Hugelkultur is my favorite method of growing. It’s easy, great for the environment, doesn’t require digging and produces a beautiful, sustainable, productive garden bed. It’s like an extreme version of composting in place, and it’s a really good way to start with permaculture techniques.

I learned about hugelkultur years ago while researching new sustainability and permaculture ideas for my little homestead. It quickly became my go-to for making new beds and growing spaces, because it’s just so effective.

What Is Hugelkultur?

Hugelkultur, pronounced “hoo-gul-culture,” is a German term that translates to “hill culture” or “hill mound.” This gardening technique involves creating raised beds packed with rotting wood.

The concept is simple: As the wood decomposes, it provides a constant source of nutrients for the plants, mimicking the natural cycle of a forest floor.

Basically, you start with untreated, natural wood. You can use twigs and branches, big logs or huge pieces of tree trunks — whatever you have readily available. Then you cover the wood with compostable materials like vegetable peelings, leaves, and grass clippings. (This stage is shown in the photo.)

You can wait for the top layer to start to decompose, or cover it over with a few inches of compost and just start planting.

What Is a Hugelkultur Raised Bed?

A hugelkultur raised bed is essentially a mound of organic material.

It starts with a base layer of logs or branches, followed by smaller pieces of wood like twigs and wood chips. This is topped with compost, manure, leaves, kitchen scraps, grass clippings and finally a layer of topsoil.

The key difference between a hugelkultur raised bed and a traditional raised bed lies in the composition. While traditional beds are typically filled with a mix of topsoil and compost, hugelkultur beds incorporate wood and other organic materials. This creates a self-fertilizing system that improves soil fertility over time.

Pros and Cons of Hugelkultur Raised Beds

For me, there really aren’t many drawbacks to hugelkultur raised beds. I’d choose these every time over traditional raised beds that require a lot of attention to keep them healthy. But for some, regular raised beds might be the better choice.


They’re cost-effective, making use of readily available materials like fallen branches and yard waste.
They retain moisture well, reducing the need for frequent watering.
You can easily compost your raw vegetable scraps and a lot of your garden waste by feeding them to your hugelkultur beds, reducing your carbon footprint and garbage.
Over time, hugelkultur beds can yield more produce. As the wood breaks down, it continuously enriches the soil, leading to healthier, more productive plants. You end up with really healthy, nutrient-rich soil you can replenish by adding more organic material throughout the year.
Hugelkultur raised beds also follow permaculture principles, so they work in harmony with nature and don’t require you to turn the soil.
Finally, they’re easier to put together than building a raised bed because they don’t need a physical container to hold the soil, wood and plant matter.


Hugelkultur raised beds take up more space than traditional ones, and the decomposing wood can temporarily tie up nitrogen, a nutrient essential for plant growth. The nitrogen issue can be mitigated by adding high-nitrogen materials like manure or grass clippings to the mound.

What To Plant in a Hugelkultur Raised Bed

Hugelkultur beds are incredibly versatile. They’re great for growing lots of fruits and vegetables, from tomatoes and zucchini to strawberries and potatoes. They’re great for heavy feeders like pumpkins, too.

But they’re not just for edibles. You can also grow ornamental plants like flowers and shrubs, making them a fantastic addition to any landscape. I wouldn’t attempt to grow cacti or anything else that does well as part of a xeriscape, because these beds tend to hold a fair amount of moisture.

How To Build a Hugelkultur Raised Bed

Building a hugelkultur bed is straightforward. Here’s a basic rundown:

Choose your location: Pick a spot with plenty of sunlight and good drainage.
Lay down the base: Arrange logs or large branches on the ground, forming a mound about three to six feet wide. Because this is a permaculture technique, the height of the mound doesn’t matter; it just depends on the size of the logs. With a hugelkultur raised bed, you work with what you’ve got.
Add smaller wood: Pile on twigs and wood chips, ideally creating a thin layer over top of the base. But don’t worry if there are gaps. It doesn’t need to be precise.
Add organic material: Layer on compost, manure, leaves and grass clippings, creating a nice, dense layer between three and 12 inches. You can’t really do too dense of a layer here. Remember, this is going to compress and break down into beautiful soil and will feed your hugelkultur bed.
Top with soil: Finish with a layer of topsoil, making sure to cover all the organic material. Aim for three to six inches so you’ve got a deep enough layer to plant into right away. If you’re planning on growing deep-rooted plants or root crops in the first year, definitely go for six inches or more.
Plant your seeds or seedlings: Water thoroughly, and you’re good to go!

So, is hugelkultur right for your garden? That depends on your gardening goals, available space and resources. But if you’re looking for a sustainable, low-maintenance gardening method that can boost your garden’s productivity, hugelkultur raised beds are definitely worth considering.

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