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What’s the Best Type of Wood for Raised Beds?

Planning your garden and wondering about the best type of wood for raised beds? Or is there a better material to use? Here's the dirt.

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.

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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.

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By Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur is Senior Editor & Producer for Food Gardening Network and GreenPrints. She is responsible for generating all daily content and managing distribution across web, email, and social. In her producer role, she plans, edits, and deploys all video content for guides, magazine issues, and daily tips. As a best-selling cookbook author, Amanda cooks using ingredients from her outdoor gardens in the summer and from her indoor hydroponic garden in the winter.

13 replies on “What’s the Best Type of Wood for Raised Beds?”

25 years ago, I built two playsets for my kids, with 2×6 “green” treated-lumber, in a mulch-covered area measuring 27′ x 34′ — surrounded with 6×6 timbers. I recently took the playsets apart, and used the wood to build 11 garden beds (~500 square feet) in this same area. I assume that 25 years of Chicago weather will have “cured” the wood and removed any dangerous chemicals. The two playsets yielded 181 board-feet, and I cut-and-spliced pieces using metal “truss mending plates”. (I used all but 8 inches of the wood.) The beds are re-configurable, as I joined the boards using concrete “planter wall blocks”. In the spring, all I need to do is buy ~10 yards ($700) of garden soil, and then the fun begins!

I have been using 4x8x16″ cement blocks for an 8″ high bed. They run about $2.60 each, so a 4′ x 9’6″ approx. box, 20 blocks, is about $55, much cheaper than wood, and will last a very long time. I hold them together, edge to edge, with construction adhesive, making them very sturdy, with no chance of falling over. I first dig up the existing soil a shovel blades deep, turning it often, then I mix in some compost with it, then I fill it up with bags of garden soils and raised bed soils, maybe mixing in some 10/10/10 slow release feed too.. Then after watering it well, it’s ready to plant, with fertile soil 12″+ deep.. Unfortunately the bags of soil cost more than the block, depending on how much existing soil you mix in with the bagged soils. .

Here’s a helpful tip from George J. a member of our community.

“Just a note on the recommendation of wood for raised beds…. You can use the less expensive untreated, pine with longer use before rot, if you line the inside with a plastic liner. A 100′ roll of 6mil, 10′ wide liner goes a long way. Fairly easy to cut with scissors and just staple to the inside of your boards. With good drainage under the bed, the only contact then becomes the edge of the board and a simple paint coat of poly will protect that for many years. My raised beds are about 6 years old and no sign of rot or decay. Just a thought to pass on”.

What would be the problem with using pressure treated pine but covered with a water proof tarp or neoprene? if you punch holes in the bottom, place rocks in the bottom and on top of that use natural vegetation for mulch, a layer of soil mixed with vermiculite and add a 1/2″ to 1″ pvc pipe, vertically, for every 2′ or 3′ of bed, depending on the length of the bed to water? I have a friend who uses twigs from trees and clippings from bushes and lays them out over the rocks before he adds his soil mix, then props a 1/2″ round piece of tubing to a small bed to water. He says once the bed is moist and his seeds planted, he just uses the pipe to water to keep the mulch moist and the tube acts as a water meter. He is growing all kinds of veggys without any use of chemicals. The tube also controls over-watering.

If you mean the resin garden beds you can find at the store, those are good and pretty sturdy. I don’t find they hold up to the climate where I am up north for too many seasons though.

I was talking about the type of resin wood used for decking. Make it 4 to 5 feet off ground with redwood 4×4 posts. We are slightly handicap. Want make them 6 to 8 feet long by 2 feet front to back and about 18 inch deep. Maybe looking at lineing it with some type of paper. What is your opinion. Thanks.

I wish I could make a raised bed like one of these but my problem is the critters. I have all kinds like rabbits,squirrels, raccoons, moles,chipmunks, you name it..I would have to fence it in, Appreciate your info.Thank You.

The best “type of wood” is ceramic tiles supported by PT pine. Lasts ? forever. The only drawback is
the need to plan as the size of the tiles determines the length of the sides and, if the bed has
a floor (standing garden), the size of the bottom. Have used multiple types of wood but this is best.

The best place I have found to get ceramic tile at bargain prices is Habitat for Humanity ReStores. The materials they sell can be new donated from contractors or box stores, or used and donated by guys like me. Not only do you get a real bargain – the money Habitat earns goes to help build homes for deserving folks who could not become homeowners without their help. If you are not familiar with this charity, President Jimmie Carter still pounds nails for them in their home building efforts. Habitat is a great place to shop for all sorts of tools, materials, furniture- you name it, and also to donate tools and material and furniture and appliances you no longer need, as long as they are in usable condition.

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