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How to Layer a Raised Garden Bed

Discover the art of layering a raised garden bed using mostly materials found in your backyard. A cost-effective method, it’s optimal for a thriving ecosystem and perfect harvests every time.

A woman is holding seedlings over a garden bed as she learns how to layer a raised garden bed.

It’s not too late to start a fall garden. Spring favorites get a second change in the milder weather of the fall months. 

I am fully taking advantage of that this year. Not only can radishes, green onions, and select varieties of salad greens grow in less than 30 days, but even some turnips and beets can, too!

With that in mind, you may want to learn how to layer a raised garden bed if it’s your first time. I recently decided to switch from clay soil in-ground gardening to raised bed gardening. So I have been diving into every piece of information I can find on layering raised beds.

My husband and I recently purchased a secondhand elevated raised garden bed that I have just started some radishes and greens in. 

A raised garden bed has radishes transplanted into it.

So far, it is much easier than in-ground gardening. More quality control and because mine is elevated it means less bending and squatting, too. (Though I can’t complain about the occasional leg workout, here and there.)

I think I can label myself a convert now that I’ve seen how easy it is to do. It also looks much nicer aesthetically, in my opinion. 

There are upfront costs, but once it’s set up you’re pretty much set.

I even discovered some simple ways to fill and layer a raised garden bed to ensure healthy plants and hearty harvests. 

A raised garden bed contains thriving seedlings and a watering can on it.

It is so affordable, which is something I think we are all looking for given the current economic situation here in the states. 

Get on your sunhat, gather some gloves, and head outside. This raised garden bed layering method takes minimal planning, uses mostly what you already have, and can be done in less than an hour (depending on how many garden beds you have to fill).

I’ll show you how to prepare garden beds for many seasons to come and set them up for long-term success. 

Let’s dive into how to layer a raised garden bed…

Why is layering a garden bed so important?

Layering a raised garden bed is essential to not only fertilize the plants you’re growing, but it will also help strengthen root systems by controlling soil density. Plants are both healthier and produce greater yields at harvesting time when layering methods are followed. 

Additionally, by creating different layers of organic materials, as they decay they act as a long-term fertilizer and improve drainage in the garden bed.

Luckily, by adding materials found in your backyard, you can significantly cut down on the cost of filling your raised garden beds this season. 

Seedlings have been transplanted after learning how to layer a raised garden bed.
Radishes sprout up after being transplanted into a raised garden bed.

Tips for Layering a Raised Garden Bed

Buy garden soil in bulk from landscaping or construction companies or even local farmers. Bagged soil is always more expensive, though more convenient for some.

When transporting compost to your garden beds, depending on the type of system you have set up, you can use either a large shovel or scoop/pour it into a large bucket. I have a tumbler compost bin, so pouring this into a bucket works easiest for me.

Use as much as you have on hand. Raised beds themselves are expensive to buy and building materials even add up when constructing your own… Try to save as much as possible when layering raised garden beds by using what is already in your yard. There is almost always a substitute for a material you don’t have.

A woman is transplanting seedling into a raise garden bed.

Materials You Will Need

Newspaper and/or cardboard

Branches, sticks, twigs, bark, or wood shavings

Leaves, straw, or grass clippings


High-quality topsoil I use this HERE  

Lower-quality “fill dirt,” optional

Shovel or large bucket, optional

Gloves, optional

A raised garden bed sits outside a kitchen window near a hose.

How to Layer a Raised Garden Bed


First add a layer of cardboard or newspaper to the bottom of your raised bed. Cardboard is good for killing any grass or weeds below it. However, I just added newspaper to mine since I used an elevated raised bed. Either way, you basically need to create a liner for the raised bed. Using these organic materials ensures they will break down over time.

A woman lays newspaper down into a raised bed.


Next add branches, sticks, or twigs to create a dense mulch. This will slowly decompose over time and create a richer soil. Don’t have any of these available? You can even use bark that is peeling from old trees or leftover wood chips. Any type of untreated, natural wood pieces work for this layer.

Sticks are added to a garden bed as a second layer.


Then you can add leaves, straw, or grass clippings. These act as a lighter mulch over the wood layer. These will also decompose, but at a faster rate than the branches below it. This creates an amazing fertilizer in your garden bed, adding a very necessary component: nitrogen.

A garden bed gets a layer of dried leaves added on top.


Add compost on top of the mulch. If you don’t have a compost pile going yet, you can purchase it online or at a local nursery–though this can get expensive. Instead, I recommend using cow manure or recent kitchen scraps (egg shells, fruit/vegetable peels, and coffee grounds). These will at least add some sort of nutrients that will break down eventually even though they aren’t a finished compost yet. 

The nutrients in the compost layer will feed your plants and help balance soil density, which can help stabilize and strengthen root systems in growing plants. Such an important component to your raised garden beds.

If you really want to save even more money, mix in a lower quality soil with the compost to stretch it farther. This will also help reduce the amount of topsoil needed. Fill dirt is low in nutrients and can often be dug up from your own backyard. 

A man pours compost into a garden bed.


Finally, add a layer of high-quality soil to the top. I prefer to use an organic topsoil. I don’t like to add chemicals to my garden, so I opt for something more natural. A high-quality soil will add lots of nutrients and provide the perfect environment for young seedlings to thrive. 

After spreading this out, you’re ready to transplant seedlings or directly sow seeds in your raised garden bed.

Happy Gardening!

A woman pats down soil into a garden bed.
A hose waters newly planted seedlings in a garden bed.

Watch a Video of Layering Raised Beds

More Gardening Inspiration

Summer Gardening Guide for Backyard Gardeners  

The Best Garden Tools for Beginners 

Beginner Gardening Tips for Organic Gardening  

How to Make an Indoor Succulent Garden

How to Start Composting

5 thoughts on “How to Layer a Raised Garden Bed

  1. Thank you! Your raised bed is gorgeous! I’m doing a fire ring today. You’ve helped me so much!

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