QUESTION: I’m setting up my first raised bed garden, and I need to know how to orient the beds. Should they run east-west or north-south?
ANSWER: There are a few rules of thumb you can refer to when you’re plotting out a raised bed garden. However, the very best way to determine how your raised beds should be oriented is to monitor how much sun each part of the garden will get, and then plant your crops accordingly. We’ll give you the rundown of the guidelines first.
Guidelines for Orienting Raised Bed Gardens
- Are you growing shorter plants, like lettuce, radishes, turnips, or carrots? Run your rows north to south so that all parts of the raised bed will get plenty of direct sunshine.
- Will your garden be full of taller plants, like corn or tomatoes? Set your rows up in an east to west orientation. If you have any smaller plants to add, consider putting them on the south side of the raised bed so they’ll have a fighting chance at some direct sunlight.
- The time of year can influence which orientation will work best for your raised beds. In cold times of year when the sun doesn’t warm the land as long each day, a north to south orientation works best, with two rows in each bed. This tip only applies to you if soil erosion is not a concern in your garden.
- In gardens that do struggle with soil erosion because they’re planted on a slope, the best option is to follow the contour of the land when you set up your raised beds and their rows.
Using a Sun Map to Orient Raised Beds
A sun map helps you be certain exactly how much sunshine different parts of your garden get and whether that sunshine is direct or indirect. If you haven’t yet chosen a spot for your raised bed garden, creating a sun map can help you find the part of your property that will work best for exactly what you’ll be growing. If you have chosen where your raised bed will go, the sun map can help you determine which way to orient your rows.
For best results, choose a day to devote to making a sun map in both spring and midsummer. However, if you only have one day to spend on this project, go for midsummer. You’ll need to take note of the sunlight in your garden every hour if possible. Every two hours can work in a pinch.
Begin by drawing out a diagram of your garden as it is now. Draw in any flower beds or other existing plots, and mark where buildings, fences, trees, and other objects that throw a shadow are located.
Every hour, you’ll need to draw in on your map where you see sunlight and where you see shade. If an area has dappled shade, as often happens under a tree, mark this down as indirect sunlight. Also take note of the time you made each observation. You can use one sun map to track the movement of sun and shadow across your garden, or you can make copies of your map and create a new one for every hour. However, as long as it doesn’t get too messy, using one map for the whole day’s notes can help you really get an idea of when and where the sunlight is available in your raised bed garden.
Next, it’s time to take a look at the sunlight requirements of what you plan to grow in your raised bed garden. Plants that are described as preferring “full sun” need to get at least six hours of direct sunshine each day. Use your sun map to find a place for your raised bed (or simply to find out how to orient the rows in the raised bed) that will give your plants exactly how much sunshine they will need to flourish in your garden.