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Raised bed gardening can elevate your space

Experts tell how to get started

Do you dream of gorgeous flowers, but have an apartment-sized yard? Or are you short on time but hungry for homegrown veggies? If so — or if you just want an easy, eye-catching plot — raised bed gardening may be for you.

We asked local experts for some do’s, don’ts and tips on getting started.

Make your bed

Raised beds can be constructed from a variety of materials — stone, wood, metal. Mark Morris of Grandma’s Gardens in Waynesville says red cedar is the most popular type.

Although raised beds can be constructed from scratch using wood and corner pieces, many find using a raised bed kit to be a big time saver. “It takes about 15 minutes to put [a raised bed kit] up,” Morris said. “There’s a wide variety out there — they’re very popular with people who live in apartments and small houses or who don’t want larger gardens.”

“Raised gardens are a new ‘old’ trend that is starting to really catch on to a new group of people,” said Tina Gilbert of Bonnie’s Nursery and Garden Center in Springfield. “They are a great way to go because you are in complete control of the exposure the garden will get and in complete control of the planting medium. You can build them literally anywhere.”

Morris said that raised beds can be had at a variety of price points, but that those looking to plant can find quality beds for around $250. If you want to try building your own, he said, “One of our new products is a set of metal corners that can accept a 2 x 10 (foot) board.” Many of the corner sets include decorative touches and retail for about $75.

Start planting

First off, you’ll need a good soil to keep the plants nourished. Gilbert suggests “a rich compost/soil mix,” but before putting soil down, you may want to guard against pests. “Putting a barrier down before adding your soil mix helps in not allowing critters to dig up and under your plants, causing damage,” she said. “Screened fencing works well for this.”

“You want to make sure that you pick a really organic-rich soil, nothing really nitrogen heavy,” said Emily Benton, also of Grandma’s Gardens. “You can also use [the plant foods] Plant-Tone or Osmocote to feed the plants throughout the season.”

Although many types of gardens can be planted in raised beds, the unquestioned king of the raised bed is the vegetable garden. “A lot of my customers … grow vegetables and herbs in their raised gardens, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant being some of the most popular,” Gilbert said.

Benton agreed that tomatoes and peppers are great choices, and said, “You mainly want upright things” — as opposed to vines, which can be tricky to grow. “A lot of people are getting into herbs: basil, cilantro, lots of dill and fennel. You can cut herbs as you need them, and they’ll replenish themselves. Cilantro will actually die if you don’t cut it back.”

Another tasty suggestion, Benton said, is strawberries: “Some people are doing beds of just strawberry plants.”

Easy maintenance

One of the biggest perks of raised bed gardens is ease of care. They can act as a barrier to pests and weeds, and, due to their higher elevation, can be easier to tend. Raised bed gardens are often a perfect solution for children and seniors.

Small veggie gardens are a great way to get kids involved in gardening, away from video games and even eating their veggies. “If you can get kids involved hands-on, they will be more interested in it,” Benton said.

Be sure, as with any garden, to keep the veggies, especially tomatoes, carefully watered, Benton cautioned. Improperly cared-for tomatoes will often end up swelling and splitting. For a sustainable, easy watering solution, she suggested placing rain barrels beside the garden.

Overall, raised bed gardens are a fun, easy way to garden. “I have heard nothing but positive remarks about raised beds,” Gilbert said. “I find that when a customer tells me they are starting one, they usually end up with one or two more the next year.”

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