How to Choose Your Garden Type

Debating whether to plant an in-ground, raised bed, or container garden? We’ve outlined the pros and cons to help you choose the best garden type for you.

A man waters a raised bed, with a container garden behind him.
A man waters a raised bed, with a container garden behind him.

You're excited to grow fresh produce—after all, what tastes better than sun-warmed tomatoes or sweet strawberries? But before you buy your first plant, take a minute to consider which type of garden will work best for you. Should you remove a patch of lawn to start an in-ground garden? If not, maybe a raised bed would be better for you, or a collection of containers to fill with veggies and herbs. When it comes to choosing your garden type, you have options. Here's some handy info to help you decide.

Planting an In-Ground Garden Bed

Just as the name suggests, an in-ground garden involves planting your fruits, vegetables, and herbs directly into the earth. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Indeed, it is. But while the simplicity makes good economic sense, there are a few things to consider before you (literally) dig in.

In-Ground Garden Bed Benefits

If your lawn has fertile soil, you'll simply need to till the plot of ground you've chosen and mix a nutrient-rich garden soil or compost into the top six inches. Here are few more reasons to grow an in-ground garden:

  • They give you a lot of space to grow. If this is your first year, you might want to keep it small, but in-ground gardens can be any shape or size.
  • Once you've tilled your plot, you can keep gardening in it year after year (just refresh the top layer of soil).
  • In-ground gardens hold moisture well, so you'll typically do less watering than you would with raised beds or containers.

In-Ground Garden Bed Considerations

As this will be a somewhat permanent feature of your yard, before you start ripping out your lawn, consider these factors:

  • You need an area that gets full sun and is free of shade from trees and shrubs.
  • If you don't own your own home, you'll need the okay to carve out an in-ground garden (and possibly agree to get it back to grass before you move).
  • You should do a soil test to check the pH level of the existing ground. Depending on the results, you may need to spend some time improving it before you begin planting.
  • Once squirrels, rabbits, deer, or other wildlife get hip to the location of your garden, you may need to add a small fence around it.
  • You'll spend a fair amount of time close to the earth, so be sure you can comfortably bend, kneel, or sit on the ground.

Bonnie Tip: Keep the width of the beds to 4 feet or less so you can easily reach the middle of your garden without stepping on the soil and compacting it.

Planting a Raised Bed Garden

A raised bed garden takes your garden above the ground. You grow plants in a wooden frame (brick, stone, metal, or concrete also work well), and fill it with fresh, store-bought soil. It's a great way to garden, but there are some considerations to note, too.

Raised Bed Garden Bed Benefits

Raised beds are great if you live in an area with poor soil. And, because you can elevate the frame to any height, they make gardening easy if you have limited mobility. Here are more benefits:

  • You can grow a lot of food in a small space, and when placed in a sunny location with trellises, you can grow almost anything you like.
  • The soil quality is under your control.
  • They extend the growing season, since raised bed soil warms up earlier in spring and stays warmer later in the fall than the soil in in-ground gardens.
  • The fresh soil helps minimize daily garden maintenance—you'll likely need do less weeding.

Raised Bed Garden Considerations

Raised bed frames can be as simple or fancy as you like, and either built by you or bought as a kit. Make sure you're handy with a few tools and consider these other necessities:

  • You need a level site in full sun, away from trees or other objects that provide too much shade.
  • When thinking about size, remember you'll want to fill it with high-quality soil for a strong start. Setting a budget will help determine how big you can go.
  • Make sure the bed is deep enough to support the plants you want to grow (tomatoes, for example, do best with at least 20 inches for proper root development).
  • If you build a wood frame, you may have to redo it after a few seasons.

Bonnie Tip: If you have voles or other burrowing critters in your garden, staple wire mesh—known as "hardware cloth"—to the bottom of your raised bed to protect your plants' roots.

Planting a Container Garden

Container gardens range from a collection of large pots filled with a mix of veggies, fruits, and herbs, to one pot with a single plant. It may be one of the simplest ways to grow food—in any size space you have—but the soil dries out a little more quickly than raised beds or in-ground gardens. Read on to see if container gardening is for you.

Container Garden Benefits

  • Place your container in a sunny spot, fill it with lightweight potting soil, add plants, water well—and you'll be growing within minutes. Here are a few more reasons to love containers:
  • You can place them almost anywhere, so they're perfect if you have limited sun or a lot of growing space.
  • They can provide convenient, easy access to homegrown herbs and veggies.

    Containers are really low maintenance.

    Your garden can double as decor.

Container Garden Considerations

Even the biggest concerns with container gardening are pretty easy. Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • The containers need to be large enough to support the plants you grow. Dwarf, compact varieties make great options if you don't have room for big containers.
  • You'll need to check on your containers frequently. They may need daily watering, especially in summer, and more plant food to replenish nutrients that leach from the soil during watering.
  • If your favorite container doesn't come with drainage holes, you'll need to add them. You can use a drill for materials like plastic or metal, but not ceramic, so inspect the bottom before you buy a piece of pottery.

Bonnie Tip: Make sure you select a spot for your garden near a water source. No matter what type of garden you choose, you'll want easy access so you can keep your plants hydrated.Whew—there are so many great ways to grow delicious, fresh food. If you still can't decide, we've got good news: You can start with one type of garden, like herbs in containers, and go for another style as you gain more confidence. Who knows? In the next few years, you might be growing garden-to-table treats all over your yard—in the ground, in raised beds, and in a collection of containers!