Raised Beds – How to build raised garden beds for $35

Build-Raised-Beds-for-cheapDIY Raised Garden Beds on Pinterest

I originally published this in spring 2012.   Our DIY raised beds are still growing strong and we’ve added a few more over the years.  

Raised Bed Tutorial

I’ve dreamed of raised beds for years – but I was intimidated by the idea of building something. Intimidated by the cost. But in Spring 2012 we jumped in head first and we built our first raised garden bed – in an afternoon – and I realized just how easy and inexpensive they can be! We now have six raised beds that provide a bounty every summer and I’m so grateful that we went for it!

This tutorial is based on what we did to build our raised beds – but we don’t proclaim to be experts.

The price. I know there are probably cheaper ways to make these. I wanted a mixture of simple design, easy to acquire supplies (no stalking Craigslist or driving 30 miles for “free wood”) and frugal. I built two 8×4 raised beds and one 8×2 with an average cost of about $35 each, which I think is completely reasonable considering the bounty that will hopefully come from these and the years they will last. AND it’s about half of the going rate that I found for pre-built raised beds on Craigslist or the kits at Home Depot.

DIY-Raised-Garden-Beds

The design. I’ve spent plenty of time over the last two years reading online tutorials. I went with the easiest method and design possible (in my opinion). I had Home Depot even pre-cut my wood, so I wouldn’t have to bother. It was SIMPLE.

I’m no expert. My raised bed resume is short. This is it. I don’t pretend to be an expert and if you’re looking for a tutorial that would be certified by someone with a Bachelors in Raised Beds – this isn’t it. But I’ll share what we did, in hopes that it’s helpful.

SUPPLIES AND TOOLS

Dewalt-DCD_760KL-18-volt-kit

Good quality power drill – Early in our homeownership, we invested in a DEWALT DCD760KL 18-Volt 1/2-Inch Cordless Compact Lithium-Ion Drill/Driver Kit – and every time we use it, I am just gleeful at the time savings and ease! After years of handheld screwdrivers we are glad we now have power! It worked flawlessly on the raised bed boards.

2 inch galvanized screws. $8.47 a box. We used about 1.5 boxes to build the three beds. We used galvanized outdoor screws so they wouldn’t rust. There are probably cheaper screw options, we were at the mercy of the Home Depot sales people, who suggested these. They worked like a charm and probably worth every penny. So about $4.25 on screws for each raised bed.

Cedar boards, .5 inches x 4 inches x  8 feet. about $3.28 each. We used nine (9) for each 8×4 foot beds for a total of $29.35 per bed. And on the 8×2 foot bed we used eight (8) making it $26.32. We picked through the pile looking for ones with the fewest “knots” and the straightest line (not bowed or crooked). Don’t buy treated or stained woods – the chemicals will leach into your soil and your food!

Baluster, 2 inches x 2 inches x 36 inches. $1.49 each. Need two per bed for a total of $2.98 per bed. These are the supports we used in corners and mid-part of bed to give it some strength. Basically cut these to the length of THREE boards stacked on top of each other, if you used the ones shown above these need to be 10.5 inches tall. We had Home Depot cut these, too.

Cost per bed for 8 ft x 4 ft beds:

Boards 9 x $3.28 = $29.35
Screws = about $4.25 (half a box)
Balusters 2 x 1.49 = $2.98
Final price = $36.58

Cost per bed for 8 ft x 2 ft beds:

Boards 8 x $3.28 = $29.35
Screws = about $4.25 (half a box)
Balusters 2 x 1.49 = $2.98
Final price = $33.30

INSTRUCTIONS
Before starting anything –  observe your space over a few days to get a good idea of what kind of sun it gets. Measure the best area to determine the best side beds to make. It would be a shame to spend all this time and money building raised beds for an area not conducive to growing the things you want.

1.) Get prepared – The day before, make sure your power drill is charging and you have a back-up battery charged. Enlist another helper – it’s easier when trying to keep boards straight and flush.

2.) Cut your boards to size (or have someone do it for you!) – Like I mentioned earlier we had Home Depot cut our boards to the sizes we needed before we left the store. They do this for FREE, just tell them what you want. What a piece of cake!

3.) To pre-drill or not? The first raised bed we made, we drilled holes before drilling in the screws. I guess some people call this pre-drilling? The advantages to pre-drilling a hole is the screw will go in easier and you are less likely to have the screws crack or split your wood. The disadvantage of pre-drilling is it takes a lot longer – I’m not slick enough when it comes to changing out the drill bits, so it was cumbersome. On the last two beds, we got lazy and did not pre-drill, we had a few more little cracks and splintering, but we decided not enough to warrant the extra time to pre-drill. If we weren’t filling the beds with dirt, we might have cared a bit more. If you’re a perfectionist – pre-drill. If you don’t really care about imperfections, don’t. :) (With this said if you are finding the screws are really cracking your boards – you need to pre-drill or it compromises the structure and longevity of your beds).

