Should You Use Railroad Ties For Raised Garden Beds?

February 2, 2023 0 Comments

can you use railroad ties for raised garden beds
While railroad ties are often used to build raised garden beds, retaining walls, and rustic benches, they may not be your best choice. These reclaimed railroad ties usually have been treated with creosote, a wood preservative that is toxic to plants.

If you’re concerned about creosote, try using landscape timbers or composite lumber made from recycled plastic and sawdust. These materials have none of the toxicity that railroad ties do.


Railroad ties have been used for a long time as a cheap and durable barrier for raised garden beds, paths, retaining walls, and more. Traditionally, these are reclaimed railway sleepers that have been soaked in creosote and then dried out. However, new untreated lookalikes of this type are also available in a variety of wood species and sizes to suit every home gardener’s needs.

As with other types of wood, untreated railroad ties will decompose and leach toxic chemicals into the soil. It’s best to avoid using this type of lumber for any raised garden bed, especially if you plan to grow vegetables or other edible crops in the space.

One of the biggest reasons to avoid this type of wood is that it’s been treated with creosote, a chemical by-product of coal and wood burning. It contains more than 300 chemicals, some of which are harmful to human health. Inhaling creosote-treated wood vapors is hazardous, as is topical contact with creosote.

Another issue with treated wood is that it’s often made from chromate copper arsenate (CCA), an industrial pesticide banned for use in residential settings. When CCA is applied to wood, it breaks down into a toxic brew that slowly leaches out of the wood and seeps into the soil around it.

If you do decide to use chromate copper arsenate or creosote-treated wood in your raised garden bed, make sure it’s completely out of the way. You can do this by excavating up to two feet of soil from the area and replacing it with fresh soil.

The same goes for old ties that are still oozing creosote or have an intense smell. This is especially a concern if you’re planning to grow vegetables in a creosote-treated garden, or if you have children that will come into direct contact with the ties in the garden.

The safest and most effective option is to dig up the railroad ties and remove them from the garden entirely. Then, you can replace the soil with fresh, uncontaminated soil to grow your fruits, vegetables, and flowers. This might sound extreme, but it’s the best thing to do if you’re concerned about exposing your family to dangerous chemicals in your garden.


If you’re looking for a cheap, rot-resistant material for your raised garden bed, old railroad ties are one option. These are hefty and substantial materials that a lot of people reuse to build their beds.

They’re made of pressure-treated wood that has been coated with creosote as a way to help prevent rot. The creosote, though, can leach into the soil as well.

A more sustainable and eco-friendly way to make your garden bed is to use raw materials that aren’t treated with chemicals. These include wooden raised beds that are made of rot-resistant cedar, cypress, or redwood. They’re also good choices for those who want a more natural garden setting.

Another option is to use upcycled materials such as wine and whiskey barrels or old reclaimed tires. These can be inexpensive if you have a good source for them and they don’t leach into the soil in a way that will harm your plants.

It is also possible to use untreated lumber for raised beds, but you must be careful about choosing the right type of wood. The less expensive options, like pine, aren’t the best for long-term garden beds because they don’t have a high level of natural tannins that protect them from rot and pests.

Other woods, such as redwood and cedar, are also rot-resistant and can last for years. The only drawback is that these woods are more expensive than cheaper options.

Some types of treated lumber are safe to use for garden beds, including ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary ammonium) and CCA (chromate copper arsenate). These preservatives are considered safe for human health by the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, it is still important to be aware of how these chemicals leach from the wood into your garden soil and compost. If you’re concerned about this, cover CCA-treated wood used for your raised beds with heavy plastic.

In a study, wood research scientists found that planting radishes, carrots, and potatoes in Douglas-fir planters with CCA-treated wood had no higher copper levels in the roots than if the wood was left untreated. This was a big win for organic food gardeners who weren’t sure whether their planters were safe or not.


Railroad ties are a great way to build a raised garden bed that will give you easy access to your vegetables and fruits. However, they also pose a few risks that you need to consider before using them for your garden.

First, the toxicity of wood ties can be a problem when used for gardening purposes. The ties are usually made of treated lumber that is soaked in creosote and chromate copper arsenate, two harsh chemicals that should be avoided in gardens.

These toxins can leach into the soil when it rains and can be absorbed by your plants. This can lead to contamination of your soil, which will harm your crops.

The best thing you can do is remove the ties from your garden beds and any other areas where they may have been present. Once removed, you should dispose of the ties properly so that there is no trace of toxicity remaining.

Another option is to use a different type of lumber for your raised garden beds. There are plenty of alternatives that are much safer than railroad ties.

For example, you could use wood ties that aren’t treated with chemicals like creosote or CCA (chromate copper arsenate). These ties should be safe for garden use.

Alternatively, you can also use bricks or blocks for your raised garden beds. Cinder blocks, once common in homes, contain many dangerous chemicals, including lead and mercury. Concrete, on the other hand, is a non-toxic material that is considered very safe for your raised garden beds.

While these options aren’t as toxic as railroad ties, they can still be hazardous for your health and the environment. That’s why it is essential to choose materials for your raised garden beds that are natural and won’t pose any severe health risks.

You can also use a variety of wood to make your garden edgings, such as cedar or soft pine. Cedar is a sturdy and durable wood that is resistant to rot, moisture, and pests. It is also easy to find and fairly inexpensive.


Using railroad ties to build raised garden beds is a popular way to add rustic appeal to your home. However, there are some safety concerns that you should consider before you use them.

One safety concern involves creosote-treated railroad ties. While this type of wood is legal for residential use in some areas, it contains a potentially hazardous chemical called creosote, which may leach into the soil.

It is also a ‘probable human carcinogen,’ according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The resulting ash can be poisonous to livestock or animals that eat it, or even humans who breathe in the vapors.

Another potential danger of creosote-treated railroad ties is that they may leach into the soil, especially when exposed to rainwater or other weather conditions. This can cause serious health issues and damage plants, especially if the ties are located in an edible garden or near children’s play areas.

To avoid these issues, you should not use any reclaimed railroad ties for your raised vegetable garden bed or other outdoor areas. Rather, choose a new wood option that is not treated with chemicals.

For example, you could try using cedar or redwood. Both of these woods are naturally resistant to rot and termites, making them excellent choices for raised vegetable gardens.

Cedar and redwood are great choices because they are relatively inexpensive, readily available, and can be used to create attractive garden beds that will last a long time.

If you have the right tools, you can easily create a raised garden bed from wood. A simple trench will work fine for a bed up to 18 inches deep and a retaining wall is needed when you want to make a bed deeper than that.

When building a retaining wall, use construction rebar to hold the timbers in place. Drill holes in each timber at least every 4 feet, staying 6 to 8 inches from the end of the board. Then, drive a length of construction rebar into the ground below each tie and hammer it into the ground to secure it in place.