DIY · Home & Garden

How to Build an INEXPENSIVE Raised Garden Bed

Learn how to build an inexpensive raised garden bed using fence pickets. At only about $20 per bed, this method will give you the cedar beds you’ve been dreaming of for a fraction of the cost. 

An inexpensive raised garden bed is filled with dirt and sitting near two other raised beds.

It’s fall time which means most gardeners are putting their garden beds to rest and slowing down for the season. Me, on the other hand, I’m teaching myself how to build a raised garden bed. 

My husband and I built three yesterday, layering and filling them up before planting garlic. (The garlic will be ready to harvest in late July of next year.)

Not only does building these garden beds in the fall give us a head start for the spring, it is also more convenient to build in mild weather, where we don’t have to worry about rain or hot temperatures. It will be so nice to already have garlic growing, so we can focus on getting flowers and vegetables planted in the springtime.

Furthermore, a portion of the compost we used in our inexpensive raised garden beds wasn’t yet finished. Layering it with lots of “browns” will help it break down more over the cooler months. This way we have lots of nitrogen-rich soil come planting season. (You can read more about how to layer a raised garden bed HERE.)

The best part about using these raised beds is that they make a garden look more put together. They have distinct edges and the cedar wood looks cohesive in any garden. Whether near a small cottage, a large farmhouse, or even your typical suburban home. 

An inexpensive raised garden bed is filled with dirt and sitting near two other raised beds.

Since we’ve put together these raised beds, I’ve been dreaming up some smaller garden projects for the spring, too. I plan on maybe adding some whiskey barrel planters and possibly creating a border with bricks around the entire gardening space. This is only the beginning, but I’m so ready to finally make our garden area look prettier.

But before I get too carried away with my daydreaming, let’s get into our topic for the day. Come see how to build a raised garden bed with me.

How to Build a Raised Garden Bed

Why are raised garden beds recommended?

People love raised garden beds. And not only because they seamlessly blend in well with any outdoor space. They also look cleaner, they’re easier to manage, and they can benefit your plants.

Benefits

Raised beds allow you to layer different organic materials to deliver the most optimal nutrition for your fruits and vegetables. This helps the structure and the growth of them. 

Raised garden beds are easy and cheap to build. Though they can get expensive if you purchase them pre-assembled.

They are easy to weed and landscape around because of their clean, distinct edges. If you layer your beds correctly, weeds beneath them will be killed and few will make it into them during the gardening season. This can be a huge time saver. 

Raised beds also allow gardeners to use the proper soil of their choice when building and filling them. For example, we live in Missouri where clay soil is the norm. It can be gardened in, but is known for needing more preparation and care. I have gardened in it in the past, but find that raised beds tend to be much easier to care for. Especially when planting tiny seeds that I didn’t first start indoors. I don’t have to till, I can use naturally looser soil, and I can pack more into a smaller space. 

Raised garden beds are filled and layered after being built and are arranged in a square.

What type of wood is best for building an inexpensive raised garden bed?

Cedar wood is the best type of wood to use for any outdoor project. It is high-quality, rot resistant, and water resistant which make it perfect for building a raised garden bed. However, cedar wood is usually an expensive wood due to its nature.

To save money, I recommend using cedar fence pickets like these HERE. I initially was inspired when I saw Farmhouse on Boone’s blog post that recommends using these to save on costs. However, we ended up tweaking her method of building affordable raised garden beds and really love the result.

Using fence pickets is much cheaper than other lumber because the wood is cut thinner. This is what will save you the most on costs if you decide you want raised beds made of wood.

Fence pickets have been cut and drilled to form a planter box for gardening in a backyard.

Can I make a larger raised bed?

Absolutely. Though my directions are for one raised garden bed, you can always multiply the number of fence pickets outlined below by however many beds you want to build. Additionally, if you want to make longer beds, start building two beds, but leave one short side off on each of the two beds and instead connect them together using more 7-inch wood fasteners.

What can I plant in raised garden beds?

Well, you can plant practically anything you would normally plant in the ground. Melons and squash, berries, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and flowers are all favorites of mine. Root vegetables and leafy greens can be planted, too. You can even place trellises in or near your raised beds, so when vining plants develop vines they have something to grow up. (This is another great way to maximize your garden space!)

How to Build an Inexpensive Raised Garden Bed

Supplies and Materials | cheap raised garden beds

*These supplies and materials are for making ONE garden bed. If you are making multiple beds, multiply all of this by the number of beds you are building.*

Circular saw

Drill

3-in deck screws (8) for securing corners

1¼ -in screws (20) for securing fasteners 

⅝-in x 5 ½-in x 6-ft cedar dog ear fence pickets (7) (one of these will be cut into 10 pieces–around 7 inches each–and used as fasteners to connect the pickets) 

2 sawhorses, optional but recommended

A man uses a circular saw to cut fence pickets.