I did not measure out the spots for the pre-drilled holes. I just put the boards together like I wanted them and drilled the holes. The key is to keep the boards from moving before you can get the screw in. So we pre-drilled as we went and the extra set of hands was necessary to hold it in place.


I used the 3/32 drill bit for the 2-inch screws we bought. I’m not sure if this is exactly right, but it worked. I guess the key to pre-drilling holes is to find a drill bit that is a little smaller than the shank of the screw (without the threads). If the wood cracks/splinters as you drill in the screw you need a larger hole, if it goes in easily and feels loose, you need a smaller bit. :) That’s what I gathered from Googling about drill bits, hope it’s helpful. :)

4.) Square corners – Find a nice even work space. Start by lining up the corners on your 8 foot board and your 4 foot board. Try to get a 90 degree corner. I’m guessing a T-square (Stanley 45-300 Aluminum Carpenters Square) might come in handy for this – but we weren’t too worried about it, so we didn’t bother.

5.) Work your way around. We started with making one corner. We drilled the two pieces together, then added the baluster support to the corner and screwed it in. Then we worked our way around until we had four corners. Try to avoid the dark knots in the wood – those are a pain and nearly impossible to drill through. And on the corners – just watch the screws coming from the other direction – I always drilled a little higher, to avoid hitting the other screws (hope this makes sense).

6.) And around again. Then work your way up! If you care about your bed being exactly 90 degree corners, try to wiggle and adjust after the first level. We didn’t bother.

7.) Mid-section support. This title makes me think of Spanx – but basically in the middle of each raised bed, we screwed a support to the three boards. This just gives the sides more support. I suppose we could have done two on each side, we’ll see how one on each side works.

8.) Next steps. A friend of mine stapled plastic sheeting inside his raised bed – to help keep moisture away from the wood and increase longevity. I think we are going to do this next. Then we will have dirt delivered. . . and then the tough part comes – shoveling and wheeling it into the backyard to fill these up!


My daughter tries to help. Don’t worry, we removed the battery so she wouldn’t injure herself and she really thought she was being helpful. You can see the detail along the side of the corner – it’s not perfect, but it will do!

Raised Bed TutorialPin it here: How to Build Raised Beds

I told my son we would build him a raised bed in the backyard. He looked at me puzzled and said, “so I’m sleeping outside now?” Ha! 

I’d love to hear how you made raised beds or if you have any tips for a better way to do things. Be nice – remember I don’t claim to be an expert. :) 

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Comments

  1. Great article; I had a fun time reading it. Always pre-drill your holes! Haha (and that isn’t just the ghost of my Grandpa talking…but kind of). I have a DeWalt just like yours that permanently (literally) has a 5/32″ bit in it and I use my impact driver with a quick-chuck on it for screwing and it makes pre-drilling your holes a breeze if you do a relevant amount of woodworking. I am not a carpenter or a master craftsman by any means…but I’ve gotten 3/4 through a huge project only to split “my last piece of _______” in the middle of the deal too many times to not pre-drill…it also allows you to sink the head of that screw flush a little easier. Since your wife will be looking at this planting bed every day it’s better if you avoid the conversation each morning concerning your shoddy workmanship and just pre-drill and sink that sucker!

  2. My nearly 75 year old husband and I (68 yrs old) just built two 4 x 4.3 x 9.5 high beds for our back yard. Following your plan to make the beds, cost $26 each including hardware. Spent an extra $9 for the garden cloth. I’m now shopping around for the fill, probably won’t spend too much as I won’t fill them to the top. We didn’t get the cedar, but got two douglas fir boards instead because one board 2″ x16′ long by 9.5 high made one bed. They turned out very sturdy and we were very pleased with the way they look as well. Thank you very much for sharing your information. It helped us tremendously! By the way, predrilling was a blessing. Thanks to all who posted tips on filling them, most appreciated.

  3. After looking for the right wood to make the boxes with, I can not find cedar in North Carolina for under $6 a board, so I spent the extra money but I hope the project works out. I will post an update. By the way I found a local place with top soil for under $30.

