Raised Rows vs. Flat Rows: Which Is Better?

There’s no shortage of ways to plant crops, but raised and flat rows are two of the most popular choices. However, knowing which one to choose for your own gardening setup can be challenging. So, are raised rows or flat rows better?

Raised rows are better if you want better drainage and live somewhere with heavy rainfall. They’re also easy to replace and maintain. Weed growth is also less likely in a raised row. Flat rows are better if your soil is naturally nutrient-rich and doesn’t need much amendment. 

In the rest of this article, I’ll take you through the characteristics of raised and flat rows in greater detail. I’ll also discuss the pros and cons of each and which might be better suited to you.

What Are Raised Rows?

Raised rows are rows that are elevated above soil level. They usually comprise soil, compost, manure, and shredded leaves. They help promote aeration and better water drainage, making plants less likely to get waterlogged in heavy rain. 

Generally, raised rows are raised around four inches (10 centimeters) from the ground. Since they’re raised, they’re excellent for root vegetables because the roots have more space to grow downward.

However, you can use them to grow anything you wish. Most people would consider raised rows a lower-effort method (compared to flat rows) because there’s no need for tilling and weed removal if you do it right.

Raised rows can be beneficial if you’re struggling with your soil. For example, if you have clay soil that’s difficult to amend and requires a lot of work, creating raised rows could be an easy way to solve the problem. All you’d need to do is layer the compost and shredded leaves over the clay soil, and you have a new raised row!

How Raised Rows Work

To make a raised row, add a pile of fresh compost, shredded leaves, and topsoil to your regular soil; this gives plants and vegetables a nice, healthy place to grow and thrive. It also eliminates the need for amending the entire ground (which can be highly time-consuming if you have a large garden).

Compost contains many nutrients that the soil needs, so adding it to a raised row ensures the plants and vegetables can thrive. Plus, grass clippings are another excellent food source for soil and plants, so adding them to the raised rows makes them work even better.

Here is a brief guide on how to make raised rows in your garden:

  1. Measure the area. Understanding how much space you need vs. how much space you have is essential. Most rows need to be around 18 inches (46 centimeters) wide, so keep that in mind.
  2. Apply compost and shredded grass to the row. This is the part where you start making the raised row. You want to layer the compost and shredded grass to around 2 inches (5 centimeters) off the ground.
  3. Apply the topsoil. Add around 2 inches (5 centimeters) of topsoil to the raised row (so it should be raised around 4 inches (10 centimeters) altogether).
  4. Smooth over the top of the row and the edges. You want the edges to be curved in and everything to be smoothed over.
  5. Repeat with the next row. You can repeat the process as many times as you need.
  6. Start planting! Once you’re finished preparing the rows, you can start planting seeds.

Important note: You want to leave around 28 inches (71 centimeters) between each raised row. If you leave too much space, it will be easier for weeds to grow. However, if you leave too little room, there won’t be enough aeration for the plants (although weeds will be less likely to form).

Benefits of Raised Rows

Now that you know more about raised rows and how to make them, you might want to learn more about their benefits. 

Raised Rows Promote Healthy Root Growth

One significant advantage of raised rows is that they promote excellent root growth. The raised soil gives the roots more space to grow downward. On top of that, the organic matter you use for raised rows is generally full of nutrition, light, and sandy, making it easy for roots to grow within the soil.


Another benefit of raised rows is affordability. All you need to make a raised row is some:

  • Compost
  • Grass clippings
  • Topsoil

Some people like to add manure and other organic matter, but it’s up to you to decide what exactly you want to use.

Thankfully, you can make most of this stuff yourself. Alternatively, you can buy premade compost in-store for an affordable price. You also don’t need to spend money on tilling or weed-killing products and equipment when you make raised rows, which adds to your savings.

No Need for Tilling

Many would consider tilling too much effort. To avoid it, you can make raised rows. Not only is tilling a high-effort activity, but it’s also not good for the soil long-term. Over time, it can cause damage to the ground, which brings along additional issues.

Since you’re just adding organic matter into a pile when making a raised row, there’s never a need for you to till. So if you have problematic soil that needs tilling often, you should try making raised rows.

Weeds Won’t Be a Big Problem

Weeds are a hassle in gardening, but you won’t have to worry about them too much if you implement raised rows into your garden. 

As I mentioned earlier, the closer the rows are, the less likely it is for weeds to grow. Plus, raised rows are generally protected by organic mulches (like grass clippings), so it’s harder for weeds to come through. 

Having raised rows can save you a lot of time and effort because weeds often take hours to remove if there are lots of them and the garden is big.

No Need To Amend the Soil

If your soil is naturally clay-like and challenging to break through, raised rows will be extremely helpful. Amending soil can be time-consuming, but you can avoid it with raised rows.

As you may know, amending the soil requires you to break it down and add organic materials. This process is arduous with hard soil. With raised rows, you can add compost, mulch, and topsoil on top of the regular soil to create a raised row without worrying about any soil amendments.

So, you can essentially ignore your clay soil and instead focus your attention on easy-to-maintain raised rows!

Disadvantages of Raised Rows

For the most part, raised rows are excellent and work well in almost any garden. 

However, you should be aware of some disadvantages as well:

Raised Rows Take Time To Make

If you decide to make a raised row, you’ll realize there is some work you need to put into it. Firstly, you must take all the correct measurements to ensure your rows have the right width and height. You also need to ensure there’s a right amount of distance between each row.

If you don’t measure correctly and leave too little space between the rows, your crops won’t have enough airflow; this can cause many issues, such as:

You also need to prepare organic matter. For example, you’ll have to prepare your own compost if you don’t want to buy a premade one. Preparing compost is time-consuming and high-effort, so it’s good to be aware beforehand.

