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Category: Landscaping

There are many benefits to having raised garden beds, which include assisting growing conditions via different soil types to grow a wide range of plants, fruit and vegetables, whilst also improving access and drainage, and of course fewer weeds. Many people are often unsure where to start with how to build raised beds which are affordable, practical, and long-lasting.

Buying made to measure raised beds or fully constructed planters is a quick fix, however they usually end up as the more expensive choice when you want specific sizes, and it is so simple to build your own raised beds with sleepers.

When building a raised bed, it is important to consider:

  • How big your raised bed needs to be and where you need it;
  • Which railway sleepers and tools are most suitable for the job at-hand; and
  • Which soil type is best for the plants, fruits or vegetables you are looking to grow


These instructions demonstrate 3 sleepers being used for each layer of the raised bed (2 whole and 2 halves). You can change the sizes according to your own requirements.

1. Choose your size

For our example we are using sleepers in lengths of 2.4 metres, so these can be cut to the desired size for your raised bed. You will need four individual parts in total for a single layer. (2 whole sleepers and 2 halves in this example).

2. Position your sleepers

Lay the sleepers on a level section of ground in a rectangular shape, with the narrowest sides on the ground and facing upwards.

3. Attach sleepers together

Use two 150mm timber screws at each corner to attach the sleepers together. 50mm of the length of the screw needs to drill into the adjoining sleeper to create a solid connection. You will now have a box shape that creates a neat border. You can leave it like this however it will only be 7.87 inches high from the ground so for additional height and interest we recommend adding another layer. This would then make the total depth approximately 400mm (15.75 inches).

4. Add another layer

We recommend individually laying each of the sleepers on top of the box you have created, overlapping the joins as if you are bricklaying. Create one corner then screw these together so they are affixed before adding the remaining sleepers to create the same rectangular shape.

5. Attach layers together

Attach the layers together using long timber screws, drilling down from the top to attach the two layers to each other. Alternatively, you could use brackets on the inside to connect the two layers.

6. Repeat until you have desired height

Repeat steps 4 & 5, remembering to overlap the sleepers until you have the desired height, although anything over 6 inches is sufficient for a raised bed.

Now you have your raised bed, you can fill it with the soil of your choice and start planting. For most situations, we recommend these proportions:

  • 60% topsoil
  • 30% compost
  • 10% Potting soil (a soilless growing mix that contains peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite)

You may want to add bricks or stones at the bottom before the soil to increase drainage. Our timber sleepers are made from a specific class of timber for use in ground and water contact, so lining the beds is not essential. If you do decide to line them, choose a material that is porous to allow excess water to escape, and also access for helpful insects and worms.

Product breakdown for an 8 x 4 foot raised bed:

6 x timber sleepers (4 whole sleepers and 2 cut in half to create 4 smaller sleepers)

24 long timber screws

1 x Hex Driver Bit 5/16" for Timber Screw

What to Plant

Fill your garden with the types of vegetables you like to eat. If you're big on salads, plant head lettuce, a lettuce cutting mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. If you love cooking, plant onions and peppers, leeks, potatoes and herbs. Try to include at least one vegetable that's new to you. Discovery is half the fun.

Most of the vegetables you'll want to grow could be started directly in the garden from seed, but in many cases it's best to start out with a plant. Starting with a plant usually shortens the time to harvest by a month or more. In cold regions, where the growing season may be less than 100 days, a tomato or pepper plant that's started in the garden from seed will not have time to mature before frost. When you're putting in just one or two plants of a particular type of vegetable (such as broccoli or tomatoes), it sometimes makes more sense to purchase a couple plants rather than invest in an entire packet of seeds.

Vegetables that can be sown directly into the garden from seed include root crops, such as carrots and beets, beans, peas, corn, cucumbers, squash and salad greens. In some cases, these crops are direct-sown because they do not transplant well and it's best to sow the seeds right where they're going to grow. In the case of salad greens, which germinate well and grow quickly, it is simply more economical to purchase a packet of seeds than to purchase multiple six-packs of lettuce seedlings.

When to Plant

There are several factors to consider when deciding when to plant your garden. First is the type of plant you're putting in. Some plants, including lettuce and broccoli, can tolerate cool weather. Others, such as basil and tomatoes, are likely to be damaged or killed by temperatures lower than 40 degrees. Refer to our Vegetable Encyclopedia to determine the best time to plant each crop.

Other important considerations are frost dates and soil temperature. In planting zones 3 to 6, the primary gardening season falls between the first and last frost dates. Cold-sensitive plants must not go into the garden until all danger of frost has passed. This typically falls somewhere between March and May, depending on your growing zone. If you don't know your growing zone, check the USDA zone map.

If you garden in zones 8-10, it may be heat — not frost — that determines your planting dates. Warm-climate gardeners often plant in the fall rather than the spring, to avoid midsummer heat. Others gear up for two planting periods each year: early fall and late winter.

Soil temperature is also an important planting-time consideration. Most plants thrive in a moderate soil temperature of 60 to 70 degrees F. Some, such as peas and spinach, will germinate well and grow just fine in cool (45 degrees F.) soil. Others, such as eggplant and melons, will not germinate, nor will they grow properly unless the soil is above 60 degrees F. The Vegetable Encyclopedia has planting recommendations for each crop.

Some vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, squash and corn, are typically planted just once each growing season. Other crops, such as salad greens, roots crops, peas and beans, can be planted and harvested early, and then be planted again later in the season for a second harvest. The Vegetable Encyclopedia has crop-specific recommendations for planting (and replanting) to help you maximize production.

Once the seeds have been planted, the area should be watered thoroughly, to a depth of several inches. The soil should be kept consistently moist until the seeds germinate and the young plants have established their first sets of true leaves. Most seeds have a hard coating that must be softened for a period of several days before the seedling inside can emerge. If the soil dries out during this time, the process will be interrupted and you may need to reseed. Covering newly planted areas with garden fabric (or shade netting in the summer) helps keep the top layer of soil consistently moist. This cover can be removed once the seedlings are up and the plants are established.

If possible, young seedlings should be transplanted into the garden when the weather is calm, cool and drizzly. Tender seedlings will suffer if they're planted out on a sunny, hot or windy day. If the weather doesn't cooperate, water your new seedlings thoroughly after planting and then cover them with garden fabric for several days. The plants need time to establish new roots before they are able to extract moisture and nutrients from the soil. If you do not cover them with garden fabric, you may want to find another way to shield them from the sun and drying wind. Be sure to water these new plants every day or two for the first couple weeks.

Why not visit our landscaping display at IBT and see some raised planters - they may just give you inspiration, and there's always someone here to offer any help and advice.

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