Alice, Garden Design, Gardening, Gardens, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting

Fed up of bending over while you weed, or struggling to grow in poor-quality, claylike soil? A simple raised bed can offer an array of benefits to your garden, and thankfully, they’re not difficult or costly to build. Read on and discover how to build a simple raised bed, and you’ll be reaping the benefits in no time. 

how to build a raised bed

What is a Raised Bed?

A raised bed is a flowerbed or planting space that has been raised above ground level. It functions similarly to a large planter, however, it has no bottom or top; it simply consists of additional soil held in place by wooden plants, concrete blocks, or similar.

Which Plants Can You Grow in Raised Beds?

You can grow almost any type of plant in a raised bed, however, they are particularly useful for vegetables; soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries; small trees and shrubs; herbaceous perennial cuttings; and ericaceous or lime-hating plants such as heather or rhododendrons. 

Benefits of Raised Beds

  • Reduces the need to bend; great if you have limited mobility
  • Great solution for gardens with limited space
  • Best solution for poor-quality or claylike soil
  • Improves soil drainage which increases soil temperature
  • Longer growing season
  • Option of matching soil to the plant type
  • Deeper soil enhances root health
  • Fewer weeds
  • Keeps plants out of the reach of pets and small children

How to Build a Raised Bed

how to build a raised bed

You will need:

  • Edging material. You can purchase a ready-made raised bed from our range, which will save you time and hassle. If you would rather make your own, material you can use for the edges includes wooden planks, concrete blocks, wattle, or logs
  • Soil, plus organic matter such as compost or manure
  • A garden spade
  • Wooden stakes, nails or screws, and a hammer, if you are using wooden planks or similar for the edging
  • Newspaper or cardboard, if you are setting your raised bed on grass
  • String (optional)
  • Bark chippings, paving, or grass, if you wish to create a path around or between beds
  • A tamper tool, if you are using concrete edging (optional)

Step 1: Mark your edges

The first thing to do is to plan where you are going to place your raised bed (or beds). Raised beds are usually rectangular or square, however feel free to experiment with different shapes as you see fit. Choose a sunny area and mark the edges of where each bed will be using string. Alternatively, if you are using wooden planks, you can use the boards to mark out the edges of the bed. 

Keep your beds below 1.5m (5ft) wide; it is not advisable to stand on the beds so keep the width to something you can reach across. It is also best to keep them less than 4.5m (15ft) long. If you are creating multiple beds, allow at least 60-90cm (2-3ft) for wheelbarrow access. In regards to height, allow at least 25-35cm (10-14in) to accommodate strong roots, although they can be up to waist height to allow maintenance without bending over.

Step 2: Build the sides

Next, you need to fix the sides of your raised bed into place. If you are using a ready-made raised bed, this is pretty straightforward as all you need to do is follow the instructions for easy installation. If you are making one yourself using wood, insert stakes 30-45cm (12-18in) into the ground at the corners, then at least every 1.5m (5ft). Nail the planks to the stakes using nails or screws and a hammer; set the lowest board 5cm (2in) below ground level. 

If you are using concrete blocks, make sure to level the ground beforehand by removing the grass if it is uneven and using a tamper tool if desired. Make sure to place cardboard over any remaining grass under the blocks to prevent it growing into the beds.

Step 3: Prepare the ground

The next stage is to prepare the ground ready to create a raised bed. If you are building your bed over grass, line the bottom with sheets of cardboard or newspaper and wet it thoroughly. Ensure any staples are removed from the cardboard. If you are building the bed directly onto soil, dig the ground deeply, adding as much manure or compost as you can. If your soil is poorly draining, add a layer of course gravel, hardcore, or stones. If your bed is deeper than 50cm (20in) remove the top layer of soil and replace with subsoil, rubble or old inverted turves. 

