Raised Bed Gardens: Advantages and Disadvantages

Raised bed gardens have their supporters, that’s for sure but they aren’t a cure…

Here’s the deal from my point of view gathered over 30 years in the nursery industry. I’m not going to sugar-coat this article because I know there are a lot of folks who really think raised beds are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

In many ways, raised beds are simply big container gardens.

I think it depends on your gardening style and garden. Here’s my experience with this style of gardening. You can either make raised bed gardens by mounding up soil or by constructing boxes (of almost any material) and then filling the boxes with soil.

These are however essentially two distinct ways of gardening and I’ll explain this below.

one of our raised bed gardens
Image by author of his garden

Our raised vegetable bed — I built it because we only had 3-inches of soil over shale rock. The overhead supports help hold the sides upright (the weight of the soil bowed them out) and used for growing tomatoes and other vertical gardening crops.

The Advantages of Raised Bed Gardens

  • The soil warms up faster in the spring. It’s above ground level so the sun gets to work on it from the top and the sides.
  • They are closer to the gardener. Which is just another way of saying the gardener doesn’t have to bend down as far to reach the plants. 🙂
  • Superb for differently-enabled gardeners who may not be able to bend or kneel comfortably. Wide rows between the beds enable wheelchair access.
  • A good raised bed can act as a garden when you don’t have enough soil (like my garden).

Disadvantages of Raised Bed Gardens

  • Raised bed gardens use more water than soil-level beds.
  • Large (taller) beds act more like containers than garden beds so you have to modify the soils and watch your fertility if you are going to have truly wonderful gardens.
  • Can’t be walked on or if too high, over top of (you have to walk around them and this gives me more grief than any other characteristic of them — from a practical point of view in my large garden.)
  • You can’t use machinery such as rototillers to till or modify soil — it’s all hand-work. On small beds, this isn’t an issue but when I tried to make permanent large beds in the old farm vegetable garden (a very large one) then it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to do a lot of digging.
  • Mulch is tricky to keep on top of raised beds. It seems to migrate to the sides of the beds.
  • Expensive. I have to raise my garden beds because I have very little soil and this means the costs of 6×6 beams and the extra costs of fill and topsoil to fill up these beds.
  • In-ground raised beds (where you use a hoe or rake to create raised beds in a regular soil garden) are more work every year and this extra work isn’t worth it if you mulch heavily for weed control (heavy mulching will slow down the heating and reduce the main reason for using these raised beds.
  • Perennials and woody plants might have trouble overwintering depending on the nature of climate and the size of the raised bed (bigger beds make it easier for plants to survive).
  • You’ll still get weeds and they’ll grow in the rows as well so your weeding isn’t reduced.

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The Answer to the Question…

Should you use raised bed gardening techniques? It depends.
 I use them because I don’t have much soil where I want to garden and my raised beds help me create the necessary depth.
Are you prepared to use the increased amount of water they require? Any time you raise soil above the ground level, gravity will suck water downwards to the normal below-soil-level mark.
Do you want extra early crops of vegetables? Raised bed gardening is one answer for you and combined with other early cropping techniques can really make your vegetable garden come alive earlier in the spring.
Do you have physical challenges? Then custom building raised beds may be the answer.
Are you concerned about the high heat of summer? Then raised beds might not be the answer as the soil temperatures can get too hot for good growth of some plants. For example — high heat will make vegetables such as lettuce quite bitter.

Bottom Line:

Raised beds will be useful for some folks for the reasons above. But they’re not a panacea. They don’t provide any form of garden advantage other than a physical one and/or an early crop.

Doug green

You’ll find these resources helpful for creating a great garden

The Causes and Cures for Poinsettia Leaf Problems

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of poinsettia leaf problems – both in the greenhouses and from my readers. Here are some of the common questions I’ve been asked over the years. I hope you find your answer here.

What has caused the black edges on my bracts, will it spread on this plant or onto others? What can I do for it?

Doug says that the black or brown crispy edges on the leaves is due to a change in humidity and watering from the greenhouse to the home environment. Your house is much drier than the greenhouse and this is what has happened. Nothing you can do to reverse this process on existing leaves.

Do not overwater the plant – this is another partial cause of tip and leaf browning.

The leaves on my poinsettia are wilted – the soil is already moist, what can I do to un-wilt the leaves.

Doug says it sounds as if your plant has been overwatered and is now having root problems.

Only water when the soil is dry to the touch.

This can also happen if you allow the plant to get too cold

Too cold and overwatering is a death sentence rather than a growing condition.
Keep it warm and don’t water until it needs it.

We purchased a poinsettia two days ago and the ends of the red blooming leaves are drying up and turning black.

We did not expose the plant to cold weather. And we have carefully managed the watering to not over-water or not enough watering (ie. We used the finger wetness test daily). Also, we have the plant located in a bright location.  What do you think might be the problem?

Doug says that leaf tips and bracts turning black is normally from moving from a high-humid environment such as a greenhouse to a very low-humidity environment such as a house in the middle of winter.
There are other causes but that’s the biggie.

I am an idiot and accidentally left my poinsettias out on a cold night. Is there anything I can do to “bring them back” from drooping, or did I kill them?

Doug says that once the plant gets cold like this and droops and starts dropping leaves, there’s nothing that can be done. It’s about to progress through dropping all its leaves and there’s nothing you can do about this. Sorry.

Can I trim off the dried black parts on the flowers without damaging the plant?

Doug says the poinsettia flowers are the small yellow “dots” on top of the red bracts. You can cut these off with no problem.

If you’re asking can you cut off dead parts of the colored bracts, the answer is a qualified yes. What will happen is the leaf will “bleed” some latex and the cut edge will go brown. So you can do it but the leaf won’t stay green very long. Once you see the blackening/leaf damage on a poinsettia, it’s pretty much a done deal. It’s a short-term repair “thing” but not a long-term strategy – better to eliminate the leaf entirely.

