Raised Garden Beds vs. In-Ground Beds: Pros & Cons

Blog  Gardening  Raised Garden Beds vs. In-Ground Beds: Pros & Cons
By Moreno de Meijere · ± 17 min read

Picture this - you're standing in your backyard, surveying the scene. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you're ready to finally start that garden you've been dreaming of.

But as you look at the empty space in front of you, you realize you have a decision to make - raised garden beds or in-ground beds?

You've heard about both, but you're not quite sure which one is the right choice for you.

Well, fear not my fellow gardener, because in this blog post, we'll go over the pros and cons of each option to help you make the best decision for your garden.

By the end of this post, you'll have all the information you need to confidently choose the type of garden bed that's perfect for you.

So grab a cup of tea, put on your gardening gloves, and let's get started!

Raised garden beds

Let's start by taking a closer look at raised garden beds. These are garden beds that are elevated off the ground and enclosed by a frame, usually made of wood or other materials.

When I first saw one, I was intrigued by how organized and tidy it looked. The soil was contained within the frame, making it easier to manage and less prone to erosion.

But the benefits of raised garden beds go beyond aesthetics.

5 benefits of raised garden beds 

Raised garden beds have their own set of pros and cons, so let's take a look at some of the advantages.

1. Easier to access

One of the biggest advantages of raised garden beds is that they are easier to access. Since they're elevated off the ground, you don't have to bend down as far to tend to your plants.

This is especially helpful for people with back problems or limited mobility. So if you're looking for a garden bed that's easy on your back and joints, raised garden beds might be the way to go.

2. Better soil drainage and aeration.

Another benefit of raised garden beds is that they provide better soil drainage and aeration. Since the soil is elevated off the ground, it's less likely to become waterlogged, which can lead to root rot and other problems.

Additionally, the soil is exposed to air on all sides, which helps it breathe and allows plant roots to access oxygen more easily.

3. Better control over soil quality

With raised garden beds, you have better control over the quality of the soil you use. You can mix in the exact amount of compost, fertilizer, and other additives you need to create the perfect growing environment for your plants.

This is especially helpful if you're dealing with poor-quality soil or if you want to grow plants that have specific soil requirements.

4. Less weeding

If you're not a fan of weeding, raised garden beds might be the solution you've been looking for. Since the soil is contained within a frame, it's less likely that weeds will invade your garden.

Additionally, the raised height of the garden bed means that you don't have to spend as much time on your hands and knees pulling weeds. 

5. Suitable for people with limited mobility

Finally, raised garden beds are a great option for people with limited mobility. As I mentioned earlier, the elevated height of the garden bed makes it easier to access without having to bend down as far.

This can be a huge benefit for people with back problems, knee problems, or other mobility issues. Additionally, you can even build raised garden beds that are tall enough to be wheelchair accessible.

5 drawbacks of raised garden beds       

Of course, raised garden beds aren't perfect, and there are some drawbacks to consider before you decide to use them for your garden.

1. More expensive

One of the biggest cons of raised garden beds is that they can be more expensive than in-ground beds. You need to purchase materials to build the frame, and if you opt for higher quality wood or other materials, the cost can add up quickly.

I remember when I built my first raised garden bed, I was surprised at how much it cost me in materials alone. However, it's worth noting that you can potentially build the beds for free if you're able to collect enough materials locally.

2. Require more watering

Since raised garden beds are elevated off the ground, they tend to dry out more quickly than in-ground beds. This means you may need to water your plants more frequently, especially during hot weather.

I remember when I forgot to water my raised garden bed for a few days during a heatwave, and my plants suffered as a result. However, you can mitigate this issue by using an automated drip irrigation system and other water-saving techniques (like mulching).

3. Limited root depth

Depending on the height of your raised garden bed, another potential con is that they have limited root depth. Since the soil is contained within the frame, plant roots can't grow as deep as they would in an in-ground bed.

This means you may need to choose plants that have shallower root systems or be prepared to transplant them if they outgrow the bed.

4. May dry out quickly in hot weather

In addition to requiring more watering, raised garden beds may also dry out more quickly during hot weather. The elevated height of the bed means that it's exposed to more direct sunlight, which can cause the soil to dry out faster.

Not so much of a problem outside of summer, but definitely worth noting! In some cases, you might have to water your beds twice a day to ensure enough moisture for your plants.

5. Can be less visually appealing

Finally, raised garden beds may not be as visually appealing as in-ground beds. Some people prefer the natural look of plants growing directly in the ground, and raised garden beds can look a bit more artificial.

Additionally, if you don't choose the right materials or design for your raised garden bed, it may clash with the rest of your garden design.

In-ground beds

In-ground beds are another option for gardeners who prefer a more traditional approach to gardening.

In-ground beds are simply areas of your garden where the soil has been prepared for planting (preferably following the no dig method).

Unlike raised garden beds, there is no frame or structure to contain the soil. Instead, you simply plant your seeds or seedlings directly in the soil.

Benefits of in-ground garden beds 

In-ground beds have their own set of pros and cons, so let's take a look at some of the advantages.

1. More cost-effective

One of the biggest pros of in-ground beds is that they can be more cost-effective than raised garden beds. Since you don't need to purchase materials to build a frame, you can save money on the upfront costs. 

The quantity of compost, soil, and materials you need for raised garden beds are huge compared to standard no dig in-ground beds. With in-ground beds, you are able to grow plenty of vegetables and herbs without breaking the bank.

2. No need for additional soil

Another advantage of in-ground beds is that you don't need to worry about adding additional soil to fill a frame. The soil in your garden is already there, so all you need to do is amend it if necessary.

This can save you time and money in the long run, since you won't need to purchase and transport extra soil. I remember when I built my first raised garden bed... It was not even that high, but the amount of soil that is required to fill up the bed is huge!