Step 4: Fill in the soil

The final step to creating your raised bed is to fill your newly-created space with soil. Fill with a mixture of topsoil, compost, and organic matter such as manure, to create a nutrient-rich environment for your plants to grow in. You can adapt the soil to the types of plants you wish to grow, for example filling the beds with acid soil to grow ericaceous (lime-hating) plants. 

Once filled, allow the soil to settle for two weeks before planting. Soil in raised beds can dry out more quickly, so make sure to water frequently. 

Step 5 (optional): Build a garden path

A garden path can improve access and create a tidy look, particularly if you have more than one raised bed in succession. If you desire, you can use bark chippings, paving, or grass to create a path around or in between your raised beds. You can keep the edges tidy using flexible edging if necessary. 

 

Raised beds take a bit of setting up, however they can be done so inexpensively and without a huge amount of time and hassle. Before you know it, your plants will have a great home with improved drainage and quality soil, and you’ll have less bending down to do to reach them!

Looking to use your raised bed to grow vegetables? make sure to check out our guide to how to grow crops.

What are you growing in your raised bed? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!

Animals, Charlotte O, Container Gardening, Gardening, How To, Planters, Plants

If you don’t have your own small animal audience, store-bought is fine.

Exciting news folks! Primrose has recently got in a whole new selection of terrarium making tools, the first on the site made specifically for closed-system terrariums! Well since they’re so new, and terrariums are finally making the come back they deserve, I went and wrote up the journey through creating my own closed-system terrarium.

You will need

All of this and a good dash of patience.

The sets we have online also include a very handy shovel and rake set that extends to reach the bottom of your jar, these are indispensable if you have a very deep terrarium! (Although you could always wrap some wire around a fork and a spoon, no judgement here.)

If possible, it’s recommended to find a piece of plastic mesh to help keep the stone and soil layer separate, but don’t worry if you can’t get hold of any, I didn’t use it in my terrarium.

Also handy:

  • A lot of newspaper to work on (it gets messy!)
  • A funnel (I made one out of a cereal packet)
  • Scissors (for pruning if needed)
  • Small hand trowel (for removing soil from roots)

And last but not least, the plants and accessories you want in the terrarium.

These are the two species I used, Tradescantia Purple Passion at the front and a Chlorophytum Comosum behind.

The process

The idea of a closed terrarium is to create an ecosystem that will sustain itself. Both the plants and soil release moisture that becomes water vapour, and condenses against the walls of the terrarium during the warm daylight, falling back to the soil in the cooler evenings. This creation of an enclosed watering system is what will keep your terrarium growing, but just throwing dirt and plants at it isn’t going to work, an irrigation system is needed to stop the soil from rotting under too much water.

At this point you’ll want to grab the funnel, or if you’re on a budget, make one out of cardboard or paper to make for easier application of the materials.

First pour in a layer of small stones, pebbles, or gravel. There’s no hard and fast measurement as it depends on what size receptacle you’re using, a good rule to stick to is one-quarter stones to three-quarters soil. Remember this layer has to be deep enough to stop any pooling water from sitting in the soil.

I’d highly recommend checking out this video on youtube for a visual representation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lg4tzkHgVo

Check your terrarium from all angles, sometimes it’s hard to judge the level of coverage with curved glass.

Next is activated charcoal. This is an integral ingredient in the tasty soup that is your closed terrarium. It absorbs chemicals in the soil, water, and air that could otherwise build up over time and damage the plants. Charcoal also cleans up unpleasant odours that are released from the decomposing soil and helps stop mildew forming.

You don’t need a whole layer of the stuff, but make sure there’s a good handful being placed in, it’s going to do a lot of work after all!

If you’ve been able to source some plastic mesh, now is the time to cut it to shape, fold it up and pop it in. You’ll need some long tools to push and pull it into place, and then you can add the substrate. (Note that the charcoal seems fine both above and below the mesh layer.) Again, if you don’t have a mesh layer don’t worry! You can still power on!

