Pros and Cons: Row Gardening vs. Raised Beds vs. Containers | Almanac.com

Pros and Cons: Row Gardening vs. Raised Beds vs. Containers

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What's the difference in these gardening methods?

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There are many ways to garden, but which one is right for you and your space? Let’s consider different growing methods, as well as the pros and cons of row planting versus raised bed planting versus containers.

Once you have an idea of what you wish to grow, then you want to consider how best to grow in the garden. Review some of the popular methods with your growing space in mind.

Flat Rows

The most traditional garden consists of a simple in-ground garden bed, which is a plot of land in which the soil has been dug up and rocks, roots, and weeds have been removed. Plants are grown directly in the ground.

The Pros: In-ground gardening is typically cheaper than other methods, as it requires no extra building materials. Plus, if your existing soil is good enough, you may not need to spend money amending it with additional loam or compost. (Although we do recommend mixing some high-quality compost or well-aged manure into your bed anyway, as it will increase the fertility of the soil.)

The Cons: The downside to in-ground gardening is that it can take more time to maintain an in-ground garden bed. There are often more weeds and pests at the ground level. Also, soil stays cold longer in the spring, so it takes longer to get plants growing if you live in a colder climate.

→ Read how to create a new in-ground garden bed in an existing lawn or field.

Raised Rows

This technique is essentially a hybrid between traditional in-ground gardening and raised beds. 

A raised row is exactly what it sounds like the row is raised higher than the surrounding soil level by mixing in organic materials—such as compost, shredded leaves, and mulch. 

The Pros: If your soil is too compact, clay-like, or drains poorly, a raised row will allow the plants to develop healthy, deep roots. The mounded soil, rich in nutrients, continually breaks down and enhances the entire gardening space. In areas where it rains a lot, raised rows will drain better. And in northern climates, the soil will warm faster. Finally, raised rows mean fewer weeds.

This method can be done over top of an existing garden bed, over a lawn, or over another patch of earth. If you have rocky, poor soil or just don’t have the time or materials to build a true raised bed, consider using a raised row!

The Cons: Raised rows take more time to create than flat rows and also take up more space in the garden. Additionally, raised rows are not permanent, and you’ll need to keep adding soil to the rows. Finally, raised rows aren’t as flexible as flat rows if you want to plant a second crop.

Raised Bed Gardens

Raised bed gardening has grown in popularity over the years—and for good reason! A raised garden bed is essentially a large, bottomless container that sits on top of the ground. It is typically a frame of wood, stone, or concrete built to your specifications, placed in a sunny spot, and filled with good-quality soil. 

Pros: A raised bed garden has many benefits. For example, raised bed gardening…

  • …is ideal where ground soil is rocky or of poor quality
  • …is perfect for small spaces where plants need to be confined
  • …reduces weeds and pests
  • …prevents water runoff
  • …provides a higher yield by enabling better drainage and deep rooting
  • …can eliminate bending or stretching to ground level
  • …allows for a longer growing season when combined with row covers
  • …makes routine garden work easier on the back and knees

Cons: Of course, building raised beds requires start-up work and investment. Plus, raised beds require that you buy or make your own compost to fill the beds. In addition, you can’t really get equipment inside raised beds, so it’s not ideal for large gardens as it’s more difficult to hoe, weed, and harvest than flat rows. 

Convinced? Learn how to make a raised bed here.

Raised beds. Photo by johnbraid/Shutterstock
Raised bed gardening. Photo by johnbraid/Shutterstock

Straw Bales

In straw bale gardening, plants are planted directly into a bale of straw. The bale acts as both the container for the plants and their growing medium. The tight structure of the bale provides support for roots, and as the straw decomposes over time, the bale provides nutrients for plants throughout the growing season. 

With proper preparation and care, strawberries, tomatoes, squashes, and other edibles will thrive in the straw. Carefully choose the bales’ permanent location; wet bales are heavy and difficult to move once they’re placed.

The secret to a straw bale garden is to condition new bales for a period of 12 to 18 days before planting in them. This involves keeping the bale moist and fertilized, which jumpstarts decomposition.

Container Gardens

No plot? Grab a pot! Lack of yard space is no reason not to grow something. With more and more of us living in apartments, growing plants in containers such as grow bags, hanging baskets, or traditional pots has become more popular than ever.

Pros: As well as being perfect for folks lacking garden space, containers give you a lot of control over growing conditions, as you can tailor your care to whatever you’re growing. For example, you can move containers in and out of the sun and water them when necessary. Containers are also a good way to avoid soilborne diseases and insect pests.

Cons: Containers do take more plant care since the soil dries out quickly and nutrients leach out; you’ll need to research plants’ watering and fertilizing needs. Also, containers require soilless potting mix and the plants’ pots (which is an added expense). 

Tips for Container Gardening

Healthy plants need lots of space, and most roots need room to grow. For this reason, bigger is typically better when it comes to containers. Here are some other important things to consider:

  • Anything that holds soil can support a garden. Use barrels (a wooden half-barrel can yield an amazing amount of food), buckets, baskets, boxes, bath- and other tubs, grow bags, or troughs. Just be sure that any container has drainage holes in the bottom so that the soil doesn’t become water-logged.
  • Plastic pots won’t dry out as fast as unglazed terra-cotta and black pots absorb heat when they are sitting in the sun, which can also dry out the soil more quickly. Cloth grow bags will dry out faster, too, but they will also allow for better air exchange by the plants’ roots.
  • Hanging baskets make good use of extra space. Herbs, cherry tomatoes, or strawberries grown at eye level can be easily tended and harvested. A large window box can provide the makings for a fresh salad within arm’s reach.
  • Whatever their size or type, place your containers where they are most convenient for you to care for and where the plants will grow best. Most vegetables need 6 to 8 hours of direct sun in order to thrive and produce well.
  • Place saucers underneath pots to catch runoff or rainwater and protect a deck or other surface. Remember to pour off standing water so that your plants don’t drown.
  • Do not fill pots with soil from the yard or garden: It is too heavy, can become waterlogged, and brings disease and insects with it. Instead, choose prepared potting mixes, aged compost from a local source, or a soilless mixture combined with organic matter.
  • For proper growth, most vegetables need consistently moist soil. Wind and warmth draw moisture from plant leaves, drying them out, so many plants must be watered as often as twice a day. Consider using self-watering containers, which have a water reservoir in the bottom to transfer water to the dry soil as needed.
  • To keep potted plants adequately cool and moist, double-pot them by placing a small pot inside a larger one and filling the space between them with sphagnum moss or crumpled newspaper. When watering the plant, also soak the filler between the pots. The moist filler acts as insulation.

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About The Author

Benjamin Kilbride

Benjamin Kilbride has been an editorial contributor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac. While he doesn’t own any land, he gets creative gardening every year in pots, in small mobile greenhouses, and under lights in his pantry. Read More from Benjamin Kilbride

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