First raised vegetable bed- Need a liner?

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Hi, we've grown a veggie garden for many years but this year we're trying raised beds. We bought 50 cider blocks to use one level high to start. We'll have 5 separate beds, each approx. 4x3' in size. We'll adjust next year if necessary.
The raised beds will be on top of the ground that our family successfully gardened for over 70 yrs. However, after a few neglectful years it's now covered with weeds & grass. It's been exhausting the last 3 seasons --a constant battle fighting those intrusive weeds. So this year, instead of digging & tilling it again, we're trying beds.
MY QUESTION: Should we put a weed barrier underneath the blocks? The soil under the grass/weeds was always great for gardening --very rich-- but the weeds now have deep runners. I thought maybe heavy mulching around the bed veggies would discourage the weeds from growing upward to the surface, but...?
And if we do put down a barrier, won't the tomatoes and other longer rooted plants fight for soil space within the bed? I thought they'd probably need the ground soil (below the bed) to grow better & stronger...?
Any comments or suggestions will be appreciated-- Thank you!!
  17 answers
  • Donna Byram Donna Byram on Apr 12, 2014
    A raised bed gardener told us to put down layers of newspaper 3 -5 layers thick, under your new soil. Be sure and stagger the layers so the edges of the paper will be covered. I would unfold a sheet, then put the next sheet almost to the center of the sheet below. Then lay the opposite direction the next layer. Wet the paper to help with laying. This will stop the weeds and grass from growing through. By the time the paper rots, the weeds will be gone. We did this at our previous home and it worked really well. If you fill the beds full of soil, then water it down to settle and then put more soil in, it will be plenty deep. We planted squash, tomatoes, okra and other veggies in ours and they did fine.

    • See 1 previous
    • Donna Byram Donna Byram on Apr 13, 2014
      @Polly Zieper I honestly don't know if it's better than landscaping paper or not. It's just something I have done with raised beds for flowers and vegetables that had good results. We only had to lay it down once in the 3-4 years that we had our raised gardens.

  • Shannon Shannon on Apr 12, 2014
    You can also use cardboard boxes.

  • Christine Christine on Apr 12, 2014
    Earth worms LOVE cardboard and newspaper! I used both of them in my raised flower beds that had never had anything other than weed/grass growing in them. I still add shredded newspaper to the soil. The worms are happy and my flower beds show it :)

  • Caroline Pfeiffer Caroline Pfeiffer on Apr 12, 2014
    We have 3 raised beds and there is no liner in it. Everything grows well..

    • Polly Zieper Polly Zieper on Apr 15, 2014
      @Caroline Pfeiffer You don't get lots of weeds? did you make, or buy the beds?

  • Mindy Mindy on Apr 13, 2014
    I have two raised beds that I put where it was just grass. I dug up all the grass, rototilled it, sprayed some weed killer on it and have never had a problem with weeds in it.

  • Margie Margie on Apr 13, 2014
    I have used both cardboard and also newspapers (4-5 layers thick), they both work equally well to smother the weeds and keep them from coming up in my raised beds. In between the beds (in your paths) you can also use cardboard or newspapers and mulch on top to it to keep the weeds from growing there also. If the pathway area is really weedy you might want to solarize it. That would mean using heavy clear plastic weighted or pinned down over the entire pathway area ... but don't cover the clear plastic with anything. You would need to leave it like this for the whole growing season but Solarizing that area would also kill any weed seed in that soil... just make sure it's heavy CLEAR plastic. Happy gardening!

  • Polly Zieper Polly Zieper on Apr 13, 2014
    How much soil did it take to fill your raised bed? How many cinderblocks high did you go? was it a very costly amount of soil?Our soil is terrible here- too much sand, and no nutrients, so we have to buy all of it.

  • Corinna Dallaire Corinna Dallaire on Apr 13, 2014
    Newspaper and lots of it.....Recycle the newspaper and no need for chemical weed killers! This is a win/win and cost effective. Good luck with the gardening. Once you get bit....it will become a (healthy) addiction!

  • Katie Katie on Apr 13, 2014
    All of the above ideas will work great…as will landscape fabric if you prefer that route. The benefit to newspaper and cardboard is the earth worms will love you! You may want to consider making one less bed doubling the height of one bed so you can grow carrots, etc. I have raid bade and I love them! If you mulch between the beds it will help to keep the feds down. I use lots of straw to mulch mine. It is quite pretty and decomposes to enrich the soils. I have very sandy soil so compost and much are a must. Happy gardening!