Okay, let’s layer up some soil! You’ll need a decent amount, remember we’re working to approx one-quarter stones to three-quarters substrate. Don’t worry if your measurements aren’t perfect, it’s all a learning process!

Make some small divots for the plants to sit in, and let’s move on to prepping some plants!

Easy as 1, 2, 3!

Plant choices

A closed terrarium is a specific type of environment. There’s a lot of damp warmth in there, and if left in direct sunlight, the refraction of the glass will cook everything inside. So we need moisture-loving, low light-thriving, quite small plants. Which admittedly cuts down our options somewhat, but here are some plants that I’ve discovered-

Small ferns will help fill out any space, and they’re relatively easy to come by. Try and find a miniature variety if you can, as some ferns can grow pretty big.

Some that come recommended:

Peperomia, Maidenhair fern, Pteris, and Adiantum. I chose a variegated fern to place in mine, the pot I purchased had three separate plants in it so I picked out the smallest to place in my also quite small terrarium.

Soleirolia variants are perfect as well, and have a variety of amusing names such as, mind-your-own-business, baby’s tears, angel’s tears, friendship plant and Irish moss. (It is in fact, not a moss, but a plant from the nettle family.)

Tradescantia- also known as Spiderwort, is another plant that does well in humid climates. There are a lot of variants though, and I’d recommend staying away from any that are flowering as they will wilt and die quickly in the terrarium. I chose a Tradescantia Purple Passion to place in mine.

Other tropical foliage such as Dizygotheca and Neoregelia ‘fireball’ enjoy a humid environment, making them other possibilities for your display.

To finish it off I would recommend some moss. I took a trowel and dug some out of my garden. Moss is a great way to fill out your terrarium, it helps to cover bare soil and brings more diversity into the jar.

Trixie spent the whole time trying to eat my plants and the moss. Thanks Trix.

Preparing plants

This section entirely depends on what container you’re using for your terrarium, but for brevity’s sake I’m going to assume you’re using the same line of terrariums that I am, and in that case you’ve got some trimming to do. The opening of the bottle is a lot smaller than you first think, so you’ll need to carefully extract the plants from their pots, and gently scrape or shake off most of the soil around the roots so you can fit it through the top. This is where having another container or a lot of newspaper down comes in handy to catch all the soil!

Move the plant around after it’s fallen inside, and make sure you push soil back around the roots when you’ve confirmed the placement.

Now is a good time to consider the layout of your terrarium. Instagram and Pinterest are great sources of inspiration, just make sure whatever you use is small enough to fit!

In my terrarium I used some old chunky sticks to create a divide in the middle, putting the fern one side and the tradescantia on the other, with moss liberally applied all around. To finish it off, I added some more height with a mossy stick reaching up through the bottle, remember to consider your layers to make for a more visually interesting display!

Here’s my finished terrarium! I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and it didn’t take more than about half an hour to put together!

Finishing off

Before adding the cork, make sure you give your terrarium a good spritz with a spray bottle, or pour a little water down the side. You don’t need to add the cork straight away – allow the bottle to stand for a day to let the plants settle, and for the first week or so, take the cork off for a few hours every day. This allows you to adjust the water, and allows the plants to breathe and accumulate to their new closed-system environment a little easier.

Keep your terrarium out of direct sunlight, and rotate it every day or so to allow all sides to soak up some heat.

And here’s my beauty after 2 weeks! The tiny wild clover in the moss are loving it!

Troubleshooting and the future

There’s always the fear that your terrarium won’t last the weekend. Fear not! If you’ve used the right plants and followed the guide you should be safe. One thing to bear in mind is the water cycle, moisture should build up over the day, then drip back down to the soil overnight. If there is too much condensation then plants might start to rot, so remove the cork and allow it to dry out a little. If there’s no moisture on the sides by late afternoon, it may need a spritz of water to keep the cycle going.

If it does unfortunately go wrong, there’s no shame in calling it a day, dumping it all out and starting again. We all have to start somewhere, and I’m sure your next terrarium will look amazing!

