Raised Garden Beds vs Pots (When to Use Each One)


Are you struggling to decide between raised garden beds and pots?  It’s a tough decision.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages for gardening.

So, should you use raised garden beds or pots?  Raised garden beds give you more flexibility than pots in terms of the size, shape, and material.  Pots are better if you want to easily move plants around the garden or bring them indoors for the winter.

Of course, there are other benefits, as well as drawbacks, for each of these gardening methods.  In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the pros and cons of raised garden beds and pots.

With that comparison, you can make the right decision for your garden.  Let’s begin.

Raised Garden Beds vs Pots

There are several things to consider when choosing between raised garden beds and pots.  For example:

  • Will you need to move plants indoors for the winter?
  • What is your budget?
  • How much time do you have?
  • Are you worried about the spread of disease between plants?

At the end of this article, I’ve included a table to summarize the pros and cons of raised garden beds vs pots.

raised garden beds vs pots
Raised garden beds vs pots – which is better? Read the article and check out the table at the end to find out!

However, we’ll start by looking at the pros of raised garden beds as they relate to some of these questions.

Pros of Raised Garden Beds

The nice thing about raised garden beds is that you can customize them any way you want.  There are lots of materials to choose from if you build from scratch.

You can also order a kit and assemble it yourself, or hire someone to help you.  Raised garden beds also help to reduce the work you need to do with tilling and watering.

Customize

If you build your own raised garden bed, you can customize it for your garden.

When using wood or plastic boards, you can cut them to any length you need.  Then, all you have to do is put them together with some screws and corner brackets.

supported raised bed
You can build a raised garden bed out of wood and make it any length, width, and depth you want!

Another cool benefit is that you can make raised garden beds in any shape you like!

For example, Root Simple has a great article on how to make raised garden beds with a hexagon shape.

You can also buy a kit for an octagon raised garden bed on Etsy.

If you want a sturdy and long-lasting raised garden bed, you can use stone or metal instead.  They won’t rot like wood, although metal will rust or tarnish over time.

If you want to explore the different materials you can use for a raised garden bed, check out my article here.

You can make a custom raised garden bed as tall as you want to accommodate your plants.  If you aren’t sure how deep to make your raised garden bed, my article will help you to decide on a height.

You can also customize a raised garden bed with cool accessories that make your life easier.  For example, you can build a cover for your raised garden bed to protect plants from cold and pests.

If you want to get some ideas for the materials you can use for a raised bed cover, I wrote an article all about it here.

Improved Drainage

Another benefit of raised garden beds is improved drainage.  Due to the elevated soil, water will drain out of the beds with the help of gravity.

This is especially helpful if you have clay soil, or if your garden gets flooded after rain.  Of course, improving the soil structure is another great way to increase drainage.

clay soil
Clay soil drains poorly. A raised garden bed will improve drainage, as will adding compost to clay soil.

You can do this by adding compost to the soil.  For more ideas on how to improve drainage in raised garden beds, read my article here.

Prevent Spread of Plant Diseases

Using separate raised garden beds for different plants can help to prevent the spread of diseases.

For example, tomatoes and potatoes are members of the same family (nightshade).  As such, they share some of the same diseases, including late blight.

potato late blight
Both potatoes and tomatoes can get late blight, since they are in the same family. The disease is devastating and can ruin a crop!

If potatoes and tomatoes are planted too close together, late blight can spread between them.  Planting them in separate raised beds prevents this problem.

You can learn more about how tomato plants get blight (and how to prevent it) in my article here.

Having two or more separate raised beds also makes it easy to use crop rotation in your garden.  Crop rotation helps to prevent diseases, but it also prevents nutrient depletion in the soil.

You can learn more about crop rotation, what crops to rotate, and why you should do it in my article here.

Prevent Pests and Weeds

Finally, a raised garden bed prevents pests and weeds from taking over your garden.  Some insect pests will find it difficult to climb the edges of a raised garden bed to get in.

Animal pests, such as moles, will also have a more difficult time getting in if you use a raised garden bed liner.  If you’re not sure what material to use as a raised bed liner, check out my article here.

Finally, weeds will have a harder time growing up through a raised bed liner.  They will also have trouble spreading their seeds on the wind if your raised bed has tall edges.

weeds
Weeds will have a harder time growing up through a raised garden bed liner.

Accessibility

Finally, a raised garden bed can help with accessibility for disabled or injured people.

You can build a raised bed to any height you want.  This will reduce the need for bending or kneeling, and you can make it the perfect height for wheelchair accessibility.

Cons of Raised Garden Beds

For all of their benefits, raised garden beds also have some drawbacks.  Let’s take a closer look at them now.

Expensive or Labor Intensive

Building a raised bed can be expensive in terms of the money or time you will spend.  You can easily spend $70 or more for a pretty basic raised garden bed kit. (They can run into the hundreds of dollars!)

If you decide to build it yourself, you might be able to save some money on materials.  However, it will take more time to find the materials, buy them, and then put it all together.

Difficult to Move

Once a raised garden bed is in place, it is difficult to move.  This is especially true if you build it out of stone (brick, rocks, etc.)

You might be able to disassemble a wooden or plastic raised bed and move it piece by piece.  However, it will take some time and effort.

