Feb 28 2013

What is the best wood to use for raised garden beds?


Families across America are reintegrating home gardens into their lives, working to increase the amounts of health-giving homegrown fruits and vegetables in their diets. Because of this, folks frequently ask us about the best type of wood to use for their planter boxes and raised garden beds. 

Raised beds are a great idea because they protect growing plants from the scuffs and kicks of passersby while allowing the soil to warm faster in the springtime, generating an earlier crop.  They're also quite decorative and can add significant charm to vegetable gardens.

By building the boxes out of a beautiful, durable, and chemical-free material, you'll take an important step toward guaranteeing that your yard bears many decades of abundant and nourishing crops. (Click here for plans for easy-to-build, affordable juniper raised beds, and here for a Pinterest gallery of ideas.)

Here are the types of wood that are commonly used for this purpose, and the pros and cons of each:

Species Pros Cons How to source sustainably
- Beautiful, smooth, elegant appearance
- Easily takes stains or paint
- Fairly long lifespan - 20+ years for Western Red Cedar
- Chemical-free
- Possible to buy sustainably-grown
- Often untraceable sourcing
- Much cedar is imported
- Buy FSC Certified only
- Source products that are harvested and milled in the United States
- Choose Select Tight Knot instead of Clear grade to minimize waste and reduce demand for Old Growth
- Very long lifespan - 50+ years
- Great for gardens where a wabi sabi, modern look is preferred
- Chemical-free
- Inexpensive
- Our recommended choice
- Rustic look doesn't appeal to everyone
- Juniper is more prone to movement than other species, which can be a challenge for vertical installations
- Juniper is sourced from grassland restoration projects in Oregon
- Its harvest helps improve an ecosystem, not damage one
- Easy to find
- Fairly long lifespan - 20+ years
- Inexpensive
- Contains chemical preservatives that are designed to impede biological activity, which may damage garden soil
- Buy FSC Certified wood
- Buy wood that is treated with an alternative to CCA (chromated copper arsenate, which contains arsenic), such as borate, ACQ, or CA (copper azole)
- Choose an alternative that uses no chemicals (we recommend juniper)
Reclaimed Wood
- Keeps material out of the waste stream
- Can be rustic and charming
- Usually inexpenive
- May be challenging to find the right sizes
- Wood may contain unknown chemical additives
- Lead paint may chip off into soil
- Unknown species may not offer much durability
- Try to find cedar, redwood, or another naturally durable species
- Try to find wood that is untreated and unpainted
- Beautiful color
- Elegant
- Fairly long lifespan - 20+ years
- Chemical-free
- Can be expensive - Buy FSC Certified redwood only

The lifespan data above is derived in part from an ongoing study at OSU that tracks the durability of treated and untreated posts in ground-contact applications. Click here for full results.

Photo at top: Juniper 6x6 landscaping timbers used for retaining wall, raised beds, and stairs