Best Wood for Planter Box & Raised Garden Beds (& Which to Avoid!)
Looking to make a planter box or raised garden bed?
These open containers are typically built from wood, and provide your crops with raised-bed protection. It’s like your garden’s own little fortress.
Planter box raised garden beds are a gardener’s dream, because you can fill it with your favorite minerals, soils, fertilizers, and crops.
If you’re a beginner woodworker and feel a bit nervous about taking on a DIY wood planter box project, have no fear! These are quite simple structures, and have a surprisingly small learning curve for novices.
In this post, I’m going to share the best woods for planter boxes and raised garden beds as well as which woods to avoid. Let’s dig in!
- The best wood for planter boxes are cedar, teak, pine, Douglas fir, and redwood.
- Avoid using chemically treated lumber for your planter box or raised bed.
- Stain or paint your planter box using a non-toxic, VOC-free paint or stain to protect the crops.
In This Article:
Best Wood for Planter Boxes
Before we dive into which wood you should use when buying a garden box, it’s important to know what exactly will you be planting in your planter box or raised garden bed.
Your answer might sway which wood you choose for this project.
Types of plants commonly grown in planter boxes include:
- Edible herbs and flowers
- Edible vegetables and fruit
- Decorative flowers or shrubbery
So which type of plants are you growing, decorative plants or edible plants?
Many woods are chemically treated to preserve and protect them. If you’re growing something edible in your container, you’ll probably want to avoid any pressure or chemical-treated woods, like CCA.
Otherwise, treated woods like pressure-treated pine might be okay for purely decorative plants.
Now, let’s explore some of the best wood for planter boxes. I’ve determined these winners based on factors like resistance to wood rot and extreme climate changes, longevity, durability, and attractiveness.
Let’s kick this list off with Cedar. Cedar is a beautiful North American softwood, and one of the most affordable domestic woods available on this list.
Cedar is a really popular choice for constructing other types of outdoor furniture and garden structures for its durability, uniform grain structure, and gorgeous pinkish-red hues.
It’s safe for both edible and decorative plants, resin-free, and gives off a charming aroma. You’ll love cedar for its workability, stunning stain (or natural preservative) finish, and resistance to cracking.
- Not chemically treated – food safe
- Sustainable, readily available wood
- Durable yet lightweight, crack resistant
- Very easy to work with
- Can last for a decade
- Stains well, with a straight, uniform grain and no resin
- Requires no stain or paint to look nice
- Western red cedar offers longevity
- Distinct beautiful aroma
- As a softwood, it’s more prone to dings and scratches
- May fade to a grayish color over time
Teak is an exotic hardwood tree that many people praise as the “wood of all woods.” This super-tight grained, dense hardwood with a Janka hardness rating of 1115 is incredibly strong and durable, and definitely made to last.
Due to its abundance of natural oils and close grain, teak is one of the most moisture-resistant woods you can find.
That’s why it’s often used for exterior furniture, and even wood boat fixtures. Its resistance to wood rot and insects makes it ideal for a planter box, which fosters a moist environment for your plants.
Teak also isn’t chemically treated, so you won’t have to worry about any chemicals leaching into your edible garden.
It has a lovely lighter brown color with darker brown streaks throughout, and doesn’t even need stain or paint to look great.
- Hard and dense – really strong and long-lasting
- Full of natural oils and a tight grain – highly moisture and insect-resistant
- Nice natural grain pattern and color, so no need for finishing colors or sealants
- Doesn’t easily warp, crack, or scratch
- Is not chemically treated – food safe
- Not a sustainable material, hard to come by
- Expensive compared to other options
Pine is a softwood commonly found in North America. Yellow pine has a Janka hardness rating of 690 lbf, with a light creamy color and low density.
Natural pine is a good choice for building a planter box if you’re looking for a cheap, highly workable material that’s easy to find, cut, stain, and paint.
Pine is also shrink and swelling resistant, and durable enough to hold your garden for a number of years if constructed properly.
But take note: I recommend untreated natural pine, not pressure treated pine. Pressure treated pine has been treated with chemical preservatives to maintain its rot-resistance and durability.
The problem comes when you’re growing edible fruits or vegetables in your planter box. These chemical treatments may leach into the food, and definitely aren’t recommended for your health.
