I don't yet have any incoming links but thought you might want a preview of this new page I'm working on. I hope to have it ready at least as a first draft and linked in to my rose page soon, by mid-December or so. This is work-in-progress!

Building my new raised rose bed, Winter 1998-9

During the winter of 1998-1999, I built a large new rose bed. Here in USDA plant hardiness zone 7B, the ground never freezes, so I could do this work in the winter. In colder climates, it would be best to do bed building in the fall.

After including a summary of what you might want to do in building a new rose bed, I'll give an illustrated history of how I built my bed. You can find further details on how to maintain and care for your established garden in my Organic Rose Gardening presentation, and see some of the results I've enjoyed on my main rose page.

Note: You can click on any of the pictures below to get a larger version.

General Notes


  1. Plan the garden design. For Hybrid Tea roses, as well as Grandifloras and Floribundas, plan for 2.5 to 3 feet apart at minimum. Old Garden Roses grow much larger, as do some Shrub roses. Spend a lot of time with graph paper and a compass showing the eventual size your bushes should become. Remember that inadequate spacing can result in increased disease for your roses as air circulation is cut down. (You can continue to work on selecting exactly which varieties you will plant concurrently with bed preparation, but at this stage you should at least have the dimensions of the bed worked out.)
  2. Prepare the bed. If you have sufficient time before you will plant your new bed, consider cultivating the area and planting a cover crop. The cover crop can crowd out weeds, build up soil, and contribute nutrients by being plowed into the soil after maturing. Some cover crop candidates are:
    Sow in fall; sprouts and grows quickly; large nitrogen-rich leaves crowd out weeds; deep roots loosen tough clay soils; matures in 8-10 weeks; mass decays fast so makes lots of good humus when turned under
    White Dutch Clover
    Sow anytime, winter hardy, stays low
    Hairy Vetch
    Sow in fall, nitrogen-rich leaves
    I won't discuss various options like double digging and no-till, but your goal should be a good loamy soil that supports nutrients and reasonable drainage. My preference is to break up the soil to a depth of a foot or so and then build up organic matter another foot, containing it all
  3. Secure good non-pressure treated lumber (or other material) to frame the bed. Aim for 6-12" above the ground, and remember that you may have a few inches of mulch in the finished bed in calculating how raised you want the bed to be. Alternatively, you can skip using any material at all and just plan to build the beds by mounding organic matter in the next step, but beware of erosion (you can try planting ground-hugging plants like juniper nearby to hold the soil, and, of course, mulch will help too) and maintenance of a neat appearance. (Have you ever considered using an old car as a rose bed?!)
  4. Build up the bed with plenty of organic matter. I like to use a variety of material: Roses like it slightly acidic (pH 5.5-6.5; a pH of 1 is extremely acidic and 13 is extremely alkaline), so you probably will have to acidify your soil a bit. If your soil's pH (have a sample checked at your local Agricultural Extension office) is below 5.5, which much of the United States' soil is, then work in 3-4 pounds of lime per 100 square feet (if you live in an area like certain Western regions of the U.S. where the soil is actually too acidic, use sulfur to make the bed more alkaline - use a pound per 100 square feet for pH 6.5-8, and 2 pounds for pH 8-8.5. I also like to add small amounts of ingredients which you may or may not be able to readily find (look for organic gardening companies locally or by mail order), such as Greensand (for trace minerals and to help with drainage), Lava Sand (trace minerals and drainage), and Rock Dust (trace minerals).


Don't be overwhelmed by the detail above! It's really pretty simple as long as you remember to use lots of good organic matter, provide good drainage, plan the garden and inter-rose spacing, and, most importantly of all, have fun! In brief, then:
  1. Plan the garden
  2. Build the bed
  3. Plant and mulch the roses
  4. Optionally install an irrigation system
  5. Do some basic maintenance and fertilizing in season
  6. Enjoy lovely flowers!

Excavation and Framing

By early January, I had the site of the new bed excavated. Here in the Piedmont area of North Carolina, we have heavy clay, so this was hard work that I had the good fortune to have a number of friends help with. In hindsight, I should have hired somebody with the right equipment to do the excavation; it probably would have taken an hour or so.

My neighbor has a friend who enjoys milling lumber, and had a white cedar he hauled away from somebody's house. The tree had fallen during Hurricane Fran in September 1996. I didn't want to use pressure-treated lumber as I had read that such lumber is potentially carcinogenic to handle, very difficult to dispose of, and leeches arsenic into the soil. I had considered plastic lumber - it would last practically forever and maintain its look - but found it expensive. I decided to have my neighbor's friend mill the cedar for the bed as cedar is known to last a long time even when in ground contact. To help extend its life, I came up with a home-made formula - in hindsight, I wish I had applied it to the wood before

I finally came up with something I really liked on the rec.gardens-edible newsgroup. Apparently, the USDA Forest Products Lab does this and it protects wood for 20 years! Here's the recipe: Buy a gallon of solvent (I used pure mineral spirits - but you can also use turpentine or paint thinner). I then took two 6 ounce clean yogurt containers and poured out and reseved 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces). The rest (1 gallon less 1 1/2 cups) I put into a paint bucket. Put the 1 1/2 cups reserved back into the can and close. I then took boiled linseed oil and poured it into the two yogurt containers, thus measuring 1 1/2 cups. (Alternatively, the recipe says you can use 3 cups of exterior varnish.) Keep this 1 1/2 cups of linseed oil handy. I then took a clean empty small tin can and put 1 ounce of paraffin wax into it. I put the can into a pan of boiling water and let the wax melt. Once melted, I took the wax outside where all the other reagents were ready. I started stirring the mineral spirits then slowly (but not too slowly - you don't want the wax to solidify!) poured in the liquid wax, continually stirring. Finally, I added the 2 yogurt containers of (1 1/2 cups) linseed oil. This was the consistency of water, and I just brushed it on the cedar liberally. I have done a coat and a half, and will make it at least 2 coats totally. This should be a real boon because linseed oil repels water and has fungicidal properties. The wax should also help to keep water away from the wood. I was going to next staple 6 mil thick clear plastic inside the full bed, but Moira and Tony, as well as Brodie, all OGL "all stars" :-), have warned against it. My rationale was it would keep the soil away from the wood, but our friends have advised that the plastic over the years will break into pieces (even 6mil? That is surprising!) that will contaminate the soil.

Filling and Drainage

Planting and Irrigating

Drip irrigation is perhaps the best way to water. I found an excellent resource in the web-based


On to the next project!

Created: November 28, 1999
Last updated: December 11, 1999