With an in-ground bed, we don't have to worry about that extra step.

3. Better for plants with deeper roots

In-ground beds allow plants to grow deeper roots, which can lead to stronger and healthier plants. Plants with deep root systems may not thrive as well in raised beds due to the limited depth of soil (unless you make your raised beds pretty high or build them directly on existing soil without a barrier).

4. Retain moisture better

In-ground beds retain moisture better than raised beds because the soil is in direct contact with the ground, which helps to keep it cool and moist. This can be especially beneficial during hot and dry weather, as it can help plants survive without needing as much watering.

5. Blend in with surrounding landscape

In-ground beds can blend in more seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, as they don't create a raised structure that stands out. This can be particularly appealing if you're going for a more natural or rustic look in your garden.

Drawbacks of in-ground garden beds 

While in-ground beds do have their advantages, they also come with some drawbacks to consider.

1. Harder to access

In-ground beds can be harder to access, since you need to bend down to plant, weed, and harvest. This can be a challenge for gardeners with mobility issues, back problems, or other physical limitations.

Personally, I'm fine with bending over and working low to the ground. My wife on the other hand has several back issues and it's much more difficult for her to spend extended amounts of time working in the garden.

2. Poorer soil drainage and aeration

In-ground beds can sometimes have poorer soil drainage and aeration than raised garden beds. This is because the soil can become compacted over time, which can make it harder for water and air to penetrate.

This can lead to problems with root rot, mold, and other issues. I've had to deal with this firsthand in my own garden, and it's not fun to watch your plants suffer because of poor soil conditions.

Fortunately, with the no dig method in combination with broadforking we can quickly improve soil conditions.

3. More weeding

In-ground beds tend to require more weeding than raised garden beds, since there are no borders or frames to keep out unwanted plants.

This means you'll need to be diligent about pulling weeds as soon as you spot them, or they'll quickly take over your garden.

4. Soil quality may be more difficult to control

Another downside of in-ground beds is that it can be harder to control the quality of your soil. Since you're working with the soil that's already in your garden, you may need to amend it more extensively to achieve the right balance of nutrients and pH.

This can be time-consuming and costly, and there's always the risk that you won't get it right.

5. Not suitable for people with limited mobility

Finally, in-ground beds may not be the best option for people with limited mobility or other physical limitations. As I mentioned earlier, the bending and kneeling involved can be challenging for some people, and there's also the issue of accessibility.

If your garden is located in a hilly or uneven area, or if you have a lot of obstacles in your way, it may be difficult to navigate an in-ground bed.

Which bed type to choose? 

Ultimately, the decision of whether to use raised garden beds or in-ground beds comes down to your personal preferences and the specific needs of your garden.

Here are some factors to consider when deciding which bed type is right for you:

1. Budget

Raised garden beds can be more expensive to build or buy than in-ground beds, so budget is a big consideration. When I was first starting out with gardening, I didn't have a lot of money to invest, so I opted for in-ground beds.

2. Garden size

The size of your garden can also impact which bed type you choose. If you have a small garden or limited space, raised garden beds may be a better option since they can be built in a variety of sizes and shapes.

If you have a larger garden or more space to work with, in-ground beds may be more practical.

3. Plant type

Certain types of plants may do better in one bed type over the other. For example, plants with deeper roots may benefit from the deeper soil in in-ground beds, while plants that need good drainage may thrive in raised garden beds.

When planning your garden, consider what types of plants you'll be growing and which bed type is best suited to their needs.

4. Soil quality

The quality of your soil can also impact your decision. If your soil is poor or compacted, raised garden beds may be a better choice since you can add in fresh soil and compost.

If your soil is already good quality, in-ground beds may be sufficient.

5. Personal preferences

Finally, personal preferences should also be taken into account. Do you like the look of raised garden beds or do you prefer the more natural look of in-ground beds?

Are you willing to put in the extra effort to maintain raised garden beds, or do you prefer the low maintenance of in-ground beds?

These are all factors to consider when making your decision.

Decision-making process 

Once you've considered the factors above, it's time to make a decision about which bed type is right for your garden. Here's a general process you can follow:

1. Assessing needs

Start by assessing your garden's specific needs. What types of plants will you be growing? What's your budget? What's the size and shape of your garden? By understanding your needs, you can better determine which bed type will work best for you.

2. Weighing pros and cons

Next, weigh the pros and cons of each bed type. Consider the factors we've discussed - cost, accessibility, soil quality, and more - and determine which bed type has more pros than cons for your specific needs.

3. Considering long-term benefits

While it's important to consider the short-term benefits of each bed type, it's also important to think long-term. Will your chosen bed type be sustainable over time? Will it continue to meet your needs as your garden grows and changes?

Think about the long-term benefits of each bed type before making your decision.

4. Making a final decision

Finally, it's time to make a final decision.

Take all of the factors you've considered into account, weigh the pros and cons, and think about the long-term benefits.

Then, make a decision that feels right for you and your garden.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution - the right bed type for you will depend on your unique needs and preferences.

Final words 

We've discussed the pros and cons of raised garden beds and in-ground beds, as well as the factors to consider when deciding which bed type is right for your garden.

Ultimately, the choice between raised garden beds and in-ground beds comes down to personal preference and the specific needs of your garden. While raised beds may be more visually appealing and easier to access, in-ground beds may be more cost-effective and better for certain types of plants.

Regardless of which bed type you choose, remember that gardening is a learning process, and there's always room for experimentation and growth. Don't be afraid to try new things and see what works best for your garden.

I hope this post has helped you weigh the pros and cons of raised garden beds vs. in-ground beds and make an informed decision for your garden.

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