If you do make up one of our terrariums, be sure to snap a photo and send it in!

Bonus points for getting your pets involved!

 

Charlotte at PrimroseCharlotte is a Copy Writer at Primrose, writing product descriptions and about anything else that comes her way. She owns 2 rabbits and 5 chickens that she loves very much. (Her garden is most certainly not tidy).

When not at her desk you can find her attempting to find her way back to Japan again, or drawing.

See all of Charlotte’s posts.

Allotment, Flowers, Gardening, Gardens, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting, Plants

Clematis are immensely popular climbing plants, flowering from late winter to late summer, depending on the variety. Grow them on walls, pergolas, in containers, scrambling through trees and shrubs or left sprawling along the soil as unusual ground cover.

Planting guide

If planting next to a wall or fence, dig the hole at least 60cm (2 feet) away and train the plant along the cane. Clematis perform best when their roots are shaded – either plant in front of them or cover the area with a mulch of stones or pebbles. They need moisture-retentive, but well-drained soil, in full sun or partial shade.

Dig a hole twice as wide as the plant’s pot and half as deep again. Add well rotted organic matter to the bottom of the hole and a handful of general granular fertiliser.

After soaking the plant in its pot, remove it together with its cane. Tease out some of the roots and place in the hole.

Plant large-flowered cultivars that bloom in May/June with their root balls 5-8cm (2-3in) below the soil surface. Herbaceous and evergreen species can be planted with the crown at soil level. Fill the hole with a mixture of soil and compost and water in well.

If planting in containers, choose a smaller-growing cultivar, using a pot at least 45cm (18in) deep and wide with a soil-based potting compost such as John Innes No 2.

Care

In late winter or early spring, apply a potassium-rich fertiliser (such as rose fertiliser) and mulch afterwards with well-rotted manure, leafmould or compost. Water regularly during dry weather in the first few seasons.

For container plants, top dress each spring by replacing the top 2.5cm (1 inch) of soil with fresh potting compost. Protect roots in winter from frost by wrapping the pot in bubble wrap.

Water thoroughly and feed monthly during the growing season.

 

Pruning

Clematis is notorious for being difficult to prune but that’s not the case, as long as you know which pruning group it belongs to (based on when it flowers).

When first planted, cut all clematis back to 15-30cm (6”-1ft) from soil level in February or March, cutting just above a bud. This will encourage branching and more flowers.

Pruning groups:

Group 1 – flowering in spring on shoots produced the previous season, such as C. montana, C. cirrhosa, C. alpina. Prune just after flowering in mid- to late spring if needed – no regular pruning is essential.

Group 2 – large-flowered hybrids, blooming May/June. Prune in February/March and after the first flush of flowers in early summer. The aim is to keep a framework of old wood and promote new shoots.

Group 3 – plants that flower on that season’s growth and herbaceous clematis. Cut back hard in February/March 15-30cm (6in-1ft) from soil level to healthy buds. If left unpruned, they will continue growing from where they left off the previous season, flowering well above eye level and with a bare base.

Small-flowered clematis with attractive seedheads can just be trimmed back to the main framework of branches.

Flowers, Gardening, Gardens, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting, Plants, Watering

Rhododendrons and azaleas usually bear their spectacular, large, often scented flowers in spring – but do you know the difference between the two?

Well, both are in the genus Rhododendron –  but azaleas can be distinguished by having five stamens per flower (one per lobe), whereas rhododendrons have 10 or more (two per lobe). Azaleas can be deciduous or evergreen but rhododendrons are all evergreen. Finally there is a difference in size. Azaleas are small to medium shrubs – rhododendrons range from prostrate shrubs to huge trees.

Within this guide you will find information about some of the different varieties of rhododendron and azaleas, as well as information about how to successfully plant and maintain your own.

