Many gardeners, from novices to experts, are discovering the advantages of using containers and garden boxes to grow flowers and vegetables at home. A simple do-it-yourself project, homemade garden boxes offer an attractive addition to the landscape. Garden boxes allow for greater ease and comfort while working in the garden, provide better soil drainage, allow for crop-specific soil mixtures and provide a barrier against weeds and common garden pests.
Select a location for your garden box, taking into consideration the amount of direct sunlight and rainfall the area receives. Soil in raised beds warms and dries out quickly, so you will need access to water.
Determine the best size and shape for your garden box. Consider the appearance of your existing landscaping; the quantity, type, and size of the plants you want to grow; and the desired elevation of your bed. Remember, you want to be able to reach the entire box from either side. If you are building your garden box against a building or fence, consider making it smaller so you can reach the entire bed. If you use a wheelchair or have other physical restrictions, consider a higher box for access from a seated position.
If you plan to build multiple garden boxes, allow enough space between them to work comfortably in each bed and allow for the transport of gardening materials and produce. Mulch pathways between boxes to keep down the weeds and provide a neater appearance. Consider extending the growing season by adding a transparent cover to the garden box, retaining heat and creating a greenhouse effect.
Select the right building materials for your garden. Most boxes are really frames with no bottom and can be moved from one location to another, depending on their size. Some, however, have solid bottoms and are built on legs to eliminate the need for bending and stooping while gardening. These solid-bottomed garden boxes are often placed on patios or decks and must be designed to allow for proper soil drainage and built to support the weight of 6 to 12 inches of wet soil.
Most garden boxes are made from wood. If you will be growing vegetables in your boxes, do not use pressure-treated lumber. The chemicals used in pressure-treatment are toxic and may leach into the soil. Plastic and other synthetic materials can also be used in constructing homemade garden boxes, but are more difficult to work with and generally less attractive than wood. Cedar, cypress, and redwood are excellent alternatives to pressure-treated lumber.
Construct a garden box using only a hammer or screwdriver and a saw. You may also wish to use a carpenter’s square and a level for a more attractive finished product. Uniformity is important if you are planning a garden using multiple boxes.
Galvanized nails or screws make the best fasteners and should be 3 inches in length if you are using 2-by-6 boards for the sides. Fasten 18-inch, sharpened 4-by-4s to the inside corners for stability and to stake the garden box to the ground. Each garden box should be no more than 12 inches high and 4 feet wide. Fasten more stakes in the middle of each side if your box is more than 6 feet long.
Build your garden box at the site, or build it upside-down with the sharpened end of the stakes facing up and flip it over and drive it into the ground at whatever location you choose.
Once in place, line the bottom of the box with landscape fabric or another porous material before filling it with soil. This will keep grass and weeds from growing up into your box and still allow water to drain. If the location you selected for your garden box has poorly draining soil, spread a layer of gravel on top of the landscape fabric to improve the drainage before adding the soil.
If your plants require partial shade, make a cheesecloth cover for you garden box to filter the sunlight during the hottest part of the day. To extend the growing season, make another cover using a polyethylene film in place of the cheesecloth. This will transform your box into a mini-greenhouse, allowing you to extend your growing season by planting earlier and harvesting later in the year.
Paint the outside of your boxes, or leave them unpainted for a more rustic look.
- Photo Credit Andy Sotiriou/Photodisc/Getty Images
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