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How to Fill A Raised Garden Bed Cheaply

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Raised garden beds, especially those that are taller than a foot, are a lovely addition to any garden or yard. But the cost to fill raised beds with soil can be expensive, especially if you want good quality soil. So, how can a gardener fill a raised bed cheaply but still not compromise on quality?

Our raised bed garden

Most of our raised beds started off on the shallow side about 8-10 inches deep. Filling beds this low to the ground didn’t really break the bank, but in 2019, we installed a large u-shaped bed that was about 36 inches high, and filling this was a different experience altogether.

Soil Matters in Raised Beds

In our first raised bed, we had a local trucking company haul in a load of topsoil. In hindsight, this was a huge mistake. The soil that was delivered to us was nutrient poor, dried out, and not good for much of anything.

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This was a good lesson to me early on about the quality of soil really does matter, especially in raised beds where you have much more control over what goes in it. So when it came time to fill the monster raised bed my husband had built for me, I knew I needed to consider carefully the materials.

For more information on the importance of garden soil and even how to improve garden soil, check out my other articles:

Cost-Saving Ideas for Filling Raised Beds

If you’ve seen the price for a bag of garden soil at your local hardware store, then you know how expensive it would be to fill a bed with these. Most bags are $5-$10 per cubic foot, and that’s not going to get you very far with a raised bed of any size.

So here are some good options for filling raised beds cheaply but without compromising on quality.

  1. DIY Soil Mix– Make your own raised bed soil mix at home for a fraction of the cost of what you’d buy bagged in the store. My DIY Potting Soil Mix is a combination of coconut coir (or peat moss if you can’t find the coir), vermiculite, and compost. This DIY soil take just minutes to mix up, and I’ve even dumped all of the components into a raised bed and mixed it right there.
potting soil recipe
Mixing soil in a raised bed

2. Bulk Soil– For a fraction of the cost of bagged soil, and without having to mix your own, many mulch and lawn centers carry bulk soil for raised beds and gardens. Our local mulch center has several options to choose from, including a higher quality mix that is from a local company.

Even the more expensive bulk option is around $80 for cubic yard. This is still a significant savings from the cheaper bagged soil that’s $5 a cubic foot. (There are 27 cubic feet in one cubic yard.) We just pull up with a truck and they scoop and dump it in the back. Most mulch centers may also offer delivery for a fee.

3. Limb Trimmings– A great option for filling the bottom of raised beds that are taller is to use healthy limb trimmings. These can include branches, limbs, or even cut wood placed in the bottom of the raised bed. Begin with larger pieces first, then fill in with smaller branches and clippings.

4. Hugelkultur Raised Bed- To fill our mammoth bed, we actually used a hugelkulture method. Typically this is done on the ground, and the elements are piled up into a mound that’s topped with soil. Seeds are planted in the soil and the mound slowly breaks down over time, feeding the soil. To fill a raised bed with this method, use the following order:

  • Wood branches, trunk pieces, limbs etc. (our neighbor had a tree taken down about the same time our bed was finished, and since the tree had been healthy, we used it.)
  • Smaller sticks and limbs to fill in
  • Sod, turned upside down, so the soil was facing up. This created a surface for the rest of the elements to sit on.
  • Straw (be sure to get from a reputable source, so it isn’t full of weed seeds or diseased.)
  • Soil (finally!) a good 8 inches to top off the bed
Our hugelkultur filled raised bed

5. Miscellaneous Items– While it’s not my recommendation, per se, we have had friends put random items into the bottom of their raised beds to simply take up space. This has included upside down 5 gallon buckets, old planters turned upside down, etc. These certainly do take up space, which means less money to fill, but be cautious.

If you’re going to use random containers, I would only use these temporarily, especially if they’re plastic. Also, be aware of what that container originally contained, so you’re not putting residue from potentially harmful chemicals in your raised bed.

So don’t be afraid to think outside of the bagged soil when it comes to filling your raised bed for less money. There are some great options out there that not only save money, but can give you better quality soil in the long run (think about those limbs breaking down at the bottom of beds), and provide a bit of aeration to the soil.

Do you have a tip for filling a raised bed cheaply? Leave a comment below and share with others. Have a great week!

I'd love to hear from you

Sheila

Friday 29th of April 2022

Packing peanuts work great for fill

Courtney

Sunday 1st of May 2022

That's a great idea!

Patrick

Tuesday 19th of April 2022

I used natural hardwood mulch for the bottom 10 inches or so of the bed. The top 8 inches were the bags of soil. I'm not sure if it matters, but I didn't use the mulch that had dye in it (brown, black, or red). The mulch is a fraction of the cost of bagged topsoil. The plan is to keep amending the soil each growing season.

Courtney

Wednesday 20th of April 2022

That's a great idea!

Kari price

Thursday 31st of March 2022

Cut wood! Like wood you stack from cutting a tree! Breaks down over time and enriches the soil greatly!

BECKY

Friday 22nd of April 2022

@Kari price, That is what my husband just did! We had some pines that he cut down and stacked up several years ago. They have broken down and he used them in a new raised bed he just built.

BECKY

Friday 22nd of April 2022

@Kari price,

Courtney

Thursday 31st of March 2022

Absolutely!

Marcus lewis

Thursday 31st of March 2022

Every now and then i collect deaf leaves maybe a wheelie bin full and add them to our beds and then turn the whole lot over into the soil already there,leave for a short while before planting

Courtney

Thursday 31st of March 2022

That's a great idea, Marcus! I do that in the winter also by putting leaves on top of beds for the season, then turning it under in the spring. Thank you for stopping by!

Greg Brown

Thursday 31st of March 2022

What is wrong with using plastic? It doesn't leach into the soil, it will not breakdown so it is a permanent solution to take up a lot of space.

Ryan

Saturday 2nd of April 2022

@Greg Brown,

Courtney

Thursday 31st of March 2022

Hey Greg! I'm not 100% sure it doesn't break down over time, so I prefer to use organic matter over plastic, but that's clearly a personal preference. I have had friends use plastic planters upside down in theirs, but it's not my first choice. Thanks for stopping by!

I'd love to hear from you

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