Learn about the benefits of planting tomatoes in raised beds, how to plant them, which varieties are best suited to grow in raised beds, and basic care and maintenance of your plants.
If you’re looking for an easy way to spice up your garden, planting tomatoes in raised beds is a great option. Not only are raised beds more aesthetically pleasing than traditional garden beds, but they can also provide many benefits for the gardener. From increased soil drainage and decreased erosion to improved access to sunlight and better pest control, there are plenty of advantages that can be gained by adding raised tomato planters to your backyard oasis. Here we will explore how to set up and plant tomatoes in a raised bed and discuss some of the benefits that come with it.
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What are Raised Beds and Why Would You Plant Tomatoes in Them?
Tomatoes are the superstars of vegetables and one thing that makes them so wonderful is how flexible they can be! You have a plethora of planting options when it comes to tomatoes – you can put them in raised beds, directly into the ground, containers, or even hang baskets if you’re feeling creative. In this post, we’ll dive deep into planting them in raised beds! So buckle up as we explore just why these little guys love life high above everyone else.
What is a raised bed?
A raised bed is a type of planting bed that exists above the soil level. They can be made from all sorts of materials: wood, logs, metal, or a composite (just to name a few).
Gardeners use raised beds for a variety of reasons:
- They’re aesthetically pleasing and create a very organized look to a garden. They create clearly defined areas within it.
- Ergonomically, raised beds can help gardeners by reducing bending.
- They help provide a planting bed when the existing soil is poor. The soil can either be rocky and not be the right mixture, providing a quicker solution and set up. Amending soil can take years!
- They are totally customizable! From what materials are used to garden placement, a raised bed garden flexibility through customization.
These are just some reasons why someone would choose to install raised beds instead of planting directly into the ground. Keep in mind, that just like an in-ground garden, the placement of the raised beds is still important. Be sure to install them in an area that gets at least 8 hours of sun.
The Benefits of Planting Your Tomatoes in Raised Beds
I won’t go too much in depth about the benefits of growing in raised beds as I thoroughly went over them in a previous blog post, “Why Have Raised Beds: 11 Pros and 10 Cons to Raised Bed Gardening”.
To summarize my previous post, raised beds provide the following benefits:
- Better control over growing conditions
- Help prevent soil from compacting
- Easier to weed and tend
- Easier to monitor pests and disease
- Provide better drainage
- Soil warms up sooner than an in-ground garden
- Screened bottoms keep out critters from burrowing from underneath
- Access is ergonomically better
- Better root growth because of depth of the beds
- Higher yields because they are planted at a higher density
Now that you have a general understanding of the pros of having raised beds, let’s look at their downfalls.
What are the Cons for Planting Your Tomatoes in Raised Beds
As with everything, there are cons to having raised beds. In my opinion, it’s always best to weigh the pros and cons to decide what suits our needs best.
In summary, raised beds have the following cons:
- Raised beds can be costly to install (depends on materials used)
- The soil dries out faster in warmer temperatures
- They may not be suitable for dry, arid climates
- Plants require more watering since the soil dries out faster and because of the better drainage
- Soil becomes colder faster when temperatures get colder
- There is a small footprint to grow in
- The layout of your garden may not be changed easily
- Raised beds don’t last forever and may need to be changed out
These are all factors to consider before installing raised beds.
Tips for Planting Tomatoes in Raised Beds
Now that you’ve thought carefully about having raised beds, we can move onto planting tomatoes.
How to Prep Your Raised Beds to Plant Tomatoes
To prepare my beds, I always think a year ahead. At the end of each year, I put more compost down, collect all the leaves off of our property and mulch them. After mulching the leaves, I spread a thick layer over the top of the soil. I’ve also used straw in my raised beds instead of mulched leaves. Either way, use some sort of mulch to protect the soil. In the springtime, I mix in all the leaves or straw. The leaves and the straw will continue to break down and compost. I put more compost on top, plant my crops, and then add a fresh layer of straw.
What to Do Your First Year with Raised Beds
However, the first year, you won’t be able to do that. There are many options for filling in your raised beds, but I’ll provide you with two that are quick and easy, and/or uses material you already have on hand. One quick and simple way is to buy bulk topsoil and amend with compost. You can usually buy bulk topsoil and compost from a local nursery. It is much cheaper doing it this way instead of buying lots of bags of soil and compost. The second is hugelkultur.
Of course, how much material you decide to use to fill in the raised bed is dependent on how deep they are.
What is Hugelkultur and How it Can Benefit Your Garden
If you’re just getting started with raised beds and need to fill them, you may want to consider hugelkulture. Hugelkultur is a practice that was developed in Eastern Europe and Germany centuries ago, and it’s often used in permaculture systems. Essentially it mimics the natural process that occurs in woodlands.