Steps | how to build an inexpensive raised garden bed 

Trim dog ears off fence pickets

The first step in learning how to build a raised garden bed is to trim off the dog-eared ends of the fence pickets. You don’t want these hanging off and looking slopping, so I really recommend doing this. It will make everything much easier. Use a circular saw to trim just these tips off before moving on to the next step.

A man lines up wood with a circular saw to trim the edges off.

Cut pickets to size

Now, you will need to take 2 of the fence pickets and cut these in half using the circular saw. These will make the smaller sides of the box when you assemble it. Additionally, you’ll take one picket and cut it into 10 pieces, roughly 7 ¼ inches each. These will serve as fasteners for the stacked pickets that you connect.

A man cuts a fence picket in half for two shorter sides of a garden bed.

Secure fasteners to stack pickets

Place two long pickets (the 6-ft, uncut ones) parallel to one another. Line them up so they are perfectly even and then place three fastener pieces of wood (the 7 ¼-in pieces) along the center of them. One should be in the very center, and then one on both sides of this one. Using a drill, add 2 of the smaller screws to each fastener.

Long boards are lined up before attaching fasteners to them.
All fasteners (7-inch pieces) and sides have been cut to length. Long boards are lined up before attaching fasteners to them. Shorter boards (on top, running perpendicularly to the long ones ) will be removed before drilling and attaching the fasteners.
Fasteners have been drilled into pickets.
Screws are being drilled into a fastener to attach a top and bottom picket.

Repeat these same steps with the smaller pickets (the 3-ft pieces), except these are short enough to use just 2 wood fasteners. 

Smaller sides are lined up and are having fasteners added to them.
Two fence pickets are stacked next to each other before attaching fasteners to them. Longer pieces under them will be moved before drilling begins.
Fasteners are drilled into wood cedar fence pickets.

Secure corners using 3-inch deck screws

Now you can finally start assembling the actual boxes that create the raised bed. Find the location you want your raised bed in. Place a long and short picket perpendicular to one another, connecting them at the corners. Be sure they line up evenly so all the sides are the same height. Use a drill to screw in 2 screws per corner. Work your way around the entire raised garden bed until you have a box formed. 

Two corners fit together and are drilled.
Corners of a planter box have been drilled together.
A DIY raised garden bed is being assembled.

Fill raised beds

Lastly, you’ll need to fill your beds. Essentially you’ll make five layers that will enrich the soil for thriving plants the entire season. Start by adding cardboard to kill the weeds at the bottom. 

Then add a layer of small logs, sticks, branches, and/or twigs. 

Then start adding in leaves, grass clippings, and/or straw. 

Next add in compost. Since we did this in the fall, we were able to add unfinished compost. We had layers of “browns” in with it, so it will break down more over the winter season and be ready in the spring. If it’s springtime, make sure it’s already finished and ready to go. 

Finally, add your top layer of soil. You’ll want this to be fertile to provide the right environment for your plants.

Raised garden beds have been filled with layers of organic materials.
Raised beds are in the process of having different layers of organic materials added to them. They will be filled almost to the very top.

Tips | how to build an inexpensive raised garden bed

I recommend building raised garden beds that are one foot deep. Most of what you plant will need room to develop a root system. Plus, this allows plenty of room for layering your raised garden bed with all the key nutrients.

If you have screws that are too long, you can still use them if you have a grinder. We accidentally bought screws that were too long for the fasteners of the beds. This resulted in them sticking out into the inside of the beds. They were hidden, but could have been dangerous if someone reached in while planting or harvesting. To fix this issue, simply use a grinder to take off the extra part of the screws after securing the fasteners to the pickets. (Just do this before you actually create the box.)

Be careful when screwing the corners together when creating the box for the raised bed. You need long screws in order to secure it well, but if you’re not careful the thin wood can split. When adding screws to attach the corners, be sure to have someone else hold it snugly in place and drill straight in.

This is an easy project, but it can be time consuming cutting all the pieces and drilling everything together (and then, of course, adding all the layers for the filling). For quicker assembly, you can cut the pickets and drill the fasteners on the day before you piece together the raised bed and fill it.

Inexpensive raised garden beds are filled with dirt.

More Gardening Posts You’ll Want to Read

How to Start Composting

The Best Garden Tools for Beginners

How to Layer a Raised Garden Bed  

Summer Gardening Guide for the Backyard Gardener 

How to Make an Indoor Succulent Garden  

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