Have you had it with expensive raised garden beds? Or maybe you want to build one from scratch without spending a fortune? Either way, I’ve got some answers and some ideas for you.
So, why are raised garden beds so expensive? Raised garden beds are expensive if you buy costly wood to build them and bagged soil to fill them. Raised beds have exploded in popularity in recent years, so demand for raised garden bed kits is huge.
Of course, there are ways to save on building materials and soil for a raised garden bed. In fact, if you are clever and creative, you can build a raised garden bed for a fraction of what others spend.
You might even be able to build it and fill it for free! Want to find out how? Let’s dive in.
Why Are Raised Garden Beds So Expensive?
There are several reasons that raised garden beds are so expensive, whether you build them yourself or buy a kit. One reason is simply high demand, so let’s start there.
Let’s face it: the steep price is due to the fact that demand for raised garden beds is huge. There are two main reasons for this:
- As older people retire and take up gardening (or continue gardening), they need raised garden beds for accessibility purposes. For example, they might be disabled, in a wheelchair, or have knee or back pain.
- As younger folks start to buy homes, they begin thinking about adding a garden. When they see raised garden beds on social media (Pinterest, etc.), they get inspired and want to build the same thing. If they don’t know how to make it from scratch, they will buy a kit and figure out how to put it together.
As a result, anyone who sells raised garden bed kits can charge a fortune. This is especially true for good-looking “designer” raised bed kits, sold to gardeners who also want a nice-looking yard.
Cost of Help or Pre-Fabrication
Many people want to garden with raised beds. However, some of them don’t have the know-how or the tools to cut the wood to size.
For them, putting together a raised garden bed kit is enough. They want to be gardeners, not carpenters!
These folks are happy to buy a raised garden bed kit, since they can build it with minimal tools and equipment. Some may even hire someone to help them with construction, which raises the cost even more.
Cost of Soil
In addition, the cost of soil to fill a raised garden bed can add up fast. You wouldn’t think so, but soil can be one of the biggest expenses when preparing a raised garden bed.
For example, let’s say you build a square raised garden bed that is 4 feet long by 4 feet wide. You also want to fill it with soil that is 1.5 feet (18 inches) deep.
(By the way, I suggest making a raised garden bed at least 12 inches deep. To learn why, you can read my article on how deep to make raised garden beds.)
This means that the volume of soil you need is 4x4x1.5, or 24 cubic feet. The cost will vary, but you won’t believe the cost if you buy individual bags of soil!
A single bag of Miracle-Gro raised garden bed soil costs $10, and you only get 1.5 cubic feet in the bag. So, you would need 16 bags to fill your raised bed.
This comes out to a cost of 16*$10 = $160 to fill a raised garden bed – and that’s just for the soil! Never mind the cost of materials – speaking of which…
Cost of Materials
Finally, the cost of lumber and hardware always seems to be trending upward. This is partially due to inflation, and partially due to the fact that the lumber you buy is also the lumber contractors and homebuilders buy.
If you buy your own tools and materials from a hardware store, be prepared for some sticker shock. For example, a 2 inch by 6 inch fir board (4 feet long) costs $5 at Lowe’s.
For a square 4 foot by 4 foot by 1.5 foot raised garden bed, you would need 3 boards per side. This comes out to a total of 12 boards.
At $5 per board, you will spend 12*$5 = $60 on wood. Never mind the hardware you need (screws or nails, corners, tools, etc.)
Keep in mind that this is not premium heartwood of a cedar or redwood tree. So, it won’t last that long unless you treat it with stain or sealer (another expense!)
Lumber is too expensive to let it rot away outside. If you want to learn more about how to keep your raised garden bed from rotting, you can read my article about it here.
All told, we are already at a budget of over $200 for a single raised garden bed. This is just materials and soil, without paying someone else to do any of the work for you.
Even if you buy a raised garden bed kit, you are still paying a bundle. Whoever put together the kit had to buy the hardware, tools, and materials. You are also paying for their labor to cut the pieces to size and assemble the kit.
These extras are optional, but if you decide to use them, the cost of your raised garden bed will go up.
