame that supports the bed, keeping the soil from washing away. The support frame gives the garden a finished appearance and clear boundaries to work with.
Container Raised Garden Bed These custom-made containers sit on the ground that you can fill with soil to grow your plants. They’re not permanent structures, and you can move them around. They come in many shapes, sizes, and materials to suit your gardening needs.
Elevated Raised Garden Bed This is similar to a container-raised garden bed; only an elevated raised garden bed is further heightened by placing them on higher support legs or stands to suit gardeners with severe mobility issues.

Pros and Cons of Raised Garden Beds

Just like everything else, there are pros and cons to raised garden beds.

Pros Cons
Comfortable, especially for older gardeners or those with mobility issues. It can be pricey, depending on the material and size.
You have to deal with fewer weeds than in traditional gardening. Requires special soil mix to prevent chemical leaching. Or you can use high-quality liners.
Higher level of soil has better drainage thanks to gravity. They need to be fertilized more frequently than raised ground beds.
Provides your garden with a neat, elegant, and tidy look. It can break if you move it too frequently.
It gives you better control over the soil your plants are growing in. Without sturdy frames, in-ground beds can suffer from frequent soil erosion.
Provides you with better pest control. Compacted soils are an issue with in-ground beds as you’ll tend to step on them. Frames define boundaries that somewhat help prevent you from stepping on the soil, causing compaction, or accidentally damaging seedlings.

Why is Drainage so Important?

raised garden bed
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Proper drainage is essential to keep your plants from drowning or getting waterlogged soil.

Since you can directly dig in-ground beds and supported raised garden beds into the ground, you don’t have to worry about drainage holes, but you may have to fix compacted soil that can hinder proper drainage (More on how to amend this problem later).

When it comes to container raised garden beds or elevated ones, ensure the containers have holes at the bottom for proper drainage. Ideally, when you water your raised garden bed, your plants absorb what they need and let the rest of the water drain out from the container’s drainage holes. If you decide to DIY your own raised bed, don’t forget this step!

When your container doesn’t have drainage holes, the water collects at the bottom of your raised garden bed, suffocates your plant’s roots, and causes root rot. You can fix root rot can if you identify it sooner, but often it’s fatal for plants.

Apart from root rot, wet soils can invite mold, fungus, and other pesky pests you don’t want to deal with. If you see mold growing on your soil, know there’s something wrong with your soil or pot’s drainage. Mold isn’t an immediate threat but can damage your plants if left unattended.

How To Improve a Raised Garden Bed’s Drainage

Modern raised wooden coloured garden vegetable and fruit beds in winter farm under snow
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If you think maintaining a perfect watering schedule is challenging, ensuring proper drainage is a different story altogether! First, make your own organic potting soil for your container garden. Don’t use garden soil without testing and amending it with soil amendments and compost to improve its texture, healthy, and fertility.

So, does a container raised garden bed need drainage? Yes, much like your other potted and container houseplants, a raised bed also needs drainage holes to prevent water from pooling at the bottom and damaging crops.

Use different soil amendments like perlite, vermiculite, bark, and sand to improve your soil’s structure and drainage abilities. You’ll need to maintain a decent balance between water drainage and retention.

Don’t put rocks or brick pieces at the bottom of your container’s base to improve drainage. These will force the wet soil to move towards the base of your plant and roots and will eventually cause root rot. Rocks at the bottom will also prevent your plant’s roots from spreading downwards.

Don’t forget to add earthworms to your raised bed; they’ll help improve drainage and aerate the soil in the process. Besides boosting your soil’s drainage and aeration, they leave behind nitrogen-rich castings that encourage healthy plant growth.

Good Chives Only!

Raised garden beds are a fantastic solution for pretty much any garden. Not only do they make gardening easy on your back, but they also counter the negative effects of soil erosion and nutrient wash-off. Furthermore, they improve soil drainage and root health and keep pests and weeds out while looking neat and elegant.

Watering can save and kill a plant if the soil doesn’t drain or retain water properly. This is why ensuring that your raised garden beds have enough drainage is incredibly important. You can do this by drilling drainage holes at the bottom of your container, using a special potting soil mix, and adding amendments and earthworms to improve aeration, drainage, and nutrition.

As always, leave your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comment section! And share with friends and family who might find this helpful.

Happy gardening!