Top list of varieties and uses
Raised Garden beds are a really great option to creating gardening space in all kinds of areas. I had actually never used raised garden beds for anything until I moved to a large city.
Living in the city, there is limited space for growing things. And the space that is available often needs to double as more than just a garden space.
Sometimes the soil in the ground is also contaminated from previous uses. Vegetables and fruits are not safe to eat from contaminated soil. There are certain fruit trees that filter toxins out of the soil, but that’s a for another post.
In these kind of situations a raised garden bed is awesome. It provides the option to grow in weird and fun locations. And it can add a clean defined look to the garden. There are plenty of materials that can be used to make raised garden beds, but this post is going to focus on just wood products.
Using wood for a raised garden bed is pretty common. Below are some of the different types of wood, and wood options that can be used for raised garden beds.
There are so many great options, and some really creative ways to incorporate wood into your garden.
Pressure Treated or Au Natural?
I am not going to spend time talking about the use of pressure treated wood versus natural wood here. It can be a complex topic when talking about the different kinds of pressure treating methods. Or how it might impact the type of plants you are growing, and how the pressure treatment may or may not transmit certain chemicals into the soil.
If you are interested in using pressure treated wood for your garden please do a bit of research first. Some chemicals are more harmful than others. For the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on natural wood with no treatments.
Plank based wood
When looking at using wood in your garden, it is a good idea to consider using rot-resistant wood that can withstand the elements of sun, rain, and insects, and will also be long-lasting.
I love cedar. I think it is one of my favourite types of wood by far. It’s lightweight, easy to build with, and smells amazing. Especially after it has been freshly cut, or a good rain.
Cedar is naturally rot resistant, and is fairly long-lasting. It should last roughly 7- 10 years in your garden, depending on the weather conditions.
Cedar is naturally moisture resistant which helps it last through different weather conditions. It is also a natural way of repelling some insects, such as mites, and fleas.
The hydrocarbons and acids in the wood (that helps form that amazing scent I love so much) can get into the blood stream of some insects, snakes, and small rodents, sometimes causing fatal reactions.
Cedar is a great option for the garden, especially if you live in an area where it is readily available, and somewhat cost effective.
While one of the most rot resistant type of lumber available, Black locust is not nearly as easy to find, or buy.
If you know someone with a black locust tree in need of pruning or find one that is being cut down, having it turned into usable lumber could be a viable option.
Black locust is a very hard wood, making it very sturdy and strong. It makes for excellent stakes for making raised garden beds. Also an excellent building material for fence posts.
Although Redwood is a great option for rot resistance, and longevity, the redwood forests are quickly disappearing from the earth. If you are able to find and repurpose untreated used redwood that would be more ideal, as I do not want to advocate for the further eradication of this incredible forest system. Old growth redwood trees can be several thousand years old depending on what variety of redwood, and where it was milled.
Douglas Fir is rot resistant, but less so than cedar, with a lifespan of roughly 5-7 years in the garden. This is a more readily available wood, though it is susceptible to insects. It is best to research the insects in your area if you are considering using Douglas fir, and how it might affect your garden.
Pine is another very good option for your raised garden beds. It is very easy to find, inexpensive, and regenerates quickly, making for a more environmentally sustainable choice to use in the garden.
Pine will last roughly 5 years. This might be a very reasonable time frame depending on your garden, or outdoor space, and if you have plans to change your layout in the future, or perhaps you are in a temporary space such as a balcony, or rental house, and want something that will last while you are there, but doesn’t need to be permanent.
There are many different lumber options to choose from when considering building a raised bed with milled lumber. A great resource for checking the properties of different wood available in your area, check out www.wood-database.com
Wood Styles for Raised Garden Beds
Along with railway ties, using boards is probably the most common form of creating a raised bed. The best method is to use wooden stakes for the corners, and use nails, or screws to attach the boards. Boards are a very versatile option.
Lumber is readily available from local lumberyards or hardware stores. You can cut the wood to fit your gardening needs. There are many garden bed designs available online if you are planning to build a garden bed using board lumber.