For example, you could buy a liner to keep pests away. You could also buy or build a cover to keep your plants warm on cold nights.
If you are interested in either of these extras, you can learn more about them in my article on raised garden bed liners and my article on ways to cover raised garden beds.
How to Build a Raised Garden Bed Cheap
Now you know why raised garden beds are so expensive. However, you don’t have to be happy about it!
If you are a DIY gardener and you are willing to be creative, you can build and fill a raised garden bed without emptying your pockets. Here are some cost-effective ways to do just that.
Build with Cheap, Free, or Recycled Materials
Did you know that being creative can make you rich? Well, it’s true. At the very least, it will save you a few dollars on the cost of materials for your raised garden bed.
Are you always complaining about the large rocks and stones you have to dig out of your garden? Do they always seem to come back, no matter how many you take out?
(By the way, you can learn why this happens in my article on removing rocks from soil.)
It sounds to me like you have a near-infinite supply of building materials available. So, use those rocks to your advantage.
Building a raised garden bed from stone is free if you use rocks from your yard. Rocks will not rot like wood, or rust/corrode like metal, or crack in the sun like plastic.
It’s a good workout though, so recruit some help if necessary. Those larger stones can be heavy.
Along the same lines, you could also use old bricks for your raised garden bed. You might be able to recover them from an old brick walkway or patio.
Just be sure not to use bricks from a fireplace. They may have creosote on them, which is a nasty chemical that you do not want in your garden.
You might also be able to use parts from wooden fences to build your raised garden bed.
For example, you might be able to negotiate a good price with a fence installation company. If they have leftover fence material from a job, they might be willing to part with it for a song.
You could also recycle an existing fence. If you or someone you know takes down an old fence, you could use any pieces that are not rotted to build your raised bed.
Just be sure to avoid the following:
- old wood that is pressure treated with CCA (chromated copper arsenate)
- railroad ties treated with creosote
- paints/stains/sealers that may have been used a long time ago
You can use an old plastic tarp as a liner for your raised garden bed if you want. This will help to keep wood from rotting due to contact with wet soil.
It will also keep pests like gophers out of your raised bed. Just pay attention to drainage, since plastic won’t allow water to drain out easily.
Use Cheaper Wood with Stain or Sealer
If you have to buy wood, go for a cheaper option, such as pine or fir. Then, use stain or sealer to protect the wood from the elements.
It is true that the heartwood of cedar or redwood will resist rot due to natural oils. Thus, they will last longer outside than pine or fir. However, they are much more expensive.
If you are worried about chemical treatments for wood in your raised garden bed, I don’t blame you. Luckily, there are some options for you.
Another option from Ace Hardware is PolyWhey sealer, made by Vermont Natural Coatings from whey (a byproduct of making cheese).
Make it Square
If you want to save money on your raised garden beds, make fewer of them (but larger), and make them square.
For example, let’s do a comparison of the materials you would need for two different setups. (Sorry, I am a mathematician at heart, so I couldn’t resist!)
Let’s say you want an area of 20 square feet to do your gardening.
- Option A: build one raised bed that is 4 feet by 5 feet. Total Area: 4×5 = 20 square feet.
- Option B: build two raised beds that are each 2 feet by 5 feet. Total Area: 2×5 = 10 square feet per bed, times 2 beds is 20 square feet.
The areas are equal, so you can use either one, right? Well, not exactly. Let’s calculate the perimeter for each option:
- Option A: perimeter is 4 + 4 + 5 + 5 = 18 feet.
- Option B: perimeter is 2 + 2 + 5 + 5 = 14 feet per bed, times 2 beds is 28 feet.
This means that you would need 10 more feet of board to build Option B! It gets even worse if you need to stack the boards 2 or 3 high for a taller raised bed.
In that case, you could be talking 20 or 30 more feet of board for Option B. Do yourself a favor and do the math before you start, so you can make your raised beds efficient!
There is just one thing to remember when planning your raised garden bed. Don’t make them too wide, or else you will not be able to reach all the soil and plants from outside of the bed.