Raised Rows Are Challenging To Remove

Most people who incorporate raised rows in their garden plan to use them permanently. However, if you decide you want to remove them at some point, it can be challenging. 

If you want to eliminate them, you’ll need to dispose of all the organic matter in each row or incorporate it into the natural soil. Both options are time-consuming and high-effort.

Therefore, raised rows are best for permanent use. If you only want to use them for a short period, incorporating them might not be the best idea.

What Are Flat Rows?

Flat rows are rows of plants or crops in the soil. They aren’t raised, so you don’t always need to add organic matter to flat rows. Flat rows are an organized way to grow plants and trees, and they’re organized in (almost) the same way as raised rows.

As you might have guessed, the main difference between flat and raised rows is that raised rows are raised, and flat rows aren’t. Other than that, both setups are organized the same. 

To create flat rows, you first must ensure the soil is in suitable condition and contains all the necessary nutrients. If the ground is hard and clay-like, you may need to till and amend it first. For that reason, it can be time-consuming to prepare flat rows.

Flat rows aren’t ideal if you have problematic soil that needs regular amending. For example, if your soil is naturally too dry and sandy, you might be better off opting for raised rows. That way, you won’t have to amend it as much, and you can save time and possibly money.

However, if your soil is easy to work with, flat rows should be fine. All you need to do is plant your seeds in rows and water regularly.

How To Make Flat Rows

Making flat rows is easy if the soil is in excellent condition. However, you may need to till beforehand. Here is a guide on how to make flat rows in a garden:

  1. Prepare the soil. You can skip this step if your soil is already perfect. But if it’s not, you may need to till and amend it before you go any further. You want the ground to be well-draining and light rather than dense and clay-like, allowing the roots to grow smoothly through the soil.
  2. Take measurements. Next, you want to plan where the rows will be. You’ll need to measure the space between each flat row and the width of each row. You want to leave enough space between each row so you can comfortably walk through.
  3. Plant your seeds. Once you know where all the rows will be, you can plant the seeds. 

It’s best to till the soil during spring, and it’s generally good to leave around 28 inches (71 centimeters) between each row. 

However, the space you leave can vary. For example, if you need to roll a wheelbarrow through, ensure you leave enough room for that.

Benefits of Flat Rows

There are a few benefits to using flat rows. For example, flat rows are easy to prepare and maintain once your soil is in the best condition. If you want to learn more about the benefits, read the sections below.

Easy To Use if Soil Is in Good Condition

If your soil is naturally in good condition and doesn’t need much amending or tilling, it’s easy to prepare and use flat rows. You don’t need to layer on organic matter (like you do with raised beds) for flat rows, so the process can be easy. 

However, many soils will need to be taken care of before being made into flat rows, so this advantage might not apply to you.

Flat Rows Are Organized

Organizing plants and crops in flat rows is an excellent way to keep everything organized. Everything should be uniform if you take accurate measurements and plant the seeds correctly. You can also organize the rows by crop type, making it easy to find the crop you’re looking for.

It might be easier to keep flat rows more uniform than raised ones because you don’t have to pile on any organic matter. With raised rows, each row needs to be the same height and width, which can be difficult to achieve fully. But with flat rows, you don’t have to worry about this.

Easy to Water

Flat rows are easy to water because all crops and plants are planted directly in the soil at the same level; this makes it slightly easier to install an irrigation system when compared to raised rows. Since watering can be time-consuming (especially when you have many crops), this is undoubtedly a huge benefit.

Simple To Remove

Unlike raised rows, flat rows are simple to remove. Once you’ve removed all the crops from the soil, you can use the soil for anything you want. However, with raised rows, the process takes a lot more work. Therefore, you can temporarily or permanently use flat rows, whereas you should only use raised ones permanently.

Disadvantages of Flat Rows

Now that you know more about flat rows and their advantages, you must learn about some of their disadvantages too. One of the most significant disadvantages of flat rows is that you must prepare the soil in many cases, which can be difficult and time-consuming.

Without further ado, let’s look at some of the main disadvantages of flat rows in a garden.

Roots Might Have a Harder Time Growing

In a raised row, there is extra room for the roots to grow downward healthily. Plus, the organic materials add extra nutrients to the soil, making the seeds and crops healthier.  However, with flat rows, there isn’t as much light, sandy soil for the roots to grow, especially if your ground is hard and clay-like lower down. 

So, some roots may not thrive as much as they would in a raised row (especially if the soil is too dense). You’ll need to achieve perfect loamy soil to get the most out of your flat rows.

You’ll Likely Need To Prepare the Soil

Since flat beds are directly in the soil and don’t contain any add-ons as raised rows do, you’ll need to prepare your soil first. Tilling takes a lot of time, and the equipment to prepare the earth can be expensive. But as you know, none of this is necessary with raised rows.

Waterlogging Can Occur More Easily

Since raised rows are not placed directly in the soil, they often drain well. Standard flat rows can also drain well if the ground is in suitable condition, but this isn’t always the case. To ensure waterlogging doesn’t occur in your flat rows, you’ll need to ensure the soil is light and well-drained.

Which Is Better: Raised Rows or Flat Rows?

Raised rows are better if you want to avoid tilling and preparing the soil before planting. They’re also good if you’re looking for a permanent garden solution. Flat rows are better if you don’t want to spend time making a raised row or if your soil doesn’t need much mending and fixing.


There are some differences between raised and flat rows, but both work well in most cases. Deciding which one is better depends on your needs and soil quality. For example, there are a few considerations you might want to keep in mind before choosing a setup.

Before deciding which one is better for you, you should ask yourself:

  • What is the condition of my soil?
  • What things currently bother me about my garden?
  • How much time am I willing to spend gardening?

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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