Raised Beds for Your Garden: Framing Materials

comments (12) March 26th, 2011

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ChrisMcLaughlin Chris McLaughlin, contributor
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What materials have you used for raised garden beds?
Photo by Aka Hige under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.Click To Enlarge

What materials have you used for raised garden beds?

Photo by Aka Hige under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

There are many ways to go about framing a raised bed and ideas for materials are endless. There's only a few things that deserve some consideration before you put one or two together this spring. Bed location, the size, and what you're going to use to build it. The majority of raised beds are constructed from lumber.

I'll talk about the treated lumber from the get-go because for many years, the CCA-treated wood was used until we discovered that the arsenic, chromium, and copper was leaching into soils. At that point the EPA stopped arsenic from being used in lumber.

Pressure-treated wood is now processed in a more ecologically-friendly way and is deemed to have no ill effects on people or animals. The new treatments (ACQ or CA) have dropped the arsenic but are higher in copper. As with all chemically-treated wood you should still avoid the dust particles by wearing a mask you're cutting it to and it still shouldn't be burned, but rather, brought to a landfill.

Raised Bed Lumber Alternatives:

  • Pressure-Treated Wood - Currently a safer product than in years past. But be sure to use steel screws as the copper will react to aluminum ones, which will become corroded quickly.
  • Raw lumber - it's a little more expensive and it won't last as long as pressure-treated lumber, but then there's something to be said about peace of mind. Both  red cedar and redwood are naturally rot-resistant.
  • Composite timber - Made with a few different material depending on the company, it's commonly made of polypropylene and wood fiber. Some are made from recycled materials and can have UV ray protection to give it longer life.
  • Recycled Plastic - Another long-lasting choice and it's nice to know it puts old plastic to the very best use, in my opinion.
  • Cinderblocks - Okay, not as attractive as wood. But very inexpensive and fast!
  • Logs - I've made a raised herb bed from some logs I had lying around about 3 years ago. It's still holding that bed together and only part of the logs that shows any signs of breaking down is the outside bark.  Some of it has peeled away and broken off; but the structure is still sound. Talk about cheap.
  • Rock - Maybe not the fastest way considering that there's mortar and drying time involved. But, raised beds made of rock are quite permanent and beautiful to boot.
  • Brick - Brick beds turn out just as lovely as the rock kind, it just gives a different look. Also a forever bed.
  • Concrete and Concrete Blocks - Both of these offer a less formal look - but permanent beds. Regular concrete will take longer depending on your skill and drying time. But some concrete blocks are the interlocking type which can be set up in no time.

Beds made of lumber are usually attached joined at the corners with galvanized or stainless steel screws or bolts. But there are some new products on the market that allow you to join lumber together without digging into the tool bucket. One of these products are corner brackets that allow you to slide the wood into position. Don't forget to check this helpful hardware before you purchase.

I have to mention that some (okay, all) of the best raised beds that I've seen feature a ledge or cap that's been mounted to the top board of the bed. These sitting areas can keep you out in the garden longer by making garden chores like weeding, cutting flowers, or harvesting more comfortable for you. So, keep that in the back of your mind.

What materials have you used for constructing raised garden beds?

*Special Note: Thanks to my readers who pointed out that there is no longer arsenic in pressure-treated wood. Once in a while I slip into old-school. My bad.

For raised-bed design inspiration, see raised beds from the VegetableGardener.com community.

posted in: raised beds, raised bed materials

Comments (12)

rushgarden writes: I have a couple of new ideas for recycling plastic 2 liter pop bottles and spindles from our pool deck which collapsed last summer. The spindles are treated, so I am making beds for flowers only. The bottles I will fill with sand and place them side by side upside down to form the bed. I have 8 3' x 6' beds made from cedar; two from cinder blocks and two from logs. I still have a lot of room in my fenced area for more raised beds. Can hardly wait for warmer weather!!
Posted: 11:40 am on February 25th
Slugbuster writes: My raised beds are galvanized metal roofing. When I reroofed my barn the old roof generated 60 pieces of 3'x12' galvanized steel. I cut these down the middle generating 120 pieces of 1.5'x12' sheets. I buried these 6" deep and supported the sides with wooden steaks spaced at 3' intervals, giving me beds raised 12" above the paths. Judging from performance over 3 years, I estimate they will last 10 years before they rust away. One concern is that the top edge is sharp enough to cut an unprotected hand. I have not suffered any injury, but if you are concerned, the top edge can be capped with a thin strip of lumber.
Posted: 1:34 am on December 28th
Creeker01 writes: I found a slightly damaged section of prefab dog-eared fencing at my local hardware store. They sold it for half-off.

I cut the 6' x 8' section into thirds, leaving 2 foot high walls, then cut one of the thirds in half. Re-inforced where needed, lined the now 4 x 8 foot box with plastic, then filled it with sphagnum, potting and manure. Weaved in a soaker hose on a timer, which connects through the damaged board, covered the dirt with weed-stop. Now I don't have to bend over nearly so far to tend it.

I think the whole plot cost me around $50, but I had to haul a lot of bags into the backyard of my subdivision.
Posted: 12:55 am on May 9th
Robert_in_Cleveland writes: a friend of a friend kindly gave me a tour of her amazing backyard one day last year. She has an area of driveway that leads to her garage, but never parks there. So, she put old baby pools there and grows veggies.
Posted: 11:30 am on April 7th
sbhoward writes: That's one thing good about South Texas - I make my beds from rocks and don't need to worry about the chemicals!

Great read!
Posted: 7:10 am on April 4th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: yourownvictorygarden ~ In may case, I should have looked it up on the EPA website first. Back in the day (which wasn't that long ago *ahem*) pressure-treated wood was, indeed, a bad idea around veggies gardens. In fact, considering that they're still chemically treated, I still prefer not to use them.

Just makes me feel better :D
Posted: 7:02 pm on March 31st
Susieqtwo writes: Good article, I'm building another raised bed. I'm happy to hear about the pressure treated wood is safe. Thanks for posting this info.
Posted: 3:02 pm on March 30th
yourownvictorygarden writes: @MDGarden - That's definitely good to know... I've been wrestling with the "treated lumber" issue ever since I started using them (raised beds, that is). The wonder and concern of the Internet is that you can find both new and old information.
Posted: 12:36 pm on March 30th
bperky14 writes: My waste management people are switching to a wheeled container for recyclables - leaving me with three recycle bins to do with as I please. It will please me to plant carrots and beets in them!
Posted: 10:20 am on March 30th
joeinvirginia writes: I have been using raised beds for quite a while now. I use pressure treated lumber since it will last so long. I started out using 2" x 10" x 12' but that got rather expensive for the number of beds I wanted to make. I have now switched to using 1" x 6" x 12' which cut the cost to build the beds by more than half. My plan this year is to make a gravel walkway between the beds. I absolutly love raised bed gardening, it not only looks good but makes managing the garden so much easier.
Posted: 7:37 am on March 30th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: You're correct! I've been gardening way too long - I'll make the adjustments. That said, apparently there are still opposing view which is what brought my attention to the article in the first place. I'll revamp.
Posted: 11:40 am on March 27th
MDGarden writes: After 2003, the EPA banned the use of copper arsenic in pressure treated wood. Arsenic is NOT in the wood and pressure treated woods are vastly safer than before, including for use in vegetable beds. The information here is out of date.
Posted: 5:25 am on March 27th
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