Whether you’re tired of straining your back while squatting in the garden, or sick of seeing rain wash away your soil, a raised bed is a handy solution. It can even keep weeds and pests from disturbing your plants. But before you start measuring out a frame, here are a few tips and tricks to get you off to a good start.

Start Composting

While you’re building your soil for a raised garden, keep in mind that the typical topsoil you can buy at a home improvement or landscape store lacks the organic matter that helps plants grow. You can compensate for this by composting. While it’s easy to buy ready-made compost—this will be a good tool for your early days of gardening—it’s also easy to make compost yourself.

Cold composting is as easy as grabbing a bin and tossing materials like grass clippings, vegetable scraps, used coffee grounds and dead leaves inside. Add some soil and make sure to turn it and add new materials every couple of weeks. In a few months, you’ll have a great amendment to add to your topsoil.

Prepare the Ground

Raised gardens have great drainage because they are open at the bottom. Therefore, the ground conditions beneath your bed need consideration. The roots of the plants in the bed need to be able to spread out and acquire nutrients from the soil below, which means clearing out rocks or tree roots that might get in the way. After you dig to clear out obstructions, treat the soil as needed to create the best conditions before installing your raised garden.

Get the Right Height

Kneeling on the ground and bending over can be hard on the knees, back and neck. One of the greatest advantages of a raised-bed garden is that it is a more comfortable height for many gardeners. But before you start planning exactly how raised you want your raised garden to be, consider the soil depth needs of the plants you want to grow. The most popular height for raised beds is 11 in., but you can jump up to 2-3 ft. if you’re worried about back strain. Make sure you can access the middle of your garden without leaning on the soil.

Use Rot-Resistant Materials

Rot-resistant cedar is one of the most common materials for constructing a raised garden frame, but there are other types that will work also, such as redwood and juniper. You can also use cinder blocks, rocks or concrete for a more unique look.

Install Cross Support

A garden that is much higher or longer than average, especially one 8-ft.-long or longer, is going to need cross braces to keep it from expanding over time. Soil retains moisture and packs in more tightly, resulting in pressure on the frame. Adding vertical aluminum cross supports to the middle on each longer side will prevent your bed from bulging out.