Gather the following items which you may already have right on your property:
- Fallen logs and leaves, branches, and twigs.
- These will all help not only fill the raised beds, but also help to retain moisture. Things like rotted wood act as a sponge and absorb water.
- Smaller logs may need to be used as you’ll have a smaller area to fill in.
- Nitrogen-rich material such as manure or kitchen waste.
- Personally, I like to use composted cow manure in my garden.
- There should be enough topsoil that fills in 1 to 2 inches deep.
- Mulching material like straw
- Regardless of what you choose to fill in your beds, always have a mulching material on hand. Always cover your soil and never leave it bare.
Over time, these elements eventually compost and provide rich, fertile soil. The result is a low-maintenance raised bed that may require less irrigation and fertilizing.
How to Implement Hugelkultur
It’s simple to implement hugelkultur in your garden. Follow the below steps (think lasagna layers!):
- Start with the largest objects you gathered, (or the largest biomass) – logs. Lay the logs in the bottom of the raised bed.
- After placing the logs in the bottom, layer the second largest item – branches.
- Lay the twigs on top of the branches.
- Next, pile on the fallen leaves. The leaves help to fill in the gaps between the logs, branches, and twigs.
- Water what you’ve put into the raised beds so far.
- The last step is to dump in the topsoil.
This method works the best if prepped a few months in advance before planting so what you used has time to “cure”. However you can begin planting immediately.
Possible Soil Amendments
Tomato plants love slightly acidic soil so you may have to amend your soil. Consider using the following to amend:
What Variety of Tomatoes to Grow in Raised Beds
Although you can plant vining tomatoes, the best varieties to plant in a raised bed (in my opinion) are bush varieties. Bush varieties are determinants since they are compact, grow to a certain height, and may not necessarily require supports. They save on space! On the other hand, vining tomatoes, or indeterminates, require support. They get very tall (up to 10 feet) so it can be difficult to provide them with an ample amount of support in a smaller space.
Spacing When Planting Tomatoes in Raised Beds
Spacing of your plants is determined by two things: (1) the variety you chose to plant, bush versus vining; and (2) how big your raised beds are (width and length).
Your plants should be planted at least 2 feet apart. Bush varieties are generally wider than vining varieties. You may be able to plant vining varieties closer together, between 18 to 24 inches apart.
A good idea is to plant companion plants in between or along the sides of the raised bed to maximize your planting.
What if You Already Have Raised Beds?
You are ahead in the game if you already have raised beds. All you have to do is prep your bed. Do a clean up of any debris and weeds sprouting.
Care and Maintenance of Your Raised Bed Tomato Garden
Generally, care and maintenance of your tomato plants are the same as if you had them in the ground, with slight variations.
Between the combination of heat and better drainage, your soil may dry out faster. This means you may have to water your plants more often. Maintain a consistent watering schedule. Plants, including tomatoes, do not like inconsistent watering. Inconsistent watering can lead to all sorts of health issues for the plant.
Your plants will require 1 to 2 inches of water per week. When you water, provide deep waterings to ensure it reaches the roots. It’ll also help the plant develop a healthy root system. Don’t water shallowly as this doesn’t provide an adequate amount of water for your plants.
How much pruning you’ll have to do will be determined by the variety of the plant you chose. Determinate tomato plants require little to no pruning at all. On a side of caution, I trim my determinate plant to ensure a good air flow. They can get pretty bushy and it can lead to poor air circulation. Indeterminate plants require more pruning. Pinch off any “suckers”. A sucker is a shoot that sprouts out between the stem and a branch of the plant. These take away energy from the plant. By pinching them off, it gives energy back to the plant and it can then focus more on fruit production.
If you’re fertilizing, follow the directions on the package.
Tomato Cages and Trellising
Whether your plants require cages or trellising depends on the type of tomato plant you’ve chosen. When you’re planting your tomatoes, make sure to take into consideration the type of support system you’ll be providing.
Monitor for Diseases and Pests
Although you’re growing in raised beds, your plants can still develop disease and pests. Monitor your plants frequently. By catching diseases and pests early, you can prevent damage to your plants and possibly provide treatment. (This will depend on the type of disease and pest.)
Growing in raised beds reduces the amount of weeding you’ll have to perform, but it doesn’t entirely get rid of weeds.
Get Ready for the Growing Season
Growing tomatoes in raised beds has a host of benefits that make the effort well worth it. With proper preparation, your tomato plants will have the space they need to grow and thrive, producing delicious fruit all season long. Be sure to mulch your plants, water regularly, and fertilize according to their needs. And finally, don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor!
What tips do you have for growing tomatoes in raised beds? Share them with us in the comments below.