Planning and budgeting for a new raised bed garden

snowy landscape scene

Even though it is snowing again today, I am dreaming of gardening season and I am working on a budget for a new raised bed garden that will be 8’ x 4’ x 12”. I have always grown vegetables in a traditional in-ground garden, which only requires some tools for preparing the soil, soil amendments, and a suitable location (full sun with good soil). However, I want the advantages of a raised bed:

  1. earlier soil warming; 
  2. more focused usage of growing space (through succession planting and square foot gardening techniques);
  3. less body bending to plant, maintain, and harvest; and
  4. getting to plant cole crops sooner (with my in-ground garden, I have to wait until late May for the ground to be unfrozen and dry enough to run the the tractor tiller).
garden with a fence
Raised bed made from grapevines and a plastic liner.

A lot of inspiration can be found on the internet for building materials, but think about materials that you may already have on hand or something you can find freely or cheaply. More information on raised beds can be found on the University of Maryland Extension website. 

Some things to keep in mind:

  1. Natural materials (stones, logs, untreated lumber, cement blocks, sawmill slabs, bricks, etc.) are safe, affordable, and often can be scavenged/repurposed if you aren’t afraid to ask or do some physical labor. 
  2. What is your skill set? Maybe you can work out a trade with someone who can help you build the raised bed. 
  3. Any time you can buy items in bulk, you will save money.
garden sketch and seed catalogs

After doing some research, I plan to purchase new pine lumber from a local box store (easy to find and within my budget). Pine or softwood lumber should last anywhere from 3-5 years. Using commonly available sizes/dimensions, I will be spending approximately $80 (if it lasts 3 years, that’s $27 a year). Cedar boards would cost double the money but they could last closer to 15 years (cedar was out of stock in a lot of locations I checked).

Most stores that sell lumber will cut the lumber for no extra fee. It is sometimes cheaper to buy a longer board and have it cut into smaller pieces for transport. Be sure to plan ahead.

The most expensive part of creating this garden will be the topsoil, since I don’t have any extra in my landscape to use. The soil is an investment and will be a resource that I can use for many years to come to produce nutritious fruits and vegetables.   

raised bed vegetable garden

I used a free cubic feet calculator to figure out an estimate of how much soil I will have to purchase for my 8’ x 4’ x 12” garden. See the calculations below. 

cubic feet calculations

Soil is expensive and hard to transport and handle. I am prepared to do this step over the course of several days or have some people help me. Bagged topsoil usually isn’t the best quality and can add a lot of expense, but the source can be traced if any issue should arise, and also gives anyone with access to any vehicle type/transportation the ability to create a garden. Bulk topsoil and compost is usually sold by the ton or cubic yard, so the free calculators are helpful for figuring out amounts needed. Soil testing is recommended for raised bed gardens. 

            Soil Type         Price
Bagged Topsoil (43 bags of 0.75 cu foot)$110 
2/3 bagged topsoil, 1/3 bagged compost (45 bags)$145 
Bulk topsoil/compost$65   

The bottom line is that the raised bed could cost up to $225 depending on which option I use for soil. Using bagged soil/compost mixed ($145 + $80 lumber) is going to cost the most $225. If I use the bulk topsoil/compost option and use my own farm truck to haul it, it’s only $145. I’ve also budgeted an additional $40 for a 7ft deer fence and landscape fabric. For my family of 4, I am willing to count this raised bed garden as a worthwhile investment of time and money.

Have you used any interesting materials to create a raised bed garden? Do you have questions about a material that you can use to create a garden this season?  Ask your gardening questions here or share your story in the comments.

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland, edited by Christa Carignan, Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center, University of Maryland Extension. See more posts by Ashley and Christa.

14 thoughts on “Planning and budgeting for a new raised bed garden

  1. Paul Beares February 24, 2021 / 9:03 am

    I switched to Square Foot Gardening last year and had my best year ever raising veggies. I built my raised beds and filled them with a bulk order of “Mel’s mix” soil that I got from a vendor in Harford County who delivered at a reasonable price. This year I plan to buy some bagged Mel’s mix to top off soil levels. You can buy the 3 elements – compost, vermiculite and peat moss -separately and mix them, but I found that to be more expensive and a lot more work.