Rotting Wood

Even the most rot-resistant wood will eventually decay when exposed to the elements.  The combination of damage from insects, moisture, wet soil, and sunlight will combine to damage wood that is left outdoors.

rotten wood
Wood left outdoors will eventually rot, unless you treat it or use the heartwood of a long-lasting wood like cedar or redwood.

If you want a wood raised garden bed, be prepared to pay a lot more for the heartwood of cedar or redwood trees.  This wood is expensive, but lasts much longer in the outdoors than pine or oak.

Otherwise, you will need to use a sealer or stain to finish the wood.  This will protect it from water and sunlight.

Again, this will take some time.  You may also need to reapply the finish every so often.

If you want to learn more about some ways to prevent your raised garden bed from rotting, my article has some ideas for you.

Pros of Pots

Pots have their own benefits for growing plants, including vegetables and fruit.  For example, pots are easy to move, so you aren’t stuck leaving them in one spot after you plant your crops.

You can also bring pots indoors for the winter, to keep them alive in colder climates.  Keeping each plant in its own individual pot also prevents the spread of disease between plants.

Easy to Move

It is easier to move potted plants for several reasons.

First of all, you don’t have to move an entire raised bed all at once.  You can even use a dolly to make it that much easier to move a potted plant.

potted plant
It is much easier to move individual pots than an entire raised garden bed.

In addition, you can move plants as much as you want without disturbing their roots.  No matter how careful you are, there is always the chance that you will damage a plant’s roots if you take them out of the soil.

When you move the entire pot with the plant still inside, there is no chance of damaging the roots.  This makes it easy to move plants to an area with more or less sunlight, depending on the season and their needs.

Just make sure that you don’t try to move your plants right after watering.  The soil will be heavier, and it could make a mess if extra water runs out of the drainage hole.

Can Move Indoors

Keeping plants in a pot makes it easy to move them indoors for the winter.  Many plants, such as dwarf lemon trees, will not survive the winter outside in a place like Massachusetts, where I live.

lemon tree
Lemon trees may not survive the winter outdoors, but they might if you bring them indoors.

However, if you bring them indoors, they have a much better chance of survival.  Keeping plants in a pot also keeps them a bit smaller, which makes it easier to find a place for them indoors.

Prevents Spread of Disease

Keeping each plant in its own separate pot really helps to prevent diseases from spreading.  It is much harder for diseases in the soil to “jump” from one pot or plant to another.

It is also easier to quarantine plants that you suspect to be infected.  Just move the pot away from any others.

At the very worst, you lose that one plant to disease.  Most likely, the rest of your plants will not catch it.

Cons of Pots

Although there are some nice benefits to pots, there are also some cons to look out for.

Drainage May Be Difficult

Some pots do not have drainage holes at all.  In that case, you will need to cut or drill drainage holes yourself.

Be careful when doing this!  It is easy to injure yourself with a drill or knife.  You could also break the pot, which could cut you with sharp pieces.

clay pots
It is hard to drill holes in clay pots without breaking them.

It is easier to drill drainage holes in plastic pots than in clay pots.  You can learn more about the pros and cons of plastic and clay pots in my article here.

Even pots with drainage holes may not drain well if there are not enough of them.  It is also possible that larger chunks of soil will get caught in the holes, preventing proper drainage.  To avoid this, sift the soil through a fine mesh before putting it in the pot.

Lack of Insulation against Cold

A pot contains a small amount of soil, so the soil temperature will fluctuate faster than the soil in a raised garden bed.  This is a problem on cold nights when the temperature approaches freezing.

A late spring frost could mean the end for some of your potted plants if you bring them outdoors too soon.  Use cloches to protect smaller plants from cold, or row covers to protect larger plants.

You can also wrap a blanket around the pot itself to help retain some heat overnight.

Plants Become Root Bound

One other problem with potted plants is that they tend to become root bound.  This means that the roots start to circle around and around the inside of the pot.

They do this because they are searching for new soil that they can grow into.  Their goal is to find more water and nutrients so that the plant can grow.

You can transplant into a larger pot to avoid this problem, at least for a while.  However, it is difficult to move a root bound plant into a larger pot without disturbing the roots.

Raised Garden Beds vs Pots – A Table for Side-by-Side Comparison

Raised
Garden
Beds
Pots
SizeCan
Build
Custom
Wide
Variety
Available
BudgetExpensive:
a kit can
cost hundreds
of dollars
Varies:
some pots
are only
a dollar
TimeTakes time
to build
Quick and
easy to buy
SkillNeed skill
to build,
or need to
hire help
No skill
needed
DiseasePrevents
spread
between
beds.
Prevents
spread
between
plants.
PestsPrevents
some pests,
a liner helps
Prevents
pests from
spreading
between
plants
MovementStuck in
one place
Can Move
Indoors
DrainageDrains wellDrains poorly
with small or
missing holes
DurabilityWood will
rot over
time
Clay and
plastic will
hold up well
AccessibilityHandicap
accessible
at proper
height
Easy to
access and
move
RootsCan grow
down to liner
or bottom
May get
root bound
ColdA cover
can keep
it warm
May need
to wrap
with a
blanket
This table compares raised garden beds and pots side by side.

Conclusion

Now you’ve heard the pros and cons for raised garden beds and pots.  Which will you choose for your garden, and why?  (You could also mix it up and use both, depending on the plant!)

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.  I hope your raised garden beds or pots help you to get a good harvest for years to come!

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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