  4. Can you do a post on gardening in containers for us who don’t have back yards.

  5. We bought some CULL lumber from Lowe’s, it’s not always available, but some times you can hit the jackpot. it is usually pieces of wood that are not always the straightest, some times there are splits, cracks or a piece was returned blemished or someone cut off a foot and then returned the rest of it. The cost of a pile of CULL normally is about 75% less than the original cost. You will get a variety of wood sizes, but for the price you can’t go wrong. Normally the wood is bundled and put out front or on the side of the building by the lumber yard. Take advantage of it if you have a Lowes near by. The down side is you have to take the who bundle and that might mean some boards you don’t want, but you can always use those in your fire pit.

  6. I’m so glad to hear you used the cedar for your beds. I too have been using raised beds for several years because I’m 64 years young and have had two knee replacements. I still love to garden so this is great for a lot of reasons. One thing you may want to keep in mind. Even if you remove the grass in the bottom of your beds the grass and weeds are still going to be there, and nothing makes weeds grow any faster than somewhere that you don’t want them. I save newspaper, just the black and white printed paper, and line the bottoms with several layers before adding soil. It chokes out the weed and grass seeds and composts nicely in a year or two. Happy gardening, Judy in Arkansas

  7. This post is very helpful as I plan my first veggie garden (Seeds been growing inside and ready to be moved once the weather is ready). I have rabbits and squirrels in my yard. I read marigolds can help, but did you do any netting to help as well – or wire fencing? If so you, can you provide info on how you approached it?

  8. Hi Heather,

    I am getting ready to build my beds this weekend, and am wondering if you went ahead and decided to line your beds with plastic. If so, what type of plastic did you settle for? I am basically going to follow your design, but add a few more supports on the inside. I think your look great! :)

  9. One thing I learned when I built my raised beds was that you need to remove the grass before you fill them….and if you put really good soil in them (which is what I did) tree roots overtook the beds ….so, I had to remove all the soil and put landscape fabric in the bottom and then put the soil in. That really helped.

  10. Launa Haywood says:

    I have ALWAYS ALWAYS want to have my own veggie and herb beds… I have no grass in my backyard.. is there any way I can add wood on the bottom and put on concrete???

    • I read a great article once and they did that. Make sure there is space between the concrete and the bottom because of heat. It allows air to circulate. Also, make it deep enough that you don’t have to bend over and that also allows for less heat.

  11. The only problem with potatoes is you must be careful as once you plant them the ground will be poisoned for anything else the following year. If you want you can get used tires and stack them and plant in them as they hold in the heat (pait them for a personality) or you can take wire fencing and make a circle, put straw or yard fabric around the outside and fill with dirt and use that.

    • Meant to say ‘paint’ them for personality and put the straw or yard fabric inside the wire and fill with dirt. Sorry ;0(

    • Rachel Miller says:

      I really love the used tires idea for potatoes!

    • I would be concerned about toxic leaching from tires – they are made of petroleum and other toxins.
      I think the wire/straw idea is much better.

      • Heather in Michigan says:

        I’ve seen sites that use plastic trash cans for planting potatoes. Mobile and convenient. I agree with the fear of toxins while growing potatoes in a tire. Though, Monsanto has us eating worse, by far!

  12. Great
    Thanks for the info.
    For years I have wanted raised beds in Western Canada.
    Need something for this cold area.
    How do u think potatoes would make out in the bed?

  13. Great job on your raised beds! I also recommend using the All New Square Foot Gardening (by Mel Bartholomew) recipe for your soil mixture. It uses 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 blended compost. I can’t stress how awesome this works for gardening. It is nutrient rich and holds moisture, thus reducing the need for water. The soil mixture also retains warmth nicely and it vastly improves the quality of your plants as well as the amount of produce they will yield within a smaller amount of gardening space. Have fun!

    • We too started with the soil recipe, and recently had them retiled, they dirt is nice, loose and dark. Great soil, we have had to continue to add to it each year, but they have served us well.

  14. I just finished building my beds. Have not set them in place. Will be next to the fence and the neighbors have daylilies so I am digging the roots, tubors out. There are some 4 X 4 tiles along the fence anyway and I will re lay them so there are 2 inches on each side of the fence and the boards to the backside will rest on them. Also my yard is much lower than the neighbors so I will have to dig out a litle along the fence. Planned to line them with newspaper. 2 X 8 ft for strawberries. My concern is that I used treated deck boards and 2 X 4’s. I was unaware that these were chemically treated. I thought they just used a pressurized system to treat them. I wanted to keep everything organic. I got packaged peat and composted cow manure for the soil. Does deck lumber have chemicals on/in it?

