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Raised Bed Vs. In-Ground Gardens: Pros and Cons

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Three raised garden beds on the left side with green plants growing in them, and an in-ground garden plot on the right side with plants growing.

If you’ve been thinking of starting a garden or even if you already have a garden and you’re thinking of expanding your garden into a new part of the yard or making some changes to your existing garden, you might be thinking about the decision of whether to do a more traditional in-ground garden or a raised bed garden. I thought I would do a bit of a comparison of raised bed vs. in-ground gardens and go over a few of the potential pros and cons for each.

My personal experience with gardening has been with in-ground gardens. I sort of briefly tried a few raised beds for a little while, but I didn’t really have them filled with soil and compost, so they were more like frames marking out individual beds in a regular in-ground garden. (The pictures I have with this post are stock photos because I don’t have any photos of raised beds in my own garden since I’ve been doing in-ground gardening and my own in-ground garden isn’t nearly as picturesque and pretty as the one in the stock photo!)

Since I haven’t really used raised beds for my garden, most of the information about the pros and cons for the raised beds comes from either other gardeners that I’ve learned from online or from my experience with in-ground gardening since several of the pros and cons are opposite for each type of gardening. So some of the challenges that I’ve experienced with in-ground gardens might be things that aren’t as much of an issue for a raised bed garden, for example, and vice versa.

I recently watched this video from Blossom and Branch Farm that talks about the carbon footprint associated with gardening and the effect that using raised beds can have on that, but watching that made me think of comparing some of the other pros and cons of using a raised bed garden or using an in-ground gardening system.

I’ve listed out some pros and cons for each type of garden below, and these things can vary depending on the individual garden, environment, situation, etc. I think that either type of garden could be a good one depending on what your priorities are and what sort of pros and cons matter the most to you. So these are just some things to consider and some possible benefits and drawbacks that you might run into with either type of garden.

Pros of Raised Bed Gardens

Raised Beds Look Neat and Tidy

Raised bed gardens can look very picturesque and aesthetically-pleasing. Of course this depends on what materials you use to make your raised beds. If you have several different types of materials and they are all mismatched then they might not look quite as neat and tidy as raised beds that all match well together. In-ground gardens can be neat and tidy, too, if you have nice straight rows and a good-looking fence. But in general, raised beds might make it a bit easier to get a neat and orderly-looking garden area.

Raised Beds Let You Garden Without Digging Up Your Yard

If you are living in a temporary place where it wouldn’t make sense for you to dig up the yard to put in a garden or if you don’t want to have to dig up the layer of sod in order to plant a garden then raised beds could be a great way to have a garden space without having to dig up the yard. I’ve done the work of digging up sod with a shovel a couple of times before, and it definitely takes some effort if you are doing it by hand, so using raised beds can allow you to have a garden on top of your existing yard.

Raised Beds Can Reduce Weeds and Invasive Spreading

There’s always the potential for weeds in any type of garden, but using a raised bed could help to reduce some of the likelihood of being overwhelmed by weeds. If you put down some type of weed block or barrier on top of the ground before adding in the soil for your raised bed, you can cut down on the weeds and grass that would have been on the ground. Of course you’ll still have to worry about potential weeds from any soil and compost that you use to fill up your raised beds and possible weed seeds getting into your beds from other parts of the yard, but you can at least cut down on some of the weeds and grass by using a raised bed rather than planting directly into the ground.

Using raised beds can also be a way to help to contain plants that tend to be more invasive such as herbs in the mint family (peppermint, oregano, etc.) Having these herbs in a raised bed is similar to planting them in a container, so you can help to keep them in one spot rather than having them gradually spread throughout your garden space.

Raised Beds Can Help If You Have Bad Soil

One of the big benefits to using raised beds would be that you can still have a garden even if you are living on a place with really bad soil. If you just moved to a place where you are concerned that the soil could have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides or other chemical contamination, for example, using raised beds could allow you to garden without worrying about those chemicals. Since you could start with fresh soil that you bring in from someplace else, you could plant a garden right away while you work on making sure the soil in the ground is safe to plant in.

Cons of Raised Bed Gardens

The Cost of Materials For Building Beds

This can be one of the biggest cons to using raised beds, especially if you want to have a lot of them. If you want just one or two raised beds to grow a few things then the cost probably wouldn’t be too high, but if you want a large garden then it can really add up quickly to purchase ready-made raised beds or to buy lumber to build your own. It could be possible to find some used materials that are cheap or even free that you could recycle, so that could be an option to reduce cost if you are able to find materials someone else is getting rid of. You might not be able to have the same neat and tidy aesthetic, though, if you use a lot of mismatched materials, and you also could potentially have some issues with chemicals leaching into soil if you don’t know what is in the materials or what they were used for previously, so that’s something to keep in mind and do some research about, too.

