Herbs Vegetables

Root Depth for Vegetables

Ill.: Park Seed

I receive a lot of email from readers putting in raised bed gardens, but who seem doubtful that you really need to fill the whole thing from the base to the summit with top-quality soil. They don’t seem to realize just how deep vegetable roots can go. I have beds 2 feet (60 cm) high filled with the best soil I could buy locally and I find that scarcely enough, at least, not when you want productive vegetables rather than a wimpy crop.

In a raised bed, you want rich, well-draining soil from bottom to top. Photo: The Gardening Channel With James Prigioni

Some people even want to put a layer of gravel in the bottom. Gravel! Can you believe that? Or fill it with so-called “black earth” (actually black peat): inexpensive, for sure, but just about the worst soil amendment on the market. Yikes!

I think it might help to see just how deep some vegetable roots grow, as the chart below shows. Maybe you can skimp when it comes to herbs (most are shallow-rooted and not particularly needy of rich soil), but when it comes to vegetable gardening, you always want the best soil you can get and as deep as possible.

Soil Depth Requirements for Common Garden Vegetables

Shallow Rooting
12?–18? (30–45 cm)
Medium Rooting
18?–24? (45–60 cm)
Deep Rooting
24?–36?+ (60–90 cm+)
ArugulaBean, dry Artichoke
Basil Bean, fava Asparagus
Bok Choy Bean, pole Bean, lima
Broccoli Bean, snap Comfrey
Brussels sprouts Beet Horseradish
Cabbage CarrotOkra
Cauliflower ChardParsnip
Celery CucumberPumpkin
Chinese cabbage Eggplant (aubergine)Rhubarb
ChivesKaleSquash, winter
Cilantro (coriander) MelonSweet potato
Collards PeaTomato
Corn Pepper Watermelon
Endive Rosemary
Fennel Rutabaga
Garlic Squash, summer
Jerusalem artichoke Turnip 

You still want to fill your raised bed with third-quality soil? Or black earth? Or gravel? Go ahead, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

3 comments on “Root Depth for Vegetables

  1. Do not agree with any of these depth numbers. If they were true, then no raised beds would be practical or functional. Example: 24-36 inches deep for pumpkins! I grew pumpkins in a field and then pulled them up in the fall. Roots were not even a foot deep.

    • Abby Irwin, MD

      Do you have some sort of illustration for vegetable root depths that you believe are accurate? or just could type them out and post? or send? Would be so helpful. Abby

  2. Or just put it in the ground.
    I hear the same about gravel. Some believe it is good for potted plants. I suppose it can be useful in pots if there is something on top of it to prevent the airspace from filling with medium. A landscaper told me that he puts large stones and bricks into large pots to make them too heavy to steal (as if the stones and bricks are significantly heavier than wet medium). I think that if I were concerned about pots being stolen, I would not use pots.

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