Here’s some really creative ideas on how to fill raised garden beds without spending a lot of money. Less waste, less money spent, and great soil health for all your growing needs.
We’re at the very end stages of building our (large) raised vegetable garden in our backyard. With the price of lumber being so high this year, we’re already spending our “outdoor project budget” on this build, and I knew I wanted to keep the cost of filling the beds to a minimum as much as possible. BUT having a great big garden is worth nothing if we don’t have amazing soil to grow things in!
My goals when trying to fill our raised garden beds:
- keep out of pocket expenses down
- get creative with ideas for less waste solutions
- have amazing soil for optimal growing
After doing lots of research on the options I’m going to implement, I wanted to share my findings with you so you can do the same!
Ideas to fill raised garden beds on the cheap:
Use what you have FIRST
The very first (probably obvious idea) is to use what you already have. I realize that many of you might not live on an acre property that has decomposing wood laying around the perimeter, but we do!
Think: do you have dead branches that need to be trimmed? Any old logs laying on your property? Do you have family or friends who have some they’re looking to get rid of?
NOTE: just make sure the wood you’re using is untreated and hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides so you can keep those chemicals out of your garden.
There’s many benefits of using old wood as a base layer in your garden. In some ways, it’s a form of Hugelkultur. If you’re interested in learning more about this kind of gardening and the many benefits, then check out this helpful article.
Also – use apps like NextDoor and Facebook Marketplace to see if people have old untreated wood on their property that you can take off their hands! Often if you put out an ISO on one of those apps, people are more than willing to help.
Use free wood chips to help fill raised garden beds:
Did you know that arborists and local tree services often have to dump their wood chips, and if you call them, they could be willing to drop a load off at your house? I first found out about this concept through a company called ChipDrop. They’ve got a great system set up, but you can skip them as a middle man and make some calls to local companies and you’ll probably get a faster answer.
We just did this and I had multiple tree service companies that were willing to drop off wood chips. Here’s the pros and cons of using this system to fill the bottom of your raised beds:
- Helps to add bulk to your raised garden beds for free
- Reduces waste
- In time, the wood will release valuable nutrients into your soil (takes 1-2 seasons to decompose)
- You don’t have control over what kind of wood chips you will receive. Wood chips will not be uniform, and there will be other yard debris included when you get a free truck-full as well.
- Wood chips can leach nitrogen from the soil, which is one of the three most important soil nutrients for plants to grow. I personally would not add fresh wood chips to a shallower raised garden bed. BUT if you have a very deep garden like we do, I think it can work.
- Fresh wood chips leach nitrogen from the soil that’s within a few inches of it, so use multiple layers to add nitrogen back into the soil before it hits where your plants roots will grow. Think: dried leaves, grass clippings, and lots of compost!
Use compost from your own yard:
OK so if you haven’t started a composting system yet, then you can’t implement this yet. BUT you can start now so you can have amazing compost for next year! It’s the easiest and cheapest way to create amazing soil for your plants to grow in. If you’re not quite ready to have your own compost pile, put out an ISO and see if any family or friends have some they’d be willing to part with.
Use your local resources:
Did you know that many townships have composting centers? When you’re working to fill your raised garden beds, you can try to plan out a few trips to the local composting center for free rich compost. Again – less waste, less money, and amazing soil! What more can you ask for?
Use technology to crowd source:
Use those local groups to your advantage! Before you try to purchase materials for your garden, ask neighbors in person if they want to go in with you for a bulk pricing discount.
If you don’t have luck that way, use technology to your advantage! Use the Nextdoor app or ask on Facebook Marketplace to see if people want to go in with you on a bulk delivery of materials.
You’ll get a better price, and possibly make some new gardening friends in the process – win win!
IMPORTANT last step: test and supplement
By layering many different kinds of soil and natural materials in your garden, you’re on your way to providing your plants with a wonderful growing medium for optimal production. BUT everyone’s soil is different and it’s really important to test the soil you’ve made. If your soil is bad, then you can have the most amazing raised garden beds, but they won’t be productive!
You can contact your local department of agriculture and ask them if they do soil testing. Sometimes they’ll even do it for free! Or it could be a small fee – either way, it’s definitely worth it before you put those precious little plants in the ground.
You can also go the easy way by purchasing an inexpensive soil testing kit to do at home. This is what I’m doing this year, because…Prime shipping. Haha I’m impatient! Once I get results from the soil we’ve made, then I will supplement as needed before our plants go in the ground.
Click the pictures below to view and/or purchase soil tests quickly for your home (affiliate links – means I earn a small commission if you purchase at no extra cost to you!):
And if you haven’t built your raised beds yet – or if you’re going to try to add some more raised garden square footage – then here are some good options you can buy online this year:
And if you’re interested in seeing our raised garden plans for this year – click through here! I’m also sharing more on my Instagram as we go along so make sure you’re following there!
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