Main Species

There are more than 28,000 rhododendron or azalea hybrids, as the plants readily cross breed. However, here are the most popular varieties for gardeners:

  • Hybrids or hardy hybrids: What gardeners would consider a ‘traditional’ rhododendron with large flower trusses, some scented, blooming anywhere between January until July – often growing very large.
  • Dwarf rhododendrons: Mainly alpine varieties, ranging from 20cm-80cm, flowering in April.
  • Yakushimanum: Mound-shaped plants reaching 80-100cm, often with unusual leaves. Many brilliant flower colours available.
  • Williamsianum: Unusual rounded leaves, 80-100cm.
  • Deciduous azaleas: Sun lovers, growing up to 150cm, often scented, (especially R. luteum) with rich autumn foliage. They can be divided into Species (Sciadorhodion, Pentanthera, Rhodora, Sinensi or Brachycalyx); Ghent (the oldest hybrid group with multiple small flowers); Knaphill (large flowered hybrids, some of which are scented); Mollis (earlier flowering, more compact and spreading); Rustica (small double flowers, some scented). Other deciduous azaleas include Pratt hybrids, viscosum, occidentale and the Northern Lights series.
  • Evergreen azaleas: Small, slow-growers, suitable for pots, up to 75cm, some are prostrate in habit, with autumn colour. Flowering season is usually May.

Planting

Choose a sheltered site with dappled shade, however, dwarf alpine species will tolerate full sun. Avoid sites exposed to early morning sun in spring, as this may damage frosted flowers.

The most important factor deciding whether rhododendrons or azaleas will grow well in your garden is the pH of your soil. They must have moist but well-drained, acid soil between pH 5.0 and 6.0 that is rich in organic matter. Reducing soil pH is not easy.

October or March/April are the best times for planting – dig in acidic organic matter before you begin (leafmould, rotting pine needles or composted bracken will work well). Don’t just concentrate on the planting hole – mix well around the surrounding soil. Don’t plant deeply, as rhododendrons are surface rooters. Apply a loose 8cm mulch of acidic organic material and water well to finish.

Care

To keep your plants performing at their best, in spring, apply slow-release ericaceous fertiliser and renew the acidic mulch and keep well watered.

Rhododendrons grow best in areas of high rainfall, which is naturally slightly acidic. Using tap water, especially in hard water districts, is not good for the plant as it contains too much calcium which reduces the acidity around the plant’s roots. However, if rain water runs out, tap water is OK to use for a month or so in summer.

Rhododendrons don’t require pruning apart from removing dead wood and deadheading if practical. If the plant outgrows its space, cutting back is tolerated best from deciduous azaleas and rough-barked rhododendrons. After cutting back, mulch, feed and keep well watered.

Growing in Containers

If you have alkaline soil, grow rhododendrons and azaleas as container plants. Use ericaceous loam-based compost and repot every other year into fresh compost in spring. When not fully repotting, top dress the top 5cm of growing medium with fresh compost.

Common Problems

Most problems with rhododendrons and azaleas stem from the soil being too alkaline, drought or other extreme weather conditions. Here are signs to look out for:

  • Non-flowering and bud drop: Flower buds actually start forming in late summer – dry conditions at this time can lead to a total bud formation failure or a partial formation, causing buds to dry up and dropping unopened in spring. Mulch and water thoroughly and regularly during dry periods in summer.
  • Leaf drop: Older leaves droop and roll, then drop off, following extreme moisture conditions – drought or waterlogging. Newer leaves show browning at the leaf tip or edge. However, it is normal for the shrub to shed some older leaves in spring and summer.
  • Leaf droop: Usually a response to severe cold, but they usually recover.
  • Leaf scorch/flower damage: Often caused by windy, cold or wet weather.
  • Yellowing foliage: Caused by nutrient deficiency known as chlorosis, an iron deficiency caused by high alkalinity in the soil.
  • Pests: Vine weevil can be a nuisance for container-grown plants, as can rhododendron leafhopper and scale insects.
  • Diseases: Relatively uncommon are bud blast, azalea gall and honey fungus.