Plant Layout and Spacing in Raised Beds

It's useful to create a detailed 'planting plan' to maximize yields.

raised vegetable beds with grid

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It's always a great idea to take some time in planning and preparing for a garden. One key piece of advice that I would give to any new gardeners is that it's helpful to have a planting plan (at least in your head, if not on paper) before you begin. Working out plant layout and spacing in raised beds makes a big difference when it comes to the yields you can achieve. 

Plant Layout Considerations

The positioning of the raised bed itself will be of primary importance. First, you should make sure you have positioned the bed in the right location in your garden, with reference to the environmental conditions—sunlight and shade, wind and water—and with a view to the bigger picture in combination with other elements in your garden.

Layout considerations do not end with the position of the bed. You also need to think about the positioning and layout of individual plants within the raised bed. When thinking about how to lay out the plants in a raised bed, you need to think about which plants you will grow, and how best to combine plants for optimal effects.

Companion Planting

Companion planting is the technique of finding beneficial combinations of plants—ones that like similar growing conditions and can aid one other in other ways. Adding certain plants may improve environmental conditions, boost fertility, attract pollinators or other beneficial insects, aid in pest control, or simply help you make the most of your space. 

I find it useful to think first about the main crops, and which of these might usefully be grown together, before looking at additional companion plants. 

Some tips for companion planting layout:

  • Consider placing taller or trellised plants to the south or west of beds (in the northern hemisphere, where their shade will be beneficial for other plants in the bed over the summer months).
  • Think about where a certain plant might provide support for another (for example, beans being grown up stalks of corn in a three sisters garden). This will also help determine where the plants will be placed.
  • Create barriers for pest control by planting companion plants around the edges of the raised bed. Intercrop two crops for pest control (such as onions and carrots). Or consider scattering companions throughout the bed. Think about how and where companion crops which repel, confuse, or distract pests will be most effective.

Layout Approaches

In raised beds, there are three common layout approaches to maximize yield:

  • Growing main crops in rows, perhaps with intercropping of complementary plants;
  • Laying out out the main crops, according to the precepts of square-foot gardening, which means dividing the raised bed into a series of square-foot areas, and planting one to 16 plants, depending on what is being grown into each area;
  • Broadcasting seeds or planting crops in a more natural "muddle" and allowing for survival of the fittest.

Personally, I think it can be a mistake to stick too zealously to any single layout approach. In my own garden beds, I use elements of each of the above.

Remember, layout in an annual raised bed should not be thought of as a static thing. Layout will change and evolve over time—both throughout a single season, as you practice successional sowing, and as you rotate crops over the longer term.

Spacing Considerations

It is important to understand that, though there are rough spacing guidelines for common crops, spacing is very much an inexact science. How closely you can place your plants will depend on a wide range of factors, including how you have prepared your raised bed, fertility levels, water availability, sunlight, etc.

Remember, whether growing in rows or in a square-foot garden, spacing guidelines for a particular crop do not always mean that nothing can be grown between them. Companion planting techniques and using living mulches or catch crops between others can allow you to make full use of space and time. 

  • When intercropping two or more main crops, tessellating the plants and creating staggered rows rather than planting in a straight grid pattern can sometimes help you make the most of your space. 
  • Plants are spaced in time, as well as in physical space. For example, quick-growing crops like lettuce or radishes can take up the space between slower growing crops like brassicas before these grow to require the space and resources. You might place lettuces at the intersections between four brassica plants.
  • Crops may not always be placed at their eventual spacing right away. You may well thin plantings over time, and the thinned crops can provide an additional yield.

There is a lot to think about when it comes to layout and plant spacing. But the above tips should help you as you plan ahead of time to make the most of your raised beds.