A bed that is too wide will be difficult for handicapped or injured people to access.
Also, if a bed is too wide, you will need to step inside it to work on the garden. This will compact the soil, which decreases drainage and hurts seeds that have not emerged yet.
Make it Bottomless
I don’t mean that you should dig your raised bed really deep. Instead, you should build it without putting any wood or material at the bottom.
This will save you a lot on the cost to build your raised bed. It will also save you some time and effort when constructing the bed.
If you need to keep moles or other pests out, you could use a liner for that purpose. If you are putting a shallow raised garden bed over your lawn, you might want to take care of the grass first.
Build Multiple Beds Next to Each Other
If you are building two or more beds, consider putting them right next to each other. This will allow you to let one of the sides do double duty as the edge of two different beds.
This will save you some money on materials, while also allowing you to keep separate raised beds. This is helpful if you have plants that share diseases (for example, tomatoes and potatoes can both get late blight).
Use an Existing Border as an Edge
Do you have a wooden fence, brick wall, or a corner in your yard? Then you can use it to serve as one or two edges for your raised garden bed.
Just be aware that wet soil against a wooden fence will cause it to rot faster if the wood is untreated. To avoid this problem, use a plastic liner on the side where the fence is.
Buy Soil in Bulk
As mentioned earlier, buying individual bags of soil from hardware stores or garden centers will cost a lot. However, you can reduce the cost if you buy in bulk.
Many landscaping companies will give you bulk discount if you order by the yard. In our example earlier (a 4 foot by 4 foot by 1.5 foot raised bed), you would need 24 cubic feet of soil.
This is just under a (cubic) yard of soil. So, you would need about a yard for each raised bed of that size.
Many companies will offer free delivery if you order enough soil. So, if you have many large beds to fill, the bulk delivery option could save you some cash.
Use Compost or Manure to Help Fill
Finally, you can use compost or manure to help fill your raised garden beds. If you use a mix of compost, aged manure, and soil for your gardening, then you can avoid buying so much expensive soil.
You can make compost out of materials you already have lying around your home and garden, including:
- Grass clippings
- Fallen leaves
- Sawdust (go easy with this, it has a lot of carbon)
- Wood ashes (not too much, and not from pressure treated wood!)
- Kitchen scraps, including banana peels, orange rinds, onion skins, etc.
There are lots of other things you can use to make your own compost. Just remember to turn it over every so often to aerate it.
You can also use chicken manure, cow manure, or horse manure for your raised garden bed. Just make sure the manure is decomposed before adding it to the soil.
Otherwise, it will be too “hot” (nitrogen-rich), which can burn your plants. You can learn more about where to get manure in my article here.
Look into Alternatives
There are some other options for raised garden beds. There are also some interesting alternative gardening methods you can try. For example:
- Stock tanks – these metal tanks are normally used for feeding and watering livestock. However, you can use them to hold soil for a makeshift raised garden bed. You can learn more about using stock tanks and other materials for raised garden beds in my article here.
- Kiddie pools – these are made of waterproof plastic, so be careful about drainage. You could drill holes in the bottom before filling it to let the soil drain better. The plastic might crack after too much sun exposure, so I don’t know how permanent this idea would be.
- Straw bales – some gardeners grow potatoes, tomatoes, and other crops in straw bales. This is a cool option because the straw breaks down fast and can be used for your compost pile. That way, you can use the compost from last year’s straw bales to feed your plants this year. You can learn more about growing potatoes in straw bales in my article here.
- Grow bags – these are often made of fabric such as canvas, and are easy to move just like ordinary containers. They are reusable and can last for many years. You can learn more about the pros and cons of grow bags in my article here.
Now you know why raised garden beds are so expensive. You also know some ways to build and fill a raised garden bed without spending too much money.
I think raised garden bed prices will continue to go up, so if you want to build one, now is the time!
If you’re interested in finding clever and affordable alternatives to traditional raised garden beds, check out this article about raised bed ideas and alternatives!
If you are thinking about using pots instead of raised beds, you might want to check out my article where I compare the two.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.