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raised beds
Published June 27, 2023 by Nicole Burke

The Best Type of Wood to Use for a Raised Garden Bed

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the best type of wood for a raised garden bed

The Best Wood to Build Raised Beds

Building your own raised bed out of wood is an easy way to get started with your kitchen garden. Wood is one of the least expensive raised bed materials, and you don't need a lot of tools or even skills to put a simple garden bed together. (I'm certainly no carpenter, and I've built tons of raised beds.)

One thing to keep in mind if you're considering wood for your garden is that a raised bed is not a fence. By that I mean you're going to be asking a lot more from the wood in your garden than the wood around your yard. Not only will it be exposed to the weather, it will be constantly pressed up against wet, heavy soil.

While wood lacks the longevity as other building materials like stone and steel, picking the right type of wood can ensure you get to enjoy your raised bed for at least 10 years or so.

Note that not all types of wood I mention will be available in your area. The key is to pick the most durable type of wood you can find that fits your budget, that's untreated, and that will stand up to the elements.

Sound like a tall order?

Don't worry—if there's a will, there's a wood that suits your needs.

best wood for raised beds

The Most Popular Types of Wood to Use for Raised Garden Beds

Here are the types of wood most commonly used to build raised beds:

  • Cedar
  • Cypress
  • Hemlock
  • Juniper
  • Redwood
  • Pine
cedar vs redwood vs hemlock

Cedar is often considered the golden standard for building raised beds, and it's my favorite option to use. The downside is that the cost of cedar has, unfortunately, risen a lot over the last few years. Redwood has the same benefits as cedar, but it's also been priced out of many gardeners' budgets.

Pine is a cheaper alternative to more expensive types of wood and easy to find in most hardware stores. Keep in mind, however, that pine will have a much shorter life expectancy in your garden than cedar and redwood.

Even within wood types, know that there can be some variation. The cedar we use for the raised bed kits in our shop, for instance, comes from trees grown in Montana, where the winters are long. This leads to a tighter grain in the wood, which provides more durability.

With that in mind, let's look a little more at the qualities of the best wood options for raised beds.

wooded raised beds considerations

The Best Wood for a Raised-Bed Garden Depends on Where You Live

Both the type of wood that'll be readily available to you and its affordability will vary based on your geographical location. I recommend going with the most locally sourced wood you can find.

Cedar is often the best choice for those of you who live in the Midwestern United States and Europe. If you live in the Southern or Eastern United States, compare the price of cedar to cypress to see which makes more financial sense. Those of you who live in the Western United States may find redwood to be the most readily available and budget-friendly.

Outside the US, the best type of wood is often hemlock for Canada, ironwood for South and Central America, mahogany for Africa, and teak for Southern and Southeast Asia.

If sustainability is important to you, try to source lumber from trees that have been sustainably harvested; I often ask at the lumber yard if the millers replant trees after harvest.

best wood types for raised bed gardens

The Best Wood Types for Your Raised Garden Bed Will Be Durable

It would be such a bummer to build a raised bed, only to have it bow and then rot in a couple of years. Certain types of wood like cedar, redwood, and hemlock are more resistant to rot and decay than others.

Cedar is naturally resistant to rot and pests thanks to something called tannins. That makes cedar a timber that will last a long time. You can expect to garden in your cedar raised bed for at least 10 years before it starts to degrade.

Pine, in contrast, has a much lower level of tannins than cedar, so it's not naturally protected from rot and pests. I once bought pine boards to use while filming a tutorial on how to build raised beds; a hardware store employee tried to talk me out of using pine once he heard the boards were for a raised bed. (I'll get back to you in a couple years to let you know how long this raised bed lasted.)

cedar is my favorite wood to use to build a raised bed
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The Best Wood for Your Raised Garden Bed Will Be the Thickest Boards You Can Buy

Aim to buy the thickest pieces of wood you can afford to build the sides of your raised beds. I always budget for 2"-thick boards. Thinner boards are a fraction of the cost, but a raised bed made of flimsier wood will bow and degrade much faster.

If you're adding trim to your raised beds, here's where you can save some cash and go for thinner boards.

I see a lot of gardeners on social media building their raised beds with cedar fence planks. These are typically not even an inch thick (most are 5/8 inch or 3/4 inch). The price is so enticing, but keep in mind that a bed made of wood this thin will need to be replaced after only a couple seasons of growing. This is also why I issue a buyer beware for the inexpensive raised garden beds kits popping up for sale online.

