You may have heard the term raised gardens, planter boxes, container planters, or elevated garden beds before, but what’s the difference? They all sound sort of similar, but what do they actually mean?
Depending on who you talk to, you might get a different answer. Some people have different names for the same things, and the same names for but for opposite things! It really can be quite confusing.
When I’m talking about a raised garden bed, I’m referring to a container with sides that sits on the ground. It has no bottom, and all the soil within it is in contact with the natural ground. It is literally a garden bed that’s raised above the ground.
When I’m talking about elevated gardens or planter boxes, I’m talking about a three-sided box with an open top. It can be sitting on the ground, mounted to a wall, or have legs. The biggest difference is that it’s enclosed and has no contact with the soil. It’s just a box with garden soil in it, and definitely not to be confused with a pot!
If things are still a bit murky, don’t worry, we’ve got a basic run down to help you learn the difference between raised garden beds and elevated planters.
The basic differences
Both raised garden beds and elevated planters are above the natural ground level and are filled with soil. They both have sides that allow you to fill them up with enough soil to be able to sow seeds or plant seedlings.
Raised garden beds will always sit on the ground and are just sides with no bottom.
They’re often separated from the ground by a layer of weed matting or geo-fabric, or by organic material like straw or newspaper, but the bottom of the planter always sits on the ground and has no hard, fixed barrier between the imported soil and the natural ground.
Elevated planters are above the ground too, but they are in self-contained units. That is, they have an attached, solid bottom that holds everything together.
There is no way that the soil in the planter can make contact with the ground. An elevated planter will often be separated from the ground by the air or will be sitting on a hard surface like a deck or tiles.
Differences in designs
As mentioned, raised gardens usually only have their sides sitting flush with the ground. Sometimes they’ll have a bottom, but it’s never solid and will always allow the movement of moisture, worms and microorganisms between the two layers.
They’re best used to allow you to plant into an area even if you have shallow, firm, or unsuitable soil for what you’re trying to grow.
By using a raised garden bed you can ‘raise’ the level of your garden without doing any extreme earthworks. You can also just raise the ground around your specific trees or plants, or in particular areas you want. Doing this can save a fortune on importing soil and incorporating it into an entire garden or yard.
Elevated planters will consist of sides and a fixed bottom panel. They can be placed on bare ground, but they’re mostly constructed with attached legs so that they sit high above the ground.
They’re filled with soil in the same way as raised beds, but they retain the material and moisture within themselves, rather than having it interact with the ground
The benefits of each differ
Raised gardens are used when you want to plant in the ground but can’t dig deep or don’t want to dig through hard ground. They can also be great when you have sandy or heavy clay soil that might be difficult to grow in.
Raised beds are also good for delineating garden beds between crops or allowing formalised permanent pathways to intersect your garden.
Raised beds also mean you can import smaller quantities of material without lots of earthworks required to incorporate them through difficult garden beds.
Elevated planters are good to get things up to easily accessible heights if bending over is difficult for you or a family member.
They’re also good for keeping any produce you’re growing away from pest animals or bugs that are common at ground level.
The best use for elevated planters is that you can use them where you have no garden space. They’re good when installed on balconies and patios, or areas that normally couldn’t be planted into, like decks or concrete slabs.
They’re flexible in where you can move them too, so if you live in a place with extreme weather, you can move your plants into a protected area if you need to.
Differences in what you can plant
Elevated planters have hard bottom panels, so size is restricted to how deep and wide a root system can go. This means they are generally limited to herbs and annual flowers, or small shrubs with compact root systems.
Elevated planters are also designed with a maximum capacity in mind. A fully loaded planter with heavy, wet soil and plants laden with fruits of foliage might start to stress the structural integrity of the planter. You don’t want to overload them and have all your hard work fall out over the ground.
Raised garden beds can sit above natural ground, so aren’t limited by their size. Trees and large shrubs can break through any tough ground underneath your raised beds over time, so you can grow much larger produce in these.
As they’re not weight-bearing, they also can be overflowing with plants and produce and have very little chance of damaging the structure.
If they break, it’s usually a blowout on a side or corner and not the whole unit, meaning repairs are much more simple.
In general, raised are hardwood or metal. They’re easily constructed and are relatively cheap.
These materials are used because they’re durable and can be kicked and hit with tools without causing too much damage.
Elevated planters can be wooden or metal but are usually made of lighter material. Softwoods are common, but the most popular is plastic.
Plastic containers can be moulded to be a single piece with legs, and are lightweight enough to be wheeled around if needed.
To wrap it all up
Elevated planters and raised garden beds both sound similar, but they’re quite different.
Raised garden beds are open-bottomed containers that sit on the ground. Soil is added to them to raise the level of the ground so that plants can be planted. Raised gardens can be made from timber or metal, and can contain most types of plants.
Elevated planters are closed bottom containers that can sit on the ground, be raised off it by legs, or when mounted on walls. Soil is added to them so that you can have plants in areas where you otherwise couldn’t plant them, like balconies or decks.
Elevated planters are generally made of lightweight materials like softwood and plastics so that you can move them around easier. Plants in elevated planters generally need to be smaller, because there’s just not enough room for their roots to grow.