Garden raised beds Soil Improvement and/or preparation

Raised Beds – Lasagna Gardening – Soil Preparation

Bill visited the local hardware store today to get something he needed to fix a light. He said they were really busy.

On his way in and out he passed by stacks of bagged garden “mixtures”.  Some of the bags he took special note of to mention to me when he got home were the ones labeled “soil for yards” and those labeled “soil for gardens”.

When he first told me, I couldn’t help but laugh.  It’s one of those things that makes you laugh but isn’t very funny.

I’m sure the store will sell everyone of those bags before spring is finished. Although I have no information to back it up, my guess is that many of those bags marked “soil for gardens” will go into raised beds.  And I’m talking now about the raised beds with wooden frames, not just beds that are naturally raised from preparing the soil deeply.

It’s a pretty safe bet to assume that marketing of “raised bed supplies” is what has caused most folks to think that those frames and those bags of “soil” are necessary.  Progressively — probably the next step was to do away with soil preparation entirely.  It’s the “popular” way to garden.

Then along came lasagna gardening which is for the most part just building layers of organic material and allowing it to decay over a period of months to kill most of the weeds and create a soil that is rich in nutrients.

By the time “marketing” folks got finished with all that —- preparing soil deeply (or the reason for it) was all but forgotten (or never known in the first place) by the vast majority.

Easy is Best Only when it Accomplishes the Goal and Gets the Desired Results

I think it’s great to find better ways to do things.  Goodness knows I’ve spend 35 years looking for better ways and easier ways to garden that still accomplish the goal and give me great results.  I want to be still going at it when I’m a 100 —- so “easy” will be good.

The Lasagna Gardening concept is wonderful for people who absolutely cannot prepare the soil deeply because they are physically unable to do it.   And if they continue to add layers, the soil should get better and better every year. But I think many times folks who use this method — forget (if they ever knew) the purpose for deep preparation of the soil to begin with.  And of course, Lasagna Gardening alone cannot accomplish deep soil preparation.

Always a Result for Every Action

And in spite of the fact that it’s better to do what we can — even though it may not be perfect —- it remains that there is always a result of that action that we must accept.


My front borders are the perfect example.  When we moved to our current home, we were anxious to get the front looking decent.  Bill designed the flower beds (front borders.) He tilled in haste (not deeply). We had absolutely no organic material to add to that soil and for various reasons couldn’t get any.  I planted anyway.

In spite of the fact that I have continued for 14 years to add organic material to the top of those beds (the same concept as Lasagna Gardening) the soil remains the worst on the property.  In drought these beds look worse than any  I have on our little-over-1-acre plot. It is impossible at this time (and I can’t see a change in the future) to dig up all these beds and do them the right way.  I regret being in such a big hurry years ago and having to live with the results of my actions — probably the rest of my life.

When you prepare soil deeply, the plant roots can go down much further to seek nutrients and water. The difference in plant growth and vitality is amazing! Believe me — I’ve experience the difference many times over the years.

A Reader Writes

A friend and reader who had only raised beds (the ones with boarded sides) prior to reading TMG wrote to me this fall about a wonderful new bed (18 x 7) that she and her husband have added to the garden area.  She has experienced for herself this past year what proper soil preparation can do! She wrote:

  • “Yes, raised beds without edges, but they ARE definitely raised with all that organic matter in there. Do you know that I recently found a giant (about 3ft by 3ft) slab of concrete about 8inches under one of my beds that I’d ‘prepared’ pre-Theresa. My husband and I had a laugh about the fact that we thought we’d done such a great job in getting that soil ready – poor plants!!!!!”

Final Thoughts

If you’re starting new beds this winter or in early spring, consider preparing your soil deeply.  It only has to be done once and the rewards are great. You’ll congratulate yourself for years for making such a good decision.


Suggested reading for Preparing Your Soil Properly:

Soil Improvement Your Foundation for Success

Soil Preparation – First Key to Soil Improvement

Cont’d. Soil Preparation – First Key to Soil Improvement


Organic Gardening is easy, efficient, effective — and it’s a lot healthier.


All content including photos is copyright by  All Rights Reserved.



  • Hi Theresa…I continue to read your articles as much as I can so that I can learn from you. I have been very busy and overwhelmed with house hunting… When I get closer to being done I will email you the details…many hugs from me to you and Bill…Jenny

  • You are so right Theresa, We always deep dig our beds when we establish them, that is how I found the leach line when we moved almost 5 years ago. A couple of years later we put in a large rectangular bed for squash and plants that require a lot of room. After the bed was established the next year we had a couple of feet of space and could add on.

    Being excited to get extra room in the garden we extended the cinder block wall, but did not dig, just started piling organic matter and planting. That portion of the bed, never does as well as the original part. It has been 3 years now and each year I say to myself, “I am going to dig that up some day”. Who knows, maybe this year.

  • Hi Jenny,
    Try to stay out “overwhelm” —- I know what you must be going through!
    I’ll be looking forward to your email when you decide on your new home! Best of luck with finding just the right one.

  • Theresa,
    On some of my old raised beds that I made several years ago, I did exactly what you described. I put down weed barrier first so that crabgrass I was going over top of – couldn’t work its way up through the bed. Then I shoveled on compost, soil, etc.

    There is no way my plants can penetrate through that weed barrier in order to go down into the soil deeply. And it was a method I read about in a book somewhere. It was touted as a quick and easy way to get a garden going.

    I am going back to properly prepare these beds bit by bit, but I agree, I wish I’d done it properly the first time.

  • Thanks for that testimonial Sandra. The thing about that method — it takes a few years to find out its not the best way. The sad thing — I’ll bet there are those who never find out —- they just think they can’t garden. How unfortunate.
    Thanks again for the great comment

  • This is a tip for Sandra that may be helpful and Theresa I would love to hear your thoughts…but I use thick sections of newspaper anytime I’m going to start a “new” garden section and build up organic material over top of that. I work in the landscape field and I think the commercial weed barriers are the worst! As far as I’m concerned it has no place in an area with plants (just my opinion) My soil is pretty poor and we work hard to make it better. A lot of compost and organic material as well as manure. It takes time but well worth it!

  • Thanks for the input Jill.
    Newspaper is definitely better than commerical weed barriers.
    To each his own and if one is unable to dig — this would definitely be the best option.
    For the ultimate in success — digging and breaking the soil deeply and then piling on the organic materials is my choice.

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