Raised bed gardens have gained popularity in recent years. It is an old practice that has several advantages over ground-level gardening. The practice is beneficial for both plants and gardeners.
Although most gardeners think of vegetables and flowers in raised beds, they can also be used successfully for growing smaller varieties of trees. Raised bed gardening simply means mounding the soil higher than the surrounding soil.
There are two ways to use raised beds for trees: raised ground beds and supported raised beds. Raised ground beds are created by sloping 6 to 8-inch mounds of soil with peat moss, manure, and soil. They should measure between around 3 to 5 feet wide. Consider using supported raised beds for trees that need more space than the raised ground bed can provide. Surrounding structures made from brick, large rocks, wood, or plastic can be used for supported raised beds. No sloping is necessary for this method.
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Planting Trees in Raised Beds
With a bit of planning, landscape and fruit trees can thrive in raised beds. Many tree species do not like soggy soil. A raised bed for these trees can provide better drainage, and they dry out faster after particularly heavy rains. A raised bed can help eliminate the damage that the wet soil can cause.
It is actually better to plant a tree in a raised bed than to plant a tree too deeply. This is according to North Carolina State University’s Cooperative Extension Service. Be sure to plant the trees in a 10-inch high raised bed and dig a hole at the same depth. Dig the hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the root ball. Fill the hole and then form a 4 to 6-inch barrier of soil around the tree’s drip zone. This will help control runoff.
The soil in a raised bed is controlled by the gardener. Therefore, you can obtain the best garden soil and work in amendments as needed. According to the University of Ohio, you should amend the soil with organic matter. Even if your native soil is the worst clay or rock, the soil you add into the raised garden bed won’t have to be worked and amended every year.
When you use raised beds, you also have the advantage of planting your trees in the best spots. Drying out too quickly is probably the biggest disadvantage of using raised beds. Finding ways to insulate sides and mulching can help retain moisture.
Can you incorporate existing trees into a raised bed? Yes, but it poses some challenges. Be sure to place a circle of metal edging around the trunk to keep mulch and soil away. Otherwise, the tree can be harmed by the changed structure of the soil.
Considerations for Planting Trees in Raised Beds
The most basic direction for planting trees in raised beds is to make sure the bed itself will have enough rooting space for the tree to establish its root system.
If you plan on adding flowers or other plants around the tree, choose ones that are not easy to over water. This is because your tree will need plenty of water as it becomes established. Otherwise, wait until the tree matures to add other plants.
1. Site Selection
Select a planting site that will meet your tree’s needs. Since one advantage of raised beds is picking your spot, this should be easy; place the raised bed for a sun-loving tree in the sun and vice-versa. Avoid planting near driveways, sidewalks, and power lines.
2. Soil Considerations
You will need to plant your raised bed trees in well-drained soil. If you simply must choose a damp place, plant trees that will tolerate wet soil. Weeping willow (Salix) and red maple (Acer rubrum) are good choices.
In recent years, experts have recommended no soil amendments for the soil in the planting hole. They have found that rich soil in the planting hole deters the roots from reaching into the poorer surrounding soil in order to become well anchored. Fill the hole with native soil and pack it down lightly.
3. Staking your tree
If the area you live in is prone to be windy, using stakes can save your tree. Be careful not to pound stakes through the root ball. Stakes should be able to be removed in 1 to 2 years. The roots can then support the tree.
4. Watering and Mulching
Always water a newly planted tree and add mulch around the base to help keep the soil from drying out. Use a layer of 2 to 3 inches. To prevent rot, leave a gap between the mulch and the trunk.
5. Trunk Protection
In cold areas, mice can pose a problem to tree trunks. They will tunnel through the snow to snack on the bark of tender trees. If the young tree loses too much bark, it may die. Look for mouse guards for sale at nursery supply stores. Some people make their own by slitting the side of a nursery pot and placing it around the tree, put mulch around the mouse guard.
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Trees that Should or Should not be Planted in Raised Beds
Obviously, trees that grow large and need plenty of root space are not good choices for any type of raised bed. However, there are plenty of trees for smaller gardens. They come in many shapes and sizes, deciduous and evergreen.
Your local Cooperative Extension Service is a good resource for helping you decide the best trees for a raised bed. They are familiar with the species that will grow in your area. The National Gardening Association is also a good choice for help. On their website, go to the Plant Finder and enter your hardiness zone for a list of suggestions.
Using raised beds for planting trees is a great way to extend the efficiency and ease of raised bed gardening. You may discover it to be the best way for you to enjoy the beauty of trees.