Sleepers (railway ties)
Railway sleepers are probably the one of the most common ways to use wood in the garden. Sleepers, or ties, are also often used for retaining soil in multi-level gardens.
Sleepers are very sturdy, and have a longer life to them than board wood will. They can be cut to size to fit your needs, but are relatively expensive to purchase in mass quantities. Depending on how many raised beds you want, or how high you want them, that price can add up quickly.
If you use railway sleepers, do not use recycled sleepers from railway tacks or yards. They are often treated with chemicals. This is not something you will want to leech into your garden soil. Check with your local supplier to find out if they have been treated with anything prior to using them.
A stumpery is much like it sounds. The stumps, or log off-cuts from a felled tree can add some fun height and texture to your raised bed. If your logs or stumps are too wide, cut them in half to line up vertically next to each other. This will create the border of your garden bed.
If you have more space to play with, consider using different levels. Various sized logs stacked strategically will enhance the image of depth in your garden.
Logs are a great option if you have access to a forested area, or ravine where trees have naturally fallen. Use them for a rustic log cabin look, or stacked with the bark still on to create a mystic look.
Use moss, leaves, or other garden refuse to fill in cracks between the logs. This technique will enhance a raised garden bed and make it look as though it has been there for decades.
Using tree roots can work really well to create a lot of natural depth to your garden. Tree roots will also mimic forest floor type planting for a shade garden, or make lots of convenient pockets to plant perennials.
Tree roots can also be used to outline different areas of the garden to make defined sections for planting. Much more difficult to procure on their own, and expensive to buy unless you know someone who happens to be getting rid of a bunch of tree root sections.
I covered the use of pallets in my post about different raised bed ideas, but I think it warrants a mention here. Using and repurposing pallets is a very popular activity, especially in the age of pinterest. Pallets are definitely a great option to create a really inexpensive raised garden. Pallets are also readily available, and often free, especially in urban areas.
If you are considering pallets for your garden space use caution. Most pallets are treated with chemicals for transporting goods across distances, especially from international locations. The pallets that you want to use may have been sprayed with pesticides at some point in its journey to your doorstep.
To find out if your pallet has been treated with anything, look for paint markings. The paint colours will tell you if the pallet has been heat treated, or sprayed with chemical. Use this resource to find out what kind of pallet you have. www.1001pallets.com/pallet-safety/
For any wood products that you are recycling, it is always a good idea to find out what it was used for, and if it will be safe for you and your garden.
Not the Cotswold cottage kind of thatching, but the kind you might have seen used for a fence.
Thatch, or weave young pliable tree growth, or other shoots you already have growing in your outdoor space used to weave around stakes placed in the ground. If you can get a tight enough weave this can be a viable option to add a textured charm to your garden, and also allow you the freedom to create circular, or random shapes.
Repurposing old Windows for hot beds
I added this one because I think it is a great option to consider if you want to start your planting early, and you have the space available to set up a hot bed. Using an old window is a great way to repurpose building material. Much like anything you are planning to repurpose, you want to know it’s safe to use. Checking if it has been treated with something will help you determine if you want to use it in your garden or not.
Fit windows to raised garden bed frames to keep your plants warm when the days are still cold and windy, and the nights go below 10°C.
I’ve touched on this one before also, but using old furniture can be another way to repurpose old wood in want of another use.
Old bedframes, cane chairs missing their seats, an old desk or table converted into a table top garden, dressers, or even just the dresser drawers pulled out.
There are a lot of ways to reuse old wood furniture in the garden. This is also an inexpensive way to create gardening space.
What I enjoy most about using furniture is that it can fit into whatever space you have available. You can put a dresser on a balcony. Fill the drawers with soil, and have an instant garden that requires very little work or set up to get going.
Gardening is a creative activity. Using wood to help you make raised beds is a great way to get started on your gardening journey.
I would love to hear about your experiences with raised garden beds. Tag us in your pictures on instagram @veggie_homestead.