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Feb 28, 2013

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

By KC

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. (Here are step-by-step instructions for building juniper raised beds, but you can use them for other species too!)

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
Cedar
  • 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
  • Try to source products that are harvested and milled in America
  • Choose Select Tight Knot instead of Clear grade to minimize waste and reduce demand for Old Growth
Juniper
  • Very long lifespan - 50+ years
  • Great for gardens where a wabi sabi look is preferred
  • Chemical-free
  • Inexpensive
  • Rustic look doesn't appeal to everyone
  • Juniper is more prone to movement than other species, which can be a challenge for vertical installations
Pressure-treated wood
  • Easy to find
  • Fairly long lifespan - 20+ years
  • Inexpensive
  • 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
Recycled or reclaimed wood
  • Keeps material out of the waste stream
  • Can be rustic and charming
  • Usually inexpensive
  • May be challenging to find the right sizes
  • Wood may contain unknown chemical additives
  • Surface 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

Redwood
  • Beautiful color
  • Elegant
  • Fairly long lifespan - 20+ years
  • Chemical-free
  • Can be expensive
     

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.

Category: Wood Q&A

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