  15. These look great, Heather! I’m impressed that you were out there with your husband doing this too! We made these a couple years ago (have gravel along one side of the house which is perfect for them) but I just watched my hubby working hard since it would be a disaster to put me on the drill! :) Looking forward to hearing what you put in your planters – we’ll be working on ours in the next few wks, too!

  16. If you can find a cedar store like cedar products in Bremerton I paid 30 cents a foot which I bought 6, 5/4 x 12′ decking and cut down to 8′ and 4′ ripted down a 4′ cedar 2×4 to make the 2×2’s total cost 23.95

  17. I’m doing raised beds this year, too. Has anyone had success using the weed blocker fabric to cover the grass inside the boxes?

    And I’ve also read you should level your boxes so the water doesn’t pool. I realize the boxes shouldn’t be on a big slant, but is “generally” level ok?

    Also, does anyone use a rain barrel for watering their boxes? Does that work ok?

  18. I’m no gardener, but my dad is. He just purchased all the compost for his garden this last weekend. He got it from Cedar Grove in Renton. They even have a punch card! Don’t quote me on this, but I think he said if you buy 4 yards, you get one free. BUT, that’s also picked up, not delivered. But might be worth a phone call to check into it more.

  19. I second the newspapers over the grass suggestion. I would take a spading fork or even a shovel & poke the ground a little bit (just to break it up a bit) then lay a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard, then the soil. The paper will smother the grass (which probably shouldn’t grow through that much soil, but I don’t think it’s impossible)and won’t impede any roots that go that deep. Lots less work than digging up the sod.

  20. I’m building some beds this coming weekend. We’re putting cardboard down under them to keep the grass from coming through. We did this in the place we moved here from. We extended the cardboard about 10 inches outside the bed walls and it worked great.

    I haven’t had time to do this since we’ve been in this house but since I recently was downsized I have all the time in the world now and we need to grow our own to save money.

    Hubby already has a lot of lumber laying around so I’m just using what we already have so the most expensive part for me will be the dirt. I’m closish to Lacey though so I’m going to check out Great Western also.

    Good growing! :D

  21. How long do you think these beds will last?? I have finally talked my husband into building some for me but he wants treated wood. I of course do not want that because of the chemicals. Did you compare prices with lowes? Any coupons to use at either place? Thanks for sharing!!!

    • I have no idea? I have read 5-8 years? I’d rather have to replace them in that time than risk the harmful effects of treated woods. If you want a super long-lasting bed, I think you can check into the recycled decking material? I don’t recall the term off hand, but it’s more a plastic than a wood. This will increase the price substantially, though.

    • I know that you’ve probably made your beds by now, but thought I’d tell you how long my beds have lasted. I used pine 2*6s (untreated). We built them in 2008 and they are still in place now. I will say that I’m going to need to replace them in the next couple of years and cannot add any supports or covers to the beds if they need to be attached to the beds. The wood is beginning to deteriorate enough that it can’t hold any new screws, but they are still holding together well. It would cost me less than $10/bed for the lumber if I went to Home Depot today to build my beds again. Mine are 4’*4′.

  22. Your off to a great start. I don’t think that removing the sod is an issue, any living thing needs the light, oxygen and water, two of which you will be removing from the mix(after the soil is added). The sod will add nitrogen, when it decomposes which will in turn make your plants grow with a strong root system. Look at the plastic sometimes it can leach some bad things into your soil, that if you plan on eating the food, you might want to skip. I was wondering since your lawn is so nice and green if you have a sprinkler system in your yard and how are you planning on watering your beds?

    • Thank you for the sod advice Alisha, that is good to know!

      We do not have a sprinkler system. It rains here so much it seems to stay green all year. It starts to yellow in the summer because we practice only frugal watering – which is pretty much just moving the kids sprinkler around on hot days. :)

      I did pick up some big soaker hoses at a garage sale for $1 last summer. I’m wondering if I will lay these in the beds? I have to research this. . . we have a hose not far from this location.

      Do you have watering recommendations?

  23. Great Western has an organic mix that is wonderful. We built over 20 beds the last two years and everything grows great!

  24. Great Job! We had a huge garden at our house but this year we had to move to an apartment. I want to thank you for this post and the recommendations for Great Western Supply. I have been wanting to repot some plants and if they do it by the bucket I am going :)

  25. I built raised beds in Colorado and lined the first 2 with clear plastic (I think it was 6 mil). I filled them “lasagna style” (organic materials layered in the beds that break down in place) and the top edge of the plastic was exposed to the sunlight as the beds settled. The plastic ended up breaking into tiny little pieces and getting into my soil. The next 6 I built were not lined. I have not built any in WA yet, so it may be different here, but I don’t plan to line beds again.

