The only thing better than enjoying the produce from your garden is planning your garden. I could spend hours looking through seed catalogs, checking out the latest garden equipment, drawing maps of what my garden might look like, and, naturally, thinking about the best type of wood for raised beds. After all, you want something that isn’t going to rot, but you also don’t want anything treated with chemicals.
So I did what any gardener would do and spent the next three weeks scouring websites and reading through extension program materials and forestry blogs. I’m kidding; it was only two weeks and six days. I also asked around and thought about my own experience with raised beds. No surprise, but I got a ton of information and more than a few strong opinions about using materials other than wood, too.
Let’s check out some of the options.
Discovering the best type of wood for raised beds
There are several considerations around the best type of wood for raised beds. I’ll touch on those below, but first, here are some popular options for raised garden beds.
Cedar. Cedar is most commonly thought of as the best type of wood for raised beds. It’s largely resistant to rot and termites, and it’s relatively easy to find. It can also be expensive. As an example, a 2-inch x 6-inch x 10-foot long cedar board runs about $25. The wood will last you 15 or more years.
Redwood. Redwood has a lifespan of more than 20 years, and like cedar, it’s also resistant to rot. It’s also a bit more challenging to find than cedar, and it ain’t cheap. An 8-foot redwood board is in the $30 range.
Pine. Pine is a softer wood and won’t last nearly as long as cedar or redwood. However, it’s also inexpensive. We’re talking around $15 for a 10-foot board.
You have more options, of course. A lot of people like juniper because it’s resistant to insects and rot. It’s a little more challenging to find, but it will also last more than 50 years! There’s also Douglas fir, which has a long history in housing construction. It’s also very affordable but tends to have a much shorter lifespan.
As you can see, the best type of wood for raised beds can vary depending on how much you want to spend. Personally, I prefer pine since it grows quickly and is less expensive. However, there are some very important considerations to bear in mind no matter which wood you opt for.
Choosing wood for your raised bed
You really do need to take care in selecting the wood you use. There are some essential terms you’ll come across, such as treated, untreated, pressure treated, recycled, reclaimed, and FSC certified. Here’s what they all mean:
Treated and Pressure Treated. This warrants an entire academic paper, but here’s the abridged version. Treated and pressure-treated woods are very similar to one another. The difference, as you can probably tell, is in how they are treated. So what does that mean? The wood is coated or infused with chemicals that help prevent rot. Some, but not all, treated lumber is considered safe for use in food gardens. My personal preference is to skip any treated wood for gardening purposes. But if you do use treated wood, do your homework and determine whether it is safe for gardening.
Recycled and reclaimed wood. Reclaimed and recycled wood can be beautiful. It’s aged. It might be rare. And it’s a great way to use the material you already have (or can buy at a reasonable price). However, it’s nearly impossible to tell what kind of chemicals may have been added to the wood or if it’s contaminated with lead paint. If you find some gorgeous reclaimed wood and want to use it for your front door, go for it, but it’s probably not the best type of wood for raised beds.
FSC certified. The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization that works to maintain the sustainability of forests across the globe. FSC certification means that the wood comes from well-managed forests.
Untreated. Lastly, untreated wood is your raw lumber. It’s been cut, and that’s probably about it.
So to put it all together, the best type of wood for raised beds is untreated, FSC-certified pine. Or untreated, FSC-certified cedar or redwood if you want something a bit longer-lasting.
You do, however, have other options for your raised beds.
Galvanized metal. These come in various sizes, they’re easy to find, and they don’t have to be terribly expensive. You can buy them designed specifically for raised bed gardening, or if you find some nice galvanized tubs at a yard sale, you can always drill some drainage holes into them.
Rocks. Yes, they could be heavy and awkward to work with, but they can also give your garden a lovely, rustic look. And they can be free.
Straw bales. This is about as sustainable as it gets, and you can grow vegetables on the straw bales themselves, as well as use them to contain a raised bed. The downside is that they will only last a season or two.
In short, you have options when it comes to crafting your own raised garden bed. The possibilities are (almost) endless!
Have you already dealt with this question? What kind of wood do you prefer for a raised bed? I’d love to read your ideas in the comments.