Gardening Methods: Containers, Raised Beds, Raised Rows, and More

Which Type of Garden Is Right For Your Space?

By Benjamin Kilbride
June 24, 2020
Raised Bed Close-up
Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

Once you have decided what you want to grow, consider where and how to do it. Here’s an overview of some of the most popular gardening methods that will help you plan your garden this year. 

Gardening Methods

There are many ways to garden, but which one is right for you and your space? Consider the following popular methods:

In-Ground Garden Beds

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.

In-ground gardening is typically cheaper than other methods, as it doesn’t require any 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 fertility of the soil.)

The downside to in-ground gardening is that it can take a lot of time and effort to create and maintain an in-ground garden bed, depending on where you put it and how you construct it. 

Raised Rows

This technique is essentially a hybrid between traditional in-ground gardening and raised beds. It combines the simplicity of an in-ground bed with the better soil structure of a raised bed, while sidestepping the time and effort it takes to maintain an in-ground bed and the cost of building a raised bed. 

A raised row is exactly what it sounds like: a raised area of soil and other organic materials—such as compost, shredded leaves, mulch, or straw—that is formed into a sort of row or hill. The idea of the raised row is to build up a mound of rich, healthy soil that continually breaks down and enhances the entire gardening space. Compare this to a raised bed, in which the soil never leaves the contained area.

This method can be done over top of an existing garden bed, over a lawn, or other 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 instead!

Above-Ground Garden Beds: Raised Beds and Straw Bales

Raised Beds

Raised bed gardening has been growing in popularity over the years—and for very 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 that’s built to your specifications, which is placed in a sunny spot and filled with good-quality soil.

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

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, as well as 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; once they’re placed, wet bales are heavy and difficult to move.

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 the decomposition process.

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.

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 sun, water them when necessary, and control Containers are also a good way to avoid soilborne diseases and insect pests.

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 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.

Learn More

Want to learn more about gardening? Visit our library of Growing Guides to learn how to grow your favorite crop, or check out Vegetable Gardening for Beginners to learn more basics!

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