  26. Heather,

    Check out Great Western Supply for soil.(greatwesternsupply.net) It’s not far from Lacey going the back roads. If you can borrow a truck they’ll dump a load or half load of good soil and you shovel it out when you get home. This is how we filled our raised beds last year. You can also bring 5 gallon buckets and fill they pretty cheap. They were recommended to me by some local expert gardeners!

    Happy gardening! (I just planted some seeds today- yay!)

    • Lisa – That’s who my friend recommended! I think I’m going to go with them. :) Thank you so much.

      And WAHOO on your seeds! Let’s get growing!

  27. They look fantastic! I can’t wait to see your progress. Thanks for sharing!

  28. How much was soil? I am always thinking that soil is a big part of the cost for raised beds and haven’t been able to make myself check!

    • Good question! I’m going to do some calling around this week. I think it depends on whether you want certified organic, kinda organic, or plain ole regular soil. I’m definitely leaning toward having it delivered from a local dirt/soil company, as opposed to buying bags of dirt – which would cost a fortune. I plan to do a follow-up post with details about the dirt, so stay tuned!

      • I’m curious about the soil too. Also where are you getting your plants from? (and what are you planning on growing?)

        • That would require a master plan, which I don’t have. LOL. I fly by the seat of my pants. I’m going to get the dirt this week and I ordered some companion gardening books from Amazon to help me figure out what I want to grow, together, in the beds. Hopefully a few weeks from now I’ll be all up and running!

          • First of all, I’d recommend you remove the sod under your dirt. The grass WILL grow up through it!

            I used the “All-New Square Foot Gardening” book as my guide and filled all my beds starting 3 years ago with 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 mixed types of compost/manure. I have not regretted it at all, although it is pricier than fill dirt. It is light, holds moisture, and has absolutely NO WEED SEEDS!

            You can check out my website if you want to see some garden photos but I haven’t updated them in a while! I am still gardening in the same beds every year. My harvest came to exactly one pound per square foot!

          • I should have mentioned in the post – I plan to remove the grass before adding dirt, good reminder for folks! Also, I’ll look into the Square Foot Gardening mix, thanks for the recommendation!

            Congrats on having such fruitful harvests! A pound per square foot, way to go!

          • Don’t “remove” the soil. Go natural and just cover it with 3-4 layers of newspaper and then the fill. By the way, I would not recommend a plain “soil” but see if you can get either a 3 or 5 way mix. Alternately, soil and compost and mix them together yourself. :-)

            One other note on your boxes, you may want to add a support on the outside of the box. We use rebar and pound it in. The pressure from all the fill will bulge your boxes and you’ll be rebuilding them next year.

            We just built ours here at the new farm (happy dance ::) and had to mix ourselves, but then again, we used manure from here on the farm that has been composting. Makes for amazing veggies!!

          • Thank you for the advice! Once we find a permanent home for them, we will do as you suggest and add rebar to the outside of the box! :) Happy Growing!

      • Amanda M. says:

        I live in Tumwater and will recommend Great Western for ALL of your dirt/gravel/bark needs. We expanded our garden this year by about 4 times the size it was last year and have always ordered the garden mix that they sell. I think it runs right around $20 a yard. I have the hubby go get me a yard every year just for filling all my pots and spreading around the flower beds. It is so much cheaper than bagged dirt and it is GREAT stuff! You will be very impressed with how well your garden grows. Also, just an FYI, Fred Meyer should be having their Founders Day sale soon and the veggie starts are always on sale then. They are also a great price and grow quite well. Good Luck!

        • Amanda –
          Increasing your garden by FOUR times!?! You go girl! That’s awesome. Thanks for the tip on Great Western. We don’t have a truck, but I hear they have a relatively inexpensive delivery option (thru a third party company) that we might do. I agree – bagged dirt is CRAZY expensive when you think about what you get.

    • To address Cathi’s question, I have heard that the soil can cost quite a bit. I recently talked with a friend who has raised beds to get an idea of what the cost would look like. She said that buying bags of soil from the store would be waaaay too expensive and you’d need a big stack of them, so unless you have a truck, you’ll have to pay to have the dirt delivered to your home. In regards to the cost, my friend’s feedback was that growing veggies in a raised bed isn’t cheaper than buying them at the store…the reward is in the fact that you get to grow them (possibly organically, if you choose) on your own, but don’t expect to save a bundle on your veggie bill. One good tip I read was to keep an eye on the weather forecast if you are going to have dirt delivered to your home…assuming the truck will be dropping off the dirt in your backyard, they will leave tire tracks in your yard if the ground is soggy!

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