The Cost and Amount of Soil to Fill Beds

Another con to using raised beds is that you have to have a decent amount of soil to fill up those beds. Unlike in-ground gardens where you are mainly using the soil that is already in the ground and then adding smaller amounts of compost and other amendments as needed, for raised bed gardens you have to have enough soil and other materials to fill the bed. This wouldn’t be too large of an amount if you had just a couple of small raised beds, but if you have several of them or if they are a large size, then you have to factor in the amount and the expense of filling up those raised beds. You could create some of your own compost from food scraps and leaves, etc. but it might be hard to have enough of that just from what you can make yourself at home. And the cost of purchasing enough soil and compost to fill raised beds could quickly add up.

Limited Space if You Want to Grow a Large Garden

Raised beds can work well for many different types of crops, but they might not work as well for having a garden on a larger scale. If you want to grow a very big garden then it might not be as practical or as affordable to have a large number of raised beds. And for crops that require more space such as corn, watermelon, berry bushes, etc. it might make more sense to just plant those in the ground rather than trying to use raised beds.

Assembly of Raised Beds

Depending on the type of raised bed you use, you might have to do some work either building the bed or assembling the bed if you purchase one. This might not be a very big con, but it’s just another thing to consider if you aren’t very skilled at building and/or assembling or if you don’t have the tools needed for building, etc.

Pros of In-Ground Gardens

In-Ground Gardens Are Inexpensive to Start

I feel like this is probably the biggest advantage to in-ground gardens because you can start a garden without having to spend a lot of money. If you have a shovel and don’t mind doing a big of work digging up the ground, you can start gardening in an inexpensive way. If you live in a place where animals could be a problem, you’ll probably need to spend some money for a fence to protect your garden, but you might need to do that anyways to protect your raised bed gardens if they are short enough beds that animals could still get to them. With an in-ground garden, you could get some inexpensive chicken wire for fencing, a few packets of seeds, and a bit of compost or fertilizer to amend your existing soil and be able to start a garden without having to spend a lot of money on materials for raised beds and large amounts of soil and compost. (And if you want some more tips for saving money on gardening you can check out this post.)

In-Ground Gardens Need Less Purchased Soil

When you use the existing soil in your yard for an in-ground garden you will still need to buy some compost and fertilizer (or make some yourself by starting a compost pile), but you won’t need as large of an amount of purchased soil or compost as you would if you were trying to fill several raised beds with soil.

In-Ground Gardens Give You More Space for Growing Crops that Need It

With an in-ground garden you can let your watermelons and pumpkins sprawl all over the place or you can plant corn and tomatoes with plenty of space in between each plant. And, again, the size garden you have will make a big difference in whether or not it makes more sense to used a raised bed or an in-ground garden. If you want to plant two tomato plants and a couple of bean plants then a raised bed could be a great option. But if you want 20 tomato plants and several rows of bean plants (plus squash and peas, and cucumbers, etc.) then it might be more practical to just plant a garden right in the ground.

Cons of In-Ground Gardens

More Weeds Possible Are Possible In In-Ground Gardens

Unless you keep up with controlling the weeds or use mulch materials to help to smother the weeds, there will most likely be more weeds with an in-ground garden than with a raised bed garden. I’ve found with my garden that the grass especially likes to creep in around the edges of the garden each year if I’m not consistent with pulling it up. Using mulch can help to keep the weeds down, but in general it’s probably more likely for an in-ground garden to have more weeds just because of the fact that you are dealing with existing grass and weeds rather than building a raised bed on top of the ground.

In-Ground Gardens Typically Require Digging Up the Ground

If you plant an in-ground garden, you’ll probably have to do some digging of the ground in your yard. Unless you use some type of layering, no-dig method of gardening (which would require using more additional materials to plant in since you wouldn’t be using the soil in your ground), you’ll need to dig up the layer of sod in your yard to remove the grass. You might be able to rent or borrow some equipment to do this quickly, but if you do it by hand with a shovel it will require some time and effort. But if you don’t mind spending some time digging up the ground, you can consider it a good workout and have your garden prepared in a frugal way.

Which One Should You Choose?

Both raised bed and in-ground gardens could be a great choice for creating a new garden space in your yard. Both styles of gardening have their potential advantages and disadvantages, and deciding which one is better really depends on which of these pros and cons is the most important to you. I’ve personally used in-ground gardens, and they are my gardening method of preference, but I also think that raised bed gardens could be a great option, and I would consider them as a possibility in the future. So it really all depends on your unique situation and priorities, and either one of these garden types could work well for starting a garden.

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Three raised garden beds on the top with green plants growing in them, and an in-ground garden plot on the bottom side with plants growing and a text overlay in the center that says "Raised Bed vs. In-Ground Gardens: Pros and Cons."
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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William Post

Wednesday 17th of April 2024

In my experience in ground gardens do grow more of the larger crops. Raised bed gardens can grow a lot of certain crops but need more attention to watering ! As we get along in age, it makes more sense to utilize raised beds. For small homes and older people we do not need as much food or bending over so 2 or 3 raised beds is plenty! Everything depends on space and age doesn't it.

Lori Elliott

Wednesday 17th of April 2024

That's a really good point about the difference in watering needs and about the fact that a couple of raised beds could be a lot more practical for a small house and for older people. You're right about space and age being big factors!

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