Hugelkultur raised bed gardens have been around for centuries, and today’s gardeners are embracing the sustainable practice.

Pronounced “HOO-gul-culture,” hugelkultur is a German word that roughly translates to “hill culture.” This type of raised bed garden uses woody debris, fallen branches or downed trees to create a hill for planting.

hugelkultur raised bed garden

The advantages of a hugelkultur raised bed garden are many. This type of gardening system needs no irrigation, no fertilization and no tilling after the first year. A low-maintenance, sustainable garden bed – what’s not to like about that? To build one, follow these steps.

Choose the Garden Site

First, you need to find a spot to build your hugelkultur raised bed garden. A sunny site is ideal for growing vegetables, but shady areas can also work. Once you decide on a location, mow the grass down and lay down cardboard to smother any plant life left.

Gather the Wood

Grab up some rotting wood to get your raised garden bed started. Use what you have, whether that’s a downed tree, a long-dead limb, old logs or punky firewood. Softwoods -- such as birch, poplar, cottonwood and alder – are ideal. Hugelkultur experts recommend steering clear of black walnut, cedar, black cherry and redwood.

Design the Garden

Next, pile up the wood any way you like. A hugelkultur raised garden bed can be any shape or design, and it can be as long and tall as you want. Some northern Utah gardeners build super-high hugelkultur beds, but most people find that a height of two to three feet is easier to work with.

Cover the Wood Base

To finish up, cover the wood of your raised garden bed with grass clippings, straw, leaves, aged manure – anything you would normally put in your compost pile. Aim for a depth of about twelve inches above the wood pile. Finally, add a few inches of soil, and top off the hugelkultur structure with mulch.

What to Plant in a Hugelkultur Raised Bed Garden

Just about any outdoor plants can thrive in a hugelkultur raised garden bed. However, you may want to put off planting annual vegetables for a couple of years, as they need the nitrogen the rotting wood uses up as it decays.

Keep in mind, too, that the upper part of the raised bed will be naturally drier than the base. So, choose plants that need more water for the bottom, and place plants that require less moisture along the sides and toward the top.

Would you like more landscaping and gardening ideas? For expert tips that work for northern Utah gardeners, stop by Millcreek Gardens.

The plant nursery professionals at Millcreek Gardens understand the growing conditions in the greater Salt Lake City and Wasatch Front areas, and we’re always happy to answer any gardening question. To learn more about building a hugelkultur raised bed garden on your northern Utah property, stop by and see us today.