If that poinsettia leaf is green and is on the bottom of the plant, you can use some Christmas foil to wrap the pot a bit higher to hide the damage but those upper red bracts are pretty tough to disguise once they’re gone.

My bottom leaves are turning yellow and falling off — very slowly

On my poinsettia, which I have had in my office for about 2 months, the bottom leaves have, one at a time, begun to turn yellow and then fall off. They aren’t falling off in droves, or even in 2s and 3s. Is it because I am not checking and watering often enough? So far, only 2 leaves have fallen off and 2 more are in some stage of yellowing. I can’t think of anything else I could do to make the plant happy. I welcome any suggestion you may give.

Doug says that this plant is unhappy – probably with the amount of sunlight it’s being given. And in an office is out of its comfort zone of full sun in Mexico.
The reality is that this shrub isn’t designed for long-term indoor use unless you’re a berserker gardener with grow-lights (always assuming you don’t want a tall lanky plant).

My .02. Toss it – make your office look better.

But to answer your question – it’s plain and simple plant stress, trying to grow something in an area it isn’t suited for. (and light is the number one reason for slow leaf drop)

Half of my poinsettia is wilted.

I do not have a clue what is wrong with my poinsettia plant. I have brought this plant back to life after our very cold winter last year. It is potted in a large pot and has gotten to be 3′-4′ around with two large branches. It started wilting two weeks ago, I would water it and it would plump back up. This week it wilted, I watered and only half has come back to full life. I have checked the plant for visible signs of damage and find none. I live in Jacksonville, Fl and keep it on a porch that only gets part sun. I was hoping to have it bloom for Christmas and now I’m worried that it will die.

Doug says you have a root rot. It happens with extremes of care/temperature/watering etc. You may or may not lose the plant if it’s large enough. Generally, when the plant is small, and this kind of thing starts you just toss it.

Watch the watering – don’t overwater as this is the single biggest cause of root problems. Only water when the soil is “just” dry to the touch – then soak.

My plant lost all leaves

I bought 4 tiny plants that stayed beautiful for over a month but have now lost ALL their leaves. The stem is still green and looks healthy (only 3 inches tall). I have kept them moist but well-drained, in my kitchen window with plenty of light (but no sun hitting them). Is it POSSIBLE to nurse them along and they will bud out leaves again?

Doug says that anything is possible – some things are more likely than others though. 🙂

Read the growing and watering instructions here and good luck with it.

I successfully propagated my poinsettia from last Christmas.

I have the mama plant and 2 babies in 4-inch pots. All 3 have been very happy. Recently(it is October), the lower leaves are turning yellow and dropping (it is a much paler green than it once was, too). I went away last week so they were under-watered once, however it started before this. I was not going to attempt to rebloom them this year due to a hectic schedule, but if I have to for their survival, I will. Thanks!

Doug says that pale leaves are usually underfeeding and lack of light. Yellowing leaves have nothing to do with reblooming. They have everything to do with poor watering and stress. . And once it starts, it is very difficult to stop without great care.
Good luck – that’s a very small pot for a very big plant to survive in for an entire year.

Sudden Leaf Droop

I’ve had a light-green poinsettia on my desk since Christmas. It has been doing great–rarely even dropped a lower leaf. It looked fine when I left work on Friday but was all droopy on Monday. I have no idea why. I watered it Friday, so it wasn’t dry. Can I do anything to save it?

Doug says once a poinsettia starts to droop and drop leaves, it’s almost 99% sure the plant is going to drop all of them. The odd time it will resprout if you correct the problem immediately. So whether it was too cold, too much plant food, too wet, too dry, too ?? – it drops leaves as a symptom of unhappiness.
Hard to know from here what’s going on but if you maintain an even watering (neither too wet or too dry) and then when it (if it) starts to releaf, feed it (not before) you may indeed bring it back.
Otherwise, it’s compost. Sorry…

Can poinsettia leaves grow back?

Well, My poinsettia seems to be almost dead but the steam is still green and there are some leaves but all the flowers have disappeared. I really love my poinsettia, so I was wondering if I watered it every day and kept it in the environment it is meant to be in, it would possibly grow back the leaves?

Doug says that once a poinsettia has lost its leaves, it’s almost certainly dead. The “odd” one might come back if the conditions are right for it but don’t bet the farm or hold your breath. The really honest answer is that if the conditions were right for it to drop its leaves, the conditions are right for it to die. (sorry) So figure out in the articles on how to grow them and then change whatever happened to the right condition. If you do that, then it might live/regrow but again, it’s not likely.

Here’s the specific week by week recipe to get poinsettia to rebloom

Poinsettia turning black

The red leaves on my plant are turning black. Not dried up, just black. Gradually get darker and darker till they are black. The green leaves are fine. What is the problem?

Doug says whatever it is, it isn’t good. Generally, when the soil is too wet, we’ll see a darkening of the bracts before they die. So that would be my first guess – overwatering. And that’s going to lead to a sudden collapse of the entire plant when the root system goes.
So – use the finger test on the soil to determine if it needs water. Touch the soil – if your finger comes away damp then ignore. If the finger comes away dry, then soak the plant. Do this at least once a day at the same time to get a good sense of how much water your plant is consuming (it will be different in every house – there is no one size fits all rule of watering with indoor plants).
Black leaves on poinsettia plants aren’t a good thing. Another symptom will be the drying and browning of the very edges and tips of the leaves – that’s another sign of poor watering (under or over) And yes, it does seem this is a tightrope kind of thing. 🙂

Need more help with growing poinsettia? Click here

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