7 Steps for a Successful Hugelkultur Raised Bed - image of a garden bed

7 Steps to a Successful Hügelkultur Raised Bed

Starting a Hügelkultur (pronounced HEW-gul-kul-TOOr) raised bed has been part of our family’s conversation for a year or two.  Like many families, we want to raise more food at home to reduce grocery costs. We also know there are many other health benefits to gardening.  So, what is a Hügelkultur raised bed and why might you consider building one?

What is a Hügelkultur Raised Bed?

Hügelkultur is a German gardening style that relies on decaying wood, yard debris, compost, and soil.  The decaying wood provides a stable supply of moisture and nutrients for your growing plants.

3 benefits of a Hügelkultur Raised Bed

  • The decaying wood and debris acts as a sponge.  This reduces the need for regular watering of your garden bed.
  • The decomposing wood and yard debris keeps the soil warm.  This allows for better germination and growth of your plants.
  • As the wood breaks down, nutrients are slowly released into the soil.  This feeds your garden over time.

Materials needed to start a Hügelkultur Raised Bed

  • Raised garden beds
    • Wood/metal – built at home or purchased
    • Or Mound
  • Chicken wire – to prevent moles from popping up
  • Yard staples
  • Weed barrier – to support walls of your garden bed
  • Wood – large stumps, trucks, branches
  • Yard debris – grass clippings, sticks, and food scraps
  • Rich soil
  • Compost, topsoil, mulch (optional)

7 Steps to Make a Hügelkultur Raised Bed

Step 1: Choose Garden Bed Type

Wood/metal

You can build your own raised garden bed out of wood or metal.  We built a wood/metal garden bed (see image below), but we will consider buying prefabricated beds in the future due to lower cost and time savings.

image of a wood and metal raised garden bed

Brick Raised Garden Bed

Another option is to try a brick raised garden bed.  You can read how to build a brick raised garden bed here.

Image of finished brick raised garden bed

Mound

You can create a hügelkultur garden in a mound by layering the materials on the ground in Step 3 through Step 7. This article does not cover this specific gardening bed style, but it is a viable option.

Step 2: Create barriers (optional) to protect your Hügelkultur Raised Bed

Chicken wire – to prevent moles from popping up in your hügelkultur raised bed, you can lay down a layer of chicken wire.  Secure chicken wire to the ground using yard staples.

Image of chicken wire laid down to keep moles out of garden bed

Weed barrier – to support the walls of your hügelkultur raised bed, you may consider securing weed barrier to the garden bed. Below are images of our wood/metal bed and our brick raised garden bed.

Image of weed barrier lining raised garden bed
Image of finished brick raised garden bed

Step 3: Add Base Layer – Stumps, Trunks, and Branches

The base layer of the hügelkultur raised bed is composed of large stumps, trunk pieces, and large branches.  These will build the foundation of your hügelkultur raised bed.

For best results, it is recommended that the following wood types be used because they will decompose nicely, adding nutrients to your soil:

  • Alder
  • Apple
  • Aspen
  • Birch
  • Cottonwood
  • Maple
  • Pine
  • Poplar
  • Willow 

The following wood types are not recommended:

Allelopathic trees because they create biochemicals that affect the growth of other organisms. 

  • American elm
  • Black walnut
  • Cherry
  • Pecan
  • Sugar maple
  • Sycamore
  • Red oak
  • Walnut  

Rot resistant woods because they take too long to decompose.

  • Black locust
  • Black walnut
  • Cedar
  • Oak
Image of large trunk pieces in garden bed

Step 4: Add Second layer – Smaller Branches and Wood Pieces

Begin layering smaller branches and wood pieces on top of the stumps and large trunk pieces.

Image of smaller branches added to raised garden bed

Step 5: Add Third layer – Yard Debris

The third layer can include yard clippings, leaves, straw, and food scraps. The food scraps, plant, and yard debris in this layer will compost or break down and add nitrogen to your soil. 

Image of large stumps, smaller pieces of wood added to brick raised garden bed

Step 6: Fourth layer – Rich Top Soil

The fourth layer is your rich top soil.  We had leveled out our driveway last year, so we had a small hill of rich soil available for filling our raised garden beds.

*If you soil is not as rich as you would like for this step, you can add a smaller fifth layer of rich topsoil or mulch to top off your garden bed after step 7.

Image of top soil being added to raised garden bed from tractor budket

Step 7: Water Down Your Top Soil – Fill in the Gaps

This is an important step to be sure all the nooks and crannies are filled.  Use a hose to water down the top soil.  You will notice where more soil will need to be added. Once all the gaps are filled, you are done!

Image of watered down soil in brick raised garden bed

Congratulations! Now you are ready to plant!

Image of wood/metal raised garden bed next to an image of a brick raised garden bed filled with dirt

To learn how we built our brick raised garden bed, check out the blog. For more information on The Dietitian Resource, please visit our site or the blog. Thanks for reading!

Resources

For more information on gardening and planting in your area, please check out the links below.

https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/topics/home-gardening

https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/

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More About Rochelle

Rochelle Inwood MS, RDN, ACSM EP-C

Hello there! I’m Rochelle Inwood, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Exercise Physiologist (ACSM EP-C). With over 14 years of experience, I have sharpened my expertise through diverse roles, including weight management program co-coordinator, patient/employee gym supervisor, outpatient dietitian, program manager, dietetic internship preceptor, and more. I am passionate about learning, creating, teaching, and supporting personal growth and development.