  • Julie Julie on Apr 13, 2014
    Thank you SO much for all of the great ideas!! I've used newspaper (only b/w) around vegetables before as a weed control (especially tomatoes), which worked very well, so UNDER the raised beds makes sense too. Good idea Katie about doubling one bed but actually I'm planting carrots in a huge pot instead. If I do plant any in the beds, I'll plant those short stubby ones --Nantes, maybe? Not sure about the name. I'm also trying something new by incorporating herbs around the veggies, kind of "mixing" the plants up (companion planting). Exciting-- a totally different way of gardening for me! I've only planted rows of one veggie in the past. For instance, I read that basil goes well with tomatoes! Lots of info online about companion planting. Margie, thank you for the solarizing idea, that's great!! Polly, to answer your question...we're starting only one block high, at 8". Using 10 blocks total to make a rectangle. Might build on them next year. We figured the numbers and found that we needed 4 cubic feet of soil per bed (of 10 blocks). At Walmart, the cheapest they had was a Miracle Grow vegetable brand, each bag having 2 cubic ft's worth of soil at $7 per bag. So we needed 2 bags per bed, make sense? Bigger expense than I wanted (for DIRT, ha!) but from now on we'll add materials & compost to the beds & won't pay that again. We wanted a clean start. I bet you could find soil much cheaper & besides I'm pretty sure Miracle Grow has chemicals in it (?)... and you might want to go organic instead. It's fairly easy to built a good organic soil bed... I got lazy this time, I must admit ;) Ha. Does anyone have "different" ideas for planting sweet potatoes? I've grown them in our garden, direct in the soil (not raised bed) and their foliage was beautiful but the weeds were bad. I've heard of people planting them in a barrel then kicking it over to harvest, so no digging. Great idea but I'll be getting 12 plants from the nursery so 6-12 barrels isn't an option. Any ideas besides another raised bed? Either way I guess it means more "dirt buying" :) Thanks again! So FUN talking gardens!

  • Polly Zieper Polly Zieper on Apr 14, 2014
    I got some small bags of soil at Dolllar Tree, just for pots, but even at $1/bag, would probably cost too much for a whole raised bed. Asfor tomatoes, when we first moved here someone gave us a cherry tomato plant in a hanging pot that had a hole on the middle of the bottom, and the vines of tomatoes grew down through the hole, so we could stand under the pot and pull off cherry tomatoes- it was great! That was over 10 yrs ago, and I have not seen hanging tomato plants since then,I don't know if it was a short term experiment or what, but it might be worth asking a nursery. I never saw this in CT when I lived there, so it might be a FL thing?

  • Margie Margie on Apr 14, 2014
    Julie, have you tried going to a nursery and buying the bulk soil mix from them. Most good nurseries sell their own mix by the cubic yard and it's much cheaper (and I think better for your raised beds) than the bagged potting soil you can buy at the big box stores. Just bring a pickup truck to haul it in. @Polly Zieper, you can get the upside down planters called "Topsy Turvy" planters at most garden centers ...or make your own using a 5 gallon bucket with lots of drain holes and a larger planting hole in the middle of the bottom ...there are ideas on how to do this on-line or on Pinterest.

  • Peggy Rickard Peggy Rickard on Apr 14, 2014
    We have several wholesale garden supplies Here ( soil, mulch in different colors and gravel etc.) Soil is $15.00 per bucket and it is quite a lot. We usually get 3 to 5 buckets in our truck.

    • Irene Irene on May 06, 2014
      @Peggy Rickard How big are the buckets? If they are big I wonder what do they look like and where would I get some. Are they plastic or metal? I'm thinking the buckets must be pretty big to hold $15.00 worth of soil.

  • Julie Julie on Apr 18, 2014
    Thank you Margie & Peggy for the wholesale ideas, I wish I'd read your responses sooner, oops :) My bad. Still very helpful though because we want to put down gravel or some other ground cover for the raised bed's pathways. I'll look into lowering the costs that way! As it turned out, we made 2 beds with 14 blocks each (single high) and one in between with 12 blocks. Bigger than first planned. Now we have 10 blocks left, will probably buy 10 more to make 2 more beds. First lined the 3 beds with several sheets high of newspaper and filled them with bagged soil. The bigger ones took 4 bags (2 cubic ft each) and the smaller one took 3 bags. Saw lots of earthworms under the newspaper already so YEA!! :) The beds are in a line, 3-1/2 ft paths between them, running north to south. They get the most sun that way. Today I planted our 6 tomatoes, all different. First bed has 2, the middle smallest bed has 1 (the cherry tom) and the last bed has 3 tomatoes. Now I go back to my graph paper plans and figure out the other veggie locations. I know on the 1st bed I'll plant cucumber & peas together on one end so they can grow together on the same trellis. The back chain link fence is only 4' away so I think we'll put chicken wire from that bed end to the fence. They're companion plants so that should work well, in theory anyway, ha! Thank you all again for the newspaper idea and the encouragement -- I truly appreciate it! We also put cardboard under each block to stop weeds from growing through the holes. Happy growing!! :))

  • Irene Irene on May 06, 2014
    I'm thinking that two pvc pipes and a third pipe the width I want and using elbows to make a u shape then putting the end pipes in holes deep enough to hold the pipes firmly would make a good trellis. I'm thinking that I could drill holes in the pipes and string some twine through the holes back and forth from the bottom to top might be good for plants to grow on. What do you think? I hope this makes sense it's just from the top of my head trying to describe my thoughts. Thank you for all the ideas for making raised beds and using news paper to stop the weeds. Since worms like the newspapers maybe it would be good to tear them in strips and lay them on top of the soil to attract the worms up to the top of the soil?

  • Peggy Rickard Peggy Rickard on May 06, 2014
    The buckets are actually a front end loader. I think it holds about a yard. I don't know how much in cu ft this is but I do know it is cheaper than getting it in the bags.

  • Peggy Rickard Peggy Rickard on May 06, 2014
    IRENE The buckets are actually a front end loader. I think it holds a yard and I don't know how many cu feet this is.