Raised vs In-ground Garden Beds: Key Differences

Are you torn between what type of garden bed you should go for? Most people ask me whether a raised garden bed is better than an in-ground garden bed for their backyard projects.

The choice depends on several factors; drainage is one of them.

A raised garden bed is established above ground level and uses a soil mix, while an in-ground garden bed is established directly on the ground and uses native soil. Considering the type and condition of the native soil in your yard, sustainability impacts, and the amount of garden space available will help you make the right choice.

Inground garden bed vs Raised beds

Raised vs. in-ground garden beds – The Differences

A raised garden bed has its soil bed built above the ground level, with the soil bed contained within a raised wooden or concrete frame. On the other hand, an in-ground garden bed refers to a garden established directly in the ground typically by tilling the soil and planting directly into the ground.

I’ll walk you through the main differences and how to choose between the two.

The soil mix

For raised garden beds, you’ll need to buy raised bed topsoil that contains organic nutrients to help your garden plants thrive. According to the University of Maryland Extension, the organic matter in a raised bed should be 25%-50% by volume or 5%-15% by weight.

On the other hand, in-ground garden beds are usually ready to be used after the ground has been tilted and mulch applied. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t purchase an in-ground garden soil mix to enrich your native soil.

Commercial soil for raised garden beds

Maintenance requirements

Raised beds require a more intensive maintenance approach that involves mulching and frequent irrigation to safeguard against the negative effects of excessive heat and drainage.

On the other hand, in-ground beds have some maintenance needs, such as weeding, but aren’t as high-maintenance as raised beds.

Learn more about rock mulch vs rubber mulch.

Environmental sustainability

From a sustainability viewpoint, raised beds differ from in-ground beds in that the material used to build the frames has to be transported to your backyard, consequently driving up your carbon footprint.

Moreover, there’s always the possibility of a chemical leech from the frame construction materials into your garden soil. In-ground beds, meanwhile, don’t raise any environmental sustainability concerns.

Below, we’ve compiled a tabular summary of the differences between raised and in-ground garden beds:

Raised Garden BedsIn-Ground Garden Beds
Are established above grade levelAre established on the ground
Makes use of commercial topsoil- and doesn’t include/ make use of the native soil beneath the bed’s container/frameAre established by tilting native soil.
High maintenance option- frequent irrigation is necessaryLow maintenance needs- don’t have to be watered frequently.
Not an environmentally sustainable optionAn environmentally sustainable option
It’s necessary to purchase commercial raised-bed topsoil for your raised garden bed.Commercial in-ground topsoil is available- but isn’t a must if the native soil is a sufficiently nutrient-rich and well-draining plant growth

Raised garden beds pros and cons

Before making a choice, I thought knowing the advantages and disadvantages of raised garden beds would be great.

Advantages of raised garden beds

Prevent soil compaction

Raised beds prevent soil compaction and plant damage. Raised garden beds are contained within a frame; it is less likely for humans (kids especially) to wander into your garden and cause soil compaction due to foot traffic or physical damage to your garden plants.

Raised beds facilitate longer growing seasons

During spring, typically the peak growing season for most garden plants, a raised bed will pick up heat quicker and drain better. This results in longer growing seasons, as the bed may be ready for planting as soon as early spring.

Raised beds are less vulnerable to weeds

A properly tilled and mulched raised bed is less susceptible to garden weeds so long as the soil mix has been stabilized. Proper mulching makes the raised beds much more resistant to weeds than inground beds.

Raised garden beds have great drainage

Raised bed soil mixes used in raised bed gardens are usually well-draining and allow for the growth of plants in places where the poor-draining native soil doesn’t allow for the growth of such plants.

Raised garden beds are friendly for people with back problems

For home gardeners with disabilities or spinal issues that minimize their ability to bend, they can have their gardens raised to a level where they don’t have to bend to access the garden bed.

Raised beds allow for tighter plant spacing, which is useful, especially if you have limited backyard garden space.


Excess heat and drainage

Since raised beds have better heat uptake and drainage, they’re more susceptible to drought stress during the hotter seasons, which could cause your garden plants to dehydrate, wilt, and die.

High setup and maintenance costs

Raised garden beds are costly to install as the frames are typically made of stone, wood, or brick. These frame materials cost a lot, including installation/frame construction and periodic repair and maintenance costs.

Encourage poor air circulation

Since gardeners with raised gardens are likely to grow more plants within a limited space through tighter plant spacing, their plants are more vulnerable to diseases due to increased moisture levels caused by poor circulation.

Make it hard to install irrigation systems

Installing a drip irrigation setup within a raised garden bed is usually a difficult, time-consuming task due to how this type of garden is designed and constructed.

Here’s the table summarizing the pros and cons:

Safeguard against soil compaction, and plant damageMore susceptible to drought stress during the summer months
Facilitate longer growing seasonsHigh setup and maintenance costs
Are less vulnerable to weedsEncourage poor air circulation
Have better drainage propertiesMake it Hard to Install Irrigation Systems
Ease the gardening process for people with spinal issues
Allow for tighter plant spacing

In-ground garden beds pros and cons


Inground garden beds require less start-up labor

An in-ground garden bed is usually ready for planting as soon as the soil has been tilled to improve drainage, make the garden bed flat, and reduce native soil compaction. This can be easily and quickly done using a tractor, rototiller, or a simple gardening hoe.

They don’t need frequent watering

With an in-ground bed, you don’t have to water too frequently, as native soil is usually a bit more compact and won’t dry out too quickly.

In-ground beds are not permanent

An in-ground garden can be easily relocated to a different part, with the garden plants simply being transplanted into the new garden location.

In-ground beds facilitate easy installation of irrigation systems

Setting up irrigation systems within an in-ground garden shouldn’t take up much of your time, unlike a raised-bed garden that usually calls for meticulous installation due to the elevated design.


  1. The amendment and regeneration process for native garden soil to improve its arability is usually lengthy.
  2. With an in-ground bed, garden plants are more likely to suffer pest, disease, and rodent attacks.
  3. In-ground gardens typically have soils with relatively poorer compaction, which could lead to plant death from insufficient soil moisture- especially during the hotter seasons (spring and summer).
  4. Proper tilling of in-ground beds requires using a rototiller- whose price range may exceed some gardeners’ budgets.

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of in-ground garden beds:

They require less start-up laborLengthy amendment and regeneration process
They don’t require frequent wateringGarden plants are more likely to suffer pest, disease, and rodent attacks.
They aren’t permanentTypically have soils with relatively poorer compaction
They facilitate the easy installation of irrigation systemsRototillers are expensive to hire

Conclusion: Which one is better?

The best type of garden bed for you between these two depends on the climate and soil conditions within your environment. For instance, for those whose native soil is rich in nutrients and is well-draining, in-ground garden beds are a cheap and easy-to-establish option.

Meanwhile, gardeners residing in climates with nutrient-deficient native soil and poor soil drainage/highly-compact soil are better off with a raised garden bed that will eliminate the negative impacts of poor soil conditions.

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