Overall, you'll get more years of enjoyment out of your wood raised beds if you avoid the temptation of buying something thinner and cheaper.

buy the thickest board you can afford when buying wood for raised bed

The Best Wood to Build a Raised Bed Will Be Untreated

I don't recommend buying anything that's pressure-treated and likely to leach chemicals into the soil (and from there, into the plants that you're going to eat). This is the same reason you shouldn't use old wood as there's a chance it has been treated with arsenic.

You can use a high-quality, eco-friendly, and weather-resistant stain on the outside of your raised bed if you so choose. For the inside, you can increase durability by using a mineral-based wood treatment.

Shop Our Favorite Wood Treatment

Made from naturally occurring plant and mineral extracts, this wood preservative penetrates wood fibers to provide protection from sun and water. A single application results in a long-lasting, maintenance-free surface. Will not wear off, peel or fade; treated wood develops a beautiful patina. This plant- and mineral-based formula is based on a special family recipe and has been used for 60 years.

How to Make Sense of Lumber Measurements

Unless you're super handy, reading some of the signs at a hardware store feels like deciphering a code or translating an ancient text into English.

Let me make sense of those numbers in the lumber section for you:

-The first measurement is the board thickness in inches

-The second number is the board height in inches

-The third number is the board length in feet

My ideal piece of wood, based on availability, affordability, and durability, is a 2 x 6 x 8. That means the board is 2 inches thick, 6 inches tall, and 8 feet long. You'd need to stack three of these boards on top of each other to build a raised bed that's 18 inches tall.

Practice saying “two by six by eight” before you head to the hardware store to place your order.

wood for raised beds
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How to Shop for Wood Boards

If you're only building one or two wood raised beds, you can grab all the supplies you need at your local hardware store or a big box store like Lowe's or Home Depot. If, however, you're building more than a couple beds, it's worthwhile to seek out a local lumberyard and talk to them about pricing.

Here are a couple more tips to help you pick out your lumber.

best wood to use for raised garden bed that will last

Check Each Board for Damage or Defects Before Purchasing

It's a good idea to shop in person if possible so that you can personally inspect each piece of wood. These are natural products, after all, so it's only natural to assume there will be differences in colors and imperfections.

Take the time to pull each board separately and check it over. Look for discoloration, defects, scratches, and chips.

Next, inspect each board for straightness. Keep in mind the longer the board you're buying, the more likely there will be some kind of curve. I like to stack all the boards together and then line them up next to each other. Buy the straightest boards you can find.

Before you leave the store or lumber yard, double check your measurements to make sure you're getting the right amount of wood.

check boards for straightness before buying them when building a raised bed

Ask the Hardware Store or Lumber Yard to Cut the Boards for You

Local lumber yards are happy to cut boards for you, and most big box stores will, as well. Home Depot will cut up to 10 pieces of lumber for you for free at their wood cutting station. I've always found hardware store employees to be super helpful, so I definitely recommend taking advantage of this! You'll end up with nice, straight cuts and boards that are much easier to fit in your car.

This is great for those of you who don't have a miter saw at home. That's one less construction step for you (and fewer tools needed)!

A word of caution for those of you who don't get long boards cut in the store: Make sure to measure how long of a board will safely fit inside your vehicle. I may or may not have busted a minivan windshield before...

ask the hardware store or lumber yard to cut boards for you

Shop Gardenary's Cedar Raised Beds

Gardenary's new line of quality cedar garden beds are easy to assemble and will provide years of gardening enjoyment. Our beds are made of premium untreated kiln-dried Red Inland Cedar, which is the best quality cedar available.

We offer beds in a variety of sizes to work in any space.

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I Hope You Enjoy Your Wood Raised Bed for Years to Come

I hope this helps you make the best possible choice for you and your garden when you're shopping for lumber.

If you’d like to find a kitchen garden designer to construct the beds for you, you can search our index of Gardenary-trained professionals, or you can simply call a local carpenter.

The real fun part will come once your raised bed is all set up and filled with great soil and it's time to get growing!

Learn how to set up your kitchen garden from start to harvest!

Kitchen Garden Academy walks you through the entire process of setting up and planting a kitchen garden. You can go from garden concept to your first harvest in just 60 days.

The Best Type of Wood to Use for a Raised Garden Bed