You’ve chosen the perfect spot that gets at least eight to 10 hours of sun a day. Now you need to choose your raised garden bed materials. I have used a few of the options I’m going to tell you about—wood, fabric, and metal. They’re all scattered around my front, back, and side yards. Because I live on a ravine, I don’t just have one great big sunny area, so I have to choose my sites accordingly.
How do you know which raised garden bed materials to use? Personal preference and the look you want to achieve will certainly play into your decision. Part of it will be about budget considerations and availability of materials. And you may be concerned with the longevity of the materials you choose.
Building a raised garden from wood
Wood is probably the most popular option that is used for raised garden bed materials. What you choose will depend primarily upon what’s available in your region where you live, availability, and price. I recommend untreated, rot-resistant wood. I’ve used untreated cedar for most of my wooden raised bed projects. Niki, who lives on the East Coast, has used hemlock for her expansive raised bed garden, because that’s what’s available in her area.
There are a few different ways to build with wood. If you have rounded timbers, you can stack them. Or, what I’ve seen some builders do is create a half-lap joint for more stability. A standard milled flat board that comes in a variety of sizes is another option.
Look for a stamp or tag that indicates certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This international organization ensures that the wood company has conducted business and forest management practices in an environmentally, economically and socially responsible way.
Other rot-resistant woods include chestnut, redwood, cypress, ipe, and white oak.
Look for raised bed kits
For anyone who doesn’t feel they have the skills to put together a raised bed, there are some great options for raised bed kits. Most kits should come with all the materials required for the project—wood, screws, etc. One of the garden bed kits I feature in Raised Bed Revolution came with all the pre-cut pieces of wood required to build the project, a galvanized steel frame and the nuts and bolts to assemble. There are even pre-drilled pilot holes and a perfectly sized piece of landscape fabric to line the sides.
Using upcycled items as raised garden bed materials
I love to recommend upcycling old items into projects. You may have some items kicking around that make perfect raised garden bed materials. In my own garden, I have an old washbasin that I found at an antique market that I converted into a raised bed, and the lettuce table I made out of an old table. I love seeing what others are doing, too. When Raised Bed Revolution was first published, a reader sent a photo to my Facebook page of a bookcase tipped on its side to create a raised garden. I thought that was pretty clever.
When it comes to using upcycled wood for raised beds, I’m always hesitant to mention pressure-treated wood salvaged from an old deck, fence, even railroad ties, because you don’t know if there are still traces of chemicals. (I’ve read that arsenic was removed from the treated lumber process in 2003.)
My recommendation, especially if you’re growing food, is to err on the side of caution. If you have boards you’re interested in using, do some research into where they’re from and determine what you’re comfortable with. I know some gardeners will line their raised beds along the sides (never the bottom) with plastic, so that the wood doesn’t leach into the garden soil.
Using concrete blocks and pavers for raised beds
Bricks and paving stones are long-lasting raised garden bed materials. Just be sure they’re stacked and/or secured in a way that makes them stable. They’re also a great option if you’d like to build a raised bed into a slope. I did that with a my front yard garden at my first home.
Concrete or cement blocks, which used to be referred to as cinder blocks, are also an option to frame a quick and easy raised bed. The added bonus is you can fill the two holes in each block with soil for extra planting space—maybe some herbs, lettuces, or alyssum. Just like with the pressure-treated wood, I will caution that concrete blocks used to be made with fly ash, a by-product of coal. It’s hard to find evidence of leaching or whether modern blocks are ever made with it. I would make sure that your blocks are just made with concrete.
Using galvanized steel for raised beds
There are a couple of options for using galvanized steel. Farm stores are a great place to source stock tanks that can be turned into raised beds and clever companies offer similar-looking metal tubs branded for gardening. Many even have a plug for drainage, so you don’t have to drill holes. And if you’re lucky, you may be able to find a used one, which will cost less. If you don’t want to worry about getting rid of grass—or you have a driveway or patio stones—you can simply sit the stock tank overtop and you’re ready to fill and plant.
There are also some great metal kits available that mimic the look of a corrugated steel stock tank or window well. Many of these don’t have the bottom and aren’t as heavy as an actual stock tank.
There is also the option to purchase sheets of corrugated steel to attach to a wooden frame. You can find more details in my article about galvanized raised beds.
More ideas for raised garden bed materials
- Fabric raised beds: The perks of growing fruit and vegetables in these versatile containers
- Set up a self-watering raised bed: Pre-made and DIY options
- Straw bale gardening: Learn how to grow vegetables in straw bales