Healthy Beginnings

Growing in the Ground Versus Growing in Raised Beds

Reno Garden KICK and BOOST

You’ve taken a stab at gardening in Northern Nevada, and you know it comes with a level of trickiness: random weather, nutrient-stripped soils, rocky landscapes, quail, rabbits, noxious weeds, and on and on. If you’ve gotten your hands dirty more than once, you’ve likely learned a few tricks that can help you grow HUGE, happy and healthy plants. If you’re considering changing it up this year, you might transition from in-ground gardening to raised-bed planting (or vice versa). In this article, we’ll consider the pros and cons of each and hopefully help you make a smart decision for what’s best for you this season. Now let’s get our grow on!

New to Raised Beds?

A raised bed is what it sounds like: a planting area that is raised above the level of your ground by about 8-12 inches. The growing media (soil) is held in by a frame, usually made of hardwood, but we’ve seen raised beds framed with bricks, cinder blocks, railroad ties and more. When you grow in a raised bed, you’re taking control into your own dirt-covered hands. You decide what soil, compost and nutrients go into the growing area, which dictates what your plants will have access to. You’re making the decision to grow in media you believe is superb to the native Nevada soil (rather than trying to “ x” the native soil and grow in the ground). In Northern Nevada, it’s probably safe to assume your backyard soil lacks nutrients to sustain a plentiful garden (unless you’ve done a lot of amending year after year). You certainly can “ x” the native soil by adding amendments, but it can take a few seasons to see the impressive results. A raised bed can give you satisfaction this season.

The Benefits

There are a bunch of reasons why raised beds might be right for your backyard (and right for our high desert climate), so let’s take a look at the big hitters:

I Want it Now

As we hinted previously, raised beds are much easier to get going successfully than a brand new, untouched, unmaintained plot of Nevada backyard. Amending existing ground soil takes time. While we applaud both methods – and have the products to help you either route – raised beds are likely right for you if you’re starting a new garden and want big results this season. With raised-bed gardening, you’ll have control over soil nutrients, since you are using new, healthy soil and compost.

Back and Knees, Now Less Achy

Raised beds bring the garden closer to you, so you don’t have to bend down all the way to the Earth to pull weeds, pluck peas or ick bugs. The convenience of raised bed is a big plus. Once you kneel around your new raised bed and experience the ease you’re awarded, you might never go back to planting in the ground.

Better Aeration and Drainage

Raised beds provide better aeration, which is extremely important for promoting root health. Mind if we nerd out for a second? Aeration is super necessary for your plants because it makes essential nutrients more accessible to the roots. Also, with the right balance of soil structures in your raised bed, you get “ flocculation.” What a fun word to say. This is where your soils do not have too much clay and allow for air and water to go through it efficiently. Proper aeration helps keep an appropriate amount of moisture available to the roots, not drown them because you’re trying to plant in clay-heavy soil with poor aeration. When we say aeration, we do not mean you need to rototill your beds. We just mean that raised beds allow you to control soil structures better and have oxygen get into the raised bed rather than try and get in the ground. We are minimal till supports because too much tillage oxidizes nutrients and can also cut up amazing worms! DON’T KILL THE WORMS! They are free labor to aerate your raised bed.

Similarly, raised beds also help improve drainage. Because of the loose soil texture in raised beds, excess water can run o and soak into the soil. You can flood irrigate your raised beds and keep all the water in one place to soak in nicely. Speaking of looser soil, roots are able to spread with raised beds and grow with ease. Plants growing directly in the ground, especially in our area, develop shallow root systems resulting in less nutritious fruit.

Weeds, Schmeeds

Planting in raised beds keeps many weeds from pestering your plants. You’re planting directly in new soil, not an area of ground with weed seedlings. You’ll still have some volunteer weeds pop up as they take a flight into your delicious growing area, but the loose soil makes it way easier to remove them without damaging other plants.

On the subject of pests, if you build your beds high enough, it’s easier to keep out hungry critters. You can attach a simple mesh fence to your frame, keeping it high enough to keep out pests and low enough for you to still reach your plants with ease.

Now, a Few Issues

Raised beds do have their advantages, but let’s not neglect some of the issues that are likely to crop up when growing with this method:

Wallet Gardening

First o , if you want a raised bed, you’ve got to build it. From scratch. You’ll need materials for the frame and you’ll need to fill the bed 8-12 inches deep with soil and nutrients.

What You Put In

Next, your plants will only have access to the nutrition you put in your raised bed. They won’t have the same access to some of the nutrients that do exist in Nevada soil. They’ll be used to the lush, cozy, nutrient-rich soil you’ve planted them in and won’t be as ambitious to explore the world below the bed.

Revisiting Aeration and Drainage

Next, watch the aeration. When preparing your raised bed, be careful when packing down the soil. Like all living things, plants need to breathe, and roots absorb oxygen from the water in the soil. So if the soil is too compacted to allow water to flow, your plants will suffocate. On the other hand, roots of plants in raised beds can dry out a lot quicker in harsh heat. Our Nevadan summers can get pretty brutal for new plants. Help minimize the brutality on plant roots by adding a quality mulch, which will provide a protective layer to the soil, blocking the harsh, direct sunrays and keeping your soil moist.

The Grand Ol’ Takeaway

Whether you choose to plant straight in the ground or use raised beds, healthy soil is the key to growing a healthy, bountiful garden. Like we mentioned in the last article, nurturing healthy soils in Northern Nevada takes extra time and patience. If you decide in-the-ground planting is your growing method of choice, use an all-natural soil amendment.

We’re happy to share more information to help you create a more sustainable and nutritious garden this year (and every year). If you find you have some hiccups along the way, please visit our website at for our FAQ, gardening blogs and a complete growing guide for Northern Nevada (free download). We’re always working to do our part to help you grow your healthy garden more sustainably, more lushly and more enjoyably.