    • Ashley Bodkins February 24, 2021 / 12:50 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience! Much appreciated! So excited for Spring!

  2. Linda Myers February 24, 2021 / 10:47 am

    I replaced cedar that had finally rotted with cement block for my raised beds. Because I did not want to take up additional space in my limited sizes garden, I opted for a narrow block rather than the standard size. These are less stable and likely to push out or tip over, so I purchased 2 foot lengths of rebar that I pounded into the ground inside each block to hold them in place. They are not as attractive as wood and the edges are a bit rough on the knees sometimes but they never rot. One or two that have cracked are easily replaced. I have filled some of the spaces in the block with soil where I plant annuals to brighten and soften the edges of the beds and attract pollinators.

  3. Ashley Bodkins February 24, 2021 / 12:51 pm

    Great advice with using the cement blocks. Thank you for sharing your experiences and the pros and cons of using the blocks. Much appreciated!

  4. Teresa February 24, 2021 / 1:08 pm

    Would you tell us about your deer fence arrangement? Thanks

    • Linda Myers February 24, 2021 / 6:06 pm

      My deer fence originated as a fairly low budget solution, using plastic covered 8 ft metal poles and fairly crude heavy green plastic netting that I got at Home Depot. I used black plastic zip ties to fasten the posts to the split rail fence uprights, so pretty easy to put together. Eventually the posts started to rust and bend, and now I am replacing them with 1 inch conduit pipe, also from Home Depot. I am going to purchase some conventional black plastic deer netting online to replace the green. The conduit pipe is 10 feet, so my deer fence will be tall enough to discourage even the highest jumpers, I think. It’s not an elegant looking fence, but I hope the black netting will be less visible than the green was. Bottom line, it keeps the deer out.

      • Teresa February 24, 2021 / 8:20 pm

        Thanks for the description

  5. Scott Dee February 24, 2021 / 4:29 pm

    This is all such wonderful advice! And very neatly presented.
    Do you find that there’s a major different in soil warming and water retention depending on the outer lining material?

    • Linda Myers February 24, 2021 / 6:09 pm

      Thanks, Scott. I can’t say I’ve noticed a big difference between the wood and the block in terms of soil temperature. I think the black holds a bit more moisture, but really have never taken comparative measurements of either temperature or moisture. I am more a seat of the pants gardener, I guess

  6. Lori B Kurtyka March 9, 2021 / 6:10 pm

    Maybe things are much more expensive in Garrett Cty than in Frederick Cty, but I think your prices for soil are too high! In Frederick I can get cubic yard of composted manure for $20, delivered, and leaf compost for $30-35, delivered. You can also go to the landfill and fill up your car’s trunk (lined with a tarp) or truck bed with compost for maybe $5-10/yard (they go by weight rather than volume). I made my no-dig/no-till garden beds by laying cardboard (mostly Amazon boxes, overlapped generously) on top of the existing grass and putting 3-4 inches of leaf compost on top. I made two trips to the landfill for compost, paying $3-5 for each trunkload. So a 120 sq ft garden cost me about $6-10. I’m doing the same thing for an 8×4 raised tomato bed — 10 inches deep will take a yard of compost/soil, so that’s maybe $10.

  7. John April 9, 2021 / 9:26 am

    I’m in Anne Arundel County and having trouble finding 2x6x8 cedar for beds. Any recommendations?

  8. Burgess April 9, 2021 / 8:28 pm

    My father was kind enough to create a raised garden for me out of cement blocks. Has been working great except I found out that the dimensions of the beds are important. My bed is 6×6 (my preference, not my dad’s suggestion). I have to stand in the middle of the bed to reach plants on either end. So I have to forfeit a planting row just to be able to reach everything . And even then it’s precarious. I’ll be reconfiguring so I have at least one foot of standing space in the middle and plants within a 2 foot reach of my standing space.

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