Improving drainage in Houston soils can be done easily by gardening in raised beds. And gardening above ground gives you absolute control over the soil texture and ingredients in those beds. You can incorporate your Houston “gumbo” into the mix if you want, but you don’t have to.
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Most raised garden beds are contained within a wood or stone structure but they don’t have to be. The beds can be free form or you can build traditional box-type beds. You can plant anything from herbs and vegetables to perennials, shrubs and trees in a raised bed.
My husband decided he needed a hobby and settled on a “Gentleman’s Garden” of fruit trees. He was able to plant some of the trees directly into our Houston “gumbo,” but there were others that needed to be planted above ground. The “raised bed” for each of those trees is nothing but a circular mound of dirt in which the roots were planted.
In addition to improving drainage, gardening is raised beds comes with additional perks:
The soil in raised garden beds warms more quickly in the spring and allows you to work the soil and plant earlier.
The soil in raised beds doesn’t get compacted from foot traffic if you’ve constructed them with accessibility in mind. Less compaction means better water and air circulation for your plants.
You can custom mix the soil for the plants you plan to grow there. You can give acid loving plants an acidic soil mix and vegetables a balanced pH mix.
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After the initial construction work is done, raised beds will require less maintenance than conventional garden beds.
There are a variety of materials from which to choose for constructing your raised beds. Wood is a very popular choice because it is easy to work with. You can use cedar or pressure treated lumber. I opted for pressure treated lumber to keep the cost down then applied a deck stain and sealer later to make the beds look like cedar.
Concrete blocks, natural stone, and bricks are also good options for raised beds, but come with added expense as well as labor. We had lots of leftover brick from the construction of our house, so I opted to use them to make raised flower beds in front (photo, below).
Free Form Raised Garden BedIf you live in a rental home or are unsure of where you want to permanently install your garden beds, you can use bales of hay or straw to build temporary garden beds. Place them in whatever configuration you want, fill them with a good soil mix and plant your plants.
The bales of straw will only last a year, but they might be worth using if you’re interested in a short term or non-permanent solution.
However you choose to build them, raised garden beds are the key to improving drainage in Houston soils.