The Beginner’s Guide to Gardening: In-Ground Versus Raised Beds Versus Containers. A comparison of different types of gardens to help decide what type of garden works best for you.
Table of Contents
An in-ground garden, raised beds, or container gardening – which is the right one for you and your garden. We’ve used all three of these types of gardens, which depended on where we were living, how large of a garden we were able to plant, as well as a variety of other factors this post will review. In my last post, I talked about growing tomatoes in ceramic containers on our patio when we lived in our apartment. Later when my parents bought a house, an in-ground garden was laid out. At my husband and my house, we’ve used a combination of in-ground, raised beds and container gardening.
I wanted to discuss all three of these methods, what it’s like to prepare for each method and tips, and point out the pros and cons of each type of garden.
There are three gardening methods that I’ve tried over the years: in-ground, raised bed, and container. Deciding what you want to grow, where you want to grow it, and how you want to grow it can help determine which practice is right for you.
In-ground gardening is the most common type of gardening. It doesn’t usually require any extra materials, except if you take into account any fencing that you may need to install. In-ground gardening involves planting directly into the ground, but will require some work before doing so.
Raised In-ground Rows
One type of in-ground gardening that combines a traditional in-ground garden and a raised bed are raised in-ground rows.
What is a raised in-ground row? It’s a row that is raised or mounded in comparison to the rest of the garden. It provides a distinct planting area with walkways in between.
In-ground gardening preparation and tips
There can be quite a bit of prep work before you start planting. The amount of prep work is determined by where you decide to put your garden and what state it’s in.
Here are some things you should consider:
- Is grass in the area you want to make your garden?
a. How much grass is there to remove?
b. There are several ways to rid the area of grass.
- Are there lots of weeds?
- What type of soil is present at your site?
a. Testing your soil is a good starting point.
b. Examine the composition of your soil (ratios of sand, clay, silt, etc).
c. The soil may need to be amended or you may be in luck to have good soil.
- Are there a lot of rocks and/or roots in the area?
Pros of in-ground gardening
There are lots of pros to this type of gardening. It is typically cheaper to plant directly in the ground without any extra building materials needed in comparison to raised beds. If you already have good soil, it will be easy to just add to what you already have. It can be easier to irrigate, has lower watering requirements in comparison to raised beds and container gardens, and it can be less labor intensive since there is nothing to build. You will not be constrained to a confined area like you are in comparison to raised beds and container gardens.
Cons of in-ground gardening
Removing grass can be quite difficult and tedious. It is a lot of work. Depending on your soil, it may require lots of amending. Soil amendment can take years to reverse damaged soil and you’ll need to be patient. Many people use fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to their properties, which is highly detrimental to the soil and is well known to cause complete degradation of natural resources. It can be more maintenance keeping up with weeds and pests.
We have poor soil on our property. It is heavy with clay and littered with lots of rocks as if from a fill site. When we initially moved here, it was difficult to dig into the soil because it was so hard. Most of our property still has hard soil, but our garden area is slowly starting to loosen up and still has a ways to go. If anything, in-ground gardening has definitely taught me to be more patient. Years of abuse take time to heal. You may also encounter soil compaction and could be prone to flooding. You may have to wait longer to plant because of the soil temperature.
I love our raised beds! We decided to put in raised beds because the soil in the area is even worse than our side garden. Many of the plants were stunted when we tried in-ground gardening in this area. This is also why it’s really important to test your soil BEFORE planting and don’t make the same mistake I did. Spending time planting but not getting the garden’s full potential can be frustrating. That area wasn’t totally unsuccessful, but it could’ve been better if amended properly after soil testing. To help the longevity of our beds, we treated the wood with linseed oil*.
*As a note, there are two different types of linseed oil: raw and boiled. Although boiled linseed oil dries quicker, it contains metallic, or chemical, dryers. Raw linseed oil does not contain any chemicals, but takes longer to dry. When treating wood being used for raised beds that will grow food, use raw linseed oil.
Raised beds preparation and tips
Building raised beds can be expensive, especially now and depending on the materials you use. Buying prefab raised beds or having someone build them can add to the cost. To cut cost, if it’s possible, you can DIY your own. However, it may be a better option for you if you are in an area with poor soil, will be quicker to get started since you won’t have to wait for the soil to be amended, and you’ll have more control over soil quality.
Pros of raised bed gardening
With raised beds there is more control over soil quality. Instead of waiting for ground soil to amend, you can simply add the high quality soil straight to the bed. There is less soil compaction in comparison to in-ground gardening. They are a great solution to drainage and since they are elevated from the ground level, you won’t have to worry about your garden flooding. There are less weeds and pests to worry about with raised beds. By building deeper beds, it will be impossible for weeds to grow up through the beds. We used sheets of chicken wire on the bottom of our raised beds to prevent little critters from burrowing in. Plants can develop longer, stronger root systems as there are less obstacles and less compaction. They are ergonomically friendly since their height requires less bending. They are aesthetically pleasing, less permanent and therefore you can move them anywhere.
Cons of raised bed gardening
Although there are many pros to having raised beds, there are cons as well. Building your own raised beds, buying prefab ones, or having someone build them for you can all be quite expensive. They will require more materials in comparison to in-ground and container gardens. Raised beds will not last as long as in-ground gardens and some container gardens. Ones constructed out of wood can be susceptible to rot and insect damage. You’ll also be limited to the amount of space you can grow in, depending on how many raised beds you have. Although raised beds can improve the soil underneath it, they will not amend your garden’s soil overall. We limit our in-garden to grow things we know that can tolerate soils that are not ideal. Raised beds will require more watering than an in-ground garden since it drains so well and dries out quicker. Mulching can help address the issue of loss of moisture.
Container gardening is probably the easiest set up to have with the least amount of work out of all three options discussed in this post. There is no grass to rip up, minimal building to be done (unless you build your own window box) and there’s a lot of flexibility. You can quickly move your containers around or even bring them indoors if need be. Use a potting mix, compost, or potting soil rather than soil from your yard. These will ensure your plants have the proper nutrients and prevent plants from becoming waterlogged.
Container gardening preparation and tips
Container gardening can be so rewarding and anyone can use containers to grow produce. Whether you’re in an apartment with very limited space, have a small piece of property, or adorn them on your patio to be close to home. There are different types of containers that you can grow plants in: hanging baskets, pots, window boxes, and even grow bags have become increasingly popular. Like raised beds, container gardening gives you more control over your soil conditions and quality.
Pros of container gardening
Containers provide the most flexibility out of all three options and they are great when space is limited. Remember the story of my dad growing tomatoes on the patio of our apartment? It was a decent size patio and the pots didn’t take up much room. Container gardening also provides creativity. You can pretty much grow plants in anything that will hold soil. The options are limitless!
Cons of container gardening
Some of the downfalls of container gardening is that the soil will dry out the quickest and will require frequent watering. Be sure to have adequate drainage by having holes in the bottom of the container. This will help prevent too much water accumulating in the bottom either from rain or watering. Depending on the time of year and weather conditions, overwatering can be a risk. With containers, you’re limited to the amount of space you have to plant. It may also limit you to the types of plants you can grow.