How To Fill A Garden Bed For Free

There are a lots of reasons people get into gardening. Some people want to start gardening to save money. These people could quickly learn that growing your own food can sometimes cost more than buying food at the grocery store. However, gardening doesn't have to be expensive. One area where you can save money is on what you use to fill up your garden beds. The good news is you don't have to sacrifice good quality soil in order to save money.

Our garden beds are 14 inches high and we will have 11 of them when our garden is finished. Plus we have a large in ground bed thats around 22 ft by 26 ft. We absolutely could not afford to fill all of that up with soil you can buy from a nursery. You can certainly build beds that aren't as deep as ours but we have found that we've had better luck growing things with deeper beds. Here is how we layer our beds in a way that saves money without sacrificing quality. 

First we put a layer of cardboard at the bottom of our garden beds to block out weeds. Regardless of what you put in your beds, I highly recommend this step. People are always giving away free moving boxes on Craigslist if you don't have enough cardboard yourself. But lets be real, we all have a stash of Amazon boxes laying around.

After the cardboard, we put a layer of sticks and logs at the bottom of the bed. These will eventually break down and add nutrients to the soil. They also take up space so you don't have to fill the entire bed with soil.

Next we add a layer of wood chips. In most places, you can get wood chips delivered to your house for free. We used the service Chip Drop to get our wood chips. There are so many uses for wood chips and they are invaluable to no dig gardening. The kicker with getting wood chips delivered using Chip Drop is that they are going to bring you a massive pile. I mean it is HUGE. You cannot request a smaller pile. So you do have to take that into consideration. We have a big ugly pile of wood chips at the top of our driveway, but it's a price we are willing to pay. The wood chips will break down much more quickly than the logs and they will add much needed nutrients to the soil. 

The next layer is leaves. If you didn't save your leaves from the fall, you might be able to find some on Craigslist. This isn't a necessary step but again it is a filler and it's free. This is also another material that will break down and add nutrients to the soil. 

Now we get to the actual soil. When we were in a pinch we had to get soil from Home Depot and we bought top soil, compost, and Kellogg's potting soil. To fill our 8ft by 4 ft garden beds we used 1 1/3 bag of compost, 2 bags of Kellogg's potting soil, and 2 bags of topsoil. After filling some of our garden beds with that we were able to find black gold- composted manure. This treasure was found on Craigslist and we were able to overfill a truck bed for $60. This is going to be mixed with soil we buy from a local nursery that we can buy by the truckload. I highly recommend getting soil this way if you can, because buying all those bags of dirt is expensive and uses so much plastic. 

After adding in all the soil we topped the beds of with another layer of wood chips. We've planted using 2 different methods. We've added the wood chips and then cleared out a spot to plant in. We've also planted before adding the wood chips and then added the wood chips around each plant. The jury is still out on which method I prefer. 

So there are a lot of ways you can fill up your gardens beds. And you can save a lot of money by filling your beds with natural materials (wood chips, sticks, leaves, etc) that you can get for free. These have the added benefit of giving back to your soil. 

Thanks for stopping by and happy gardening!



  1. I have heard that the decomposition of (recently live) wood initially is bad for soil as it creates a nitrogen deficiency. Would this affect the quality of the soil in the garden bed?

    1. If you add a layer of compost below the wood chips, that will compensate for that loss. We didn't have any problems when we did it last year. You can also get wood chips and let them sit for a few months. Also, you can always check your levels in your soil to make sure everything is okay.

  2. Love this. Those look like the perfect size and shape for garden beds. I am about to redo a deck and would like to use the boards to build them. Will save your post For future reference. Thanks.

  3. Would the decomposing wood and leaves cause the soil to become too acidic?

  4. Are there any kind of wood, sticks, trees, etc. that we should not use to fill the bed?
    Thank You

  5. That sounds like there are only a couple inches of actual dirt? I know the stuff you fill with underneath will break down eventually, but not immediately. Are you able to plant right away like this? Or is this preparing your beds a few months in advance of planting?