Gardening in the Ozarks can be quite difficult; this I know too well. The structure of our soil plays an important role in the success and failure of growing common vegetables and flowering plants. Our soil typically contains a high clay content, and lots and lots of rocks. These heavy clay soils often get compacted, creating poorly drained, poorly aerated soils which are not conducive for producing healthy plants. Heavy clay soils can literally smother roots of plants and create conditions not suitable for beneficial microbes that play an important role in recycling nutrients back into the soil profile.

Over the years of trial and error, at my garden in Ozark County, Missouri, I have incorporated the use of raised beds in my woodland garden. Each garden I have is raised an estimated height of 6 inches above the natural soil’s surface. I achieved this height by incorporating compost, and extra top soil into the native soil present on the site. Turning what was a very unproductive site to one that flourishes with plant life. The pictures of today’s article show the productivity of these beds from when they first were established in 2009, to when the last photo was taken in the spring of 2012.

Raised beds can improve drainage and soil structure which will overall produce more vigorous root systems on plants increasing the productivity of the vegetable or flowers you are growing in your garden. By incorporating a sunken path between raised beds in the landscape, this will limit unnecessary compaction of the garden soil due to foot traffic.

Large scale vegetable farmers will often plant their crops on simple flat top mounds with no materials used to maintain the form of the raise soil bed. But in a home garden setting, raised beds are typically made by containing a raised garden plot using concrete blocks, bricks, 2" x 6" untreated lumber (rot resistant eastern red cedar), or as in my situation stone. With the elements of wind and rain, soil does not stay put for long, and adding this finishing edge to your garden will decrease erosion, improve water retention during the summer, and maintain its attractiveness in you landscape.

Adding compost or peat moss to the topsoil present will increase soil nutrient level as well as provide better aeration and drainage. Keep in mind it is important not to simply dump compost and topsoil on a site and expect great results. Tilling and breaking up the native soil below and thoroughly mixing it with your added soil amendments will greatly improve the site for the proper deep root growth of your garden plants.

Depending on the location of your raised bed, whether you are creating a terrace on a slope or creating the more typical rectangular frame, it is important that the soil surface be leveled off for proper drainage. Being raised above the surface of the soil, raised beds do dry out faster, and can suffer in times of drought. I would recommend using a drip tape or a soaker hose irrigation system. Drip irrigation is recommended by MU-Extension because it does not encourage the spread of foliar diseases like overhead watering does during the heat of summer. When using drip irrigation, remember that it is not a quick fix to drought stressed plants. Drip irrigation takes time to thoroughly saturate the soil, and it is best to incorporate a weekly watering schedule to prevent emergency overhead water situations. Top dressing the garden with mulch will keep the raised bed cooler during the summer and maintain more moisture in the soil.

If you have struggled to grow vegetables or flowers around your home and have not already utilized this growing technique of creating raised garden beds, I strongly encourage you to do so. With a little preparation, you can turn what appears to be an unproductive garden site into a gardener’s paradise.