- Cheap, easy to access lumber, sustainable material
- Shrink and swelling resistant
- Easy to work with, very versatile
- Looks great with paint or stain
- Fairly durable yet breathable for your plants
- Untreated pine is soft and easy to dent, scratch, and crack
- Pressure treated pine has chemical preservatives that aren’t good for edible plants
- Not the most long-lasting wood
- May be more susceptible to insects and rot
4. Douglas Fir
Douglas fir is a beautiful evergreen softwood found in different parts of the US. It has durable properties and a straight grain, with a Janka hardness rating of 660 lbf and a nice light reddish-brown color.
Douglas fir definitely makes the list of best wood for planter box construction. It can last a good 5-7 years, and comes at a lower cost than similar alternatives like cedar.
It’s also naturally rot-resistant, and offers that gorgeous organic-wood look that many people want in their lush gardens. Apply some nice water-based stain to make it look even more rustic.
I’d recommend you look for a mill-run grade Douglas fir. Only thing to keep in mind, Douglas fir is often pressure-treated, so you may want to only use this wood for decorative crops.
- Moderately durable, decay-resistant
- Lightweight, high workability
- Affordable compared to cedar and redwood
- Nice organic look – straight grain with sporadic knots
- Random knots may interfere with clean cutting and shaping
- Often chemically treated to prevent termites and fungal decay
- Doesn’t hold up as well as redwood or teak
- Mill-run grade is more expensive than similar alternatives
Redwood will round off our best wood for planter box list. Redwood is a stunning softwood that’s most commonly found on the west coast of the US.
It’s a classic choice for outdoor furniture, house construction lumber, exterior patios, and garden structures like raised garden beds!
There’s so much to love about redwood for your garden’s planter box. The heartwood of redwood is naturally rot and moisture resistant, highly durable, long-lasting (I’m talking two decades), and repels insects.
It has a lovely red color, and it’s also safe for your edible organic garden which is a major bonus!
Only thing to note is, it’s somewhat more expensive than some of these other, more plentiful domestic materials like pine and cedar.
- Repels insects
- Rot resistant
- Highly durable and long-lasting
- Beautiful rich reddish-brown color
- Great wood for staining or leaving unfinished
- Untreated – food-safe for your edible garden
- Much more expensive than these other options
- Less sustainable material than pine or cedar
- Its red color may dull to a brownish hue over time
What Woods to Avoid For Planter Boxes
I think it’s pertinent to mention here what woods to avoid for planter boxes, especially if you’re using your raised bed to grow edible veggies or fruits.
Here are the woods I’d recommend avoiding for your planter box construction:
Pressure Treated Lumber
As mentioned above, pressure treated lumber like treated pine contains chemicals. This isn’t a good choice for planter boxes that will hold plants you plan on eating.
But if you’re strictly using the box for decorative flowers or shrubs, you can probably get away with it.
OSB or Particle Board
OSB, or oriented strand board, is an engineered wood made of heat-cured adhesives and rectangular wood strands.
You don’t want these glue chemicals leaching into the roots of your plants, which is likely to happen, especially in humid climates.
Plywood & MDF
While plywood and MDF (medium-density fibreboard) are delightfully easy to work with and versatile, they’re not appropriate choices for your planter box.
First off, untreated plywood and MDF are not very durable and won’t hold up for too long. And if you’re considering treated plywood, it might contain dangerous chemicals like chromate copper arsenate (CCA). This stuff can leach inorganic arsenic into your plants. Not cool.
Can You Stain or Paint a Planter Box?
After all this chemical talk, you’re probably wondering if you can stain or paint a planter box safely. The last thing any of us wants is more suspicious chemicals in our food.
That’s a big reason you’re growing your own, right? So here’s what you need to know about staining and painting your raised beds.
Yes, there is a way to stain or paint your planter box safely. And you have a couple options to do it!
First, you can simply paint or stain only the exterior of the planter box. Consider using a non-toxic paint, or a non-toxic water-based stain.
If you really want the inside of the box to have some color and protection as well, you can use a natural wood preservative to seal the interior.
So, what are some non-toxic paints, stains, and sealants out there you can try?
- Milk paint
- VOC-free latex paints
- Water-based wood stain with low-VOC & solvent-free
- Natural beeswax
- Polycrylic finish
How to Build a DIY Planter Box Yourself
Now that you’ve selected the best wood, you’re ready to build your own wood planter box! Let’s get started.
Want to follow an exact planter box guide to take out the guesswork? Check out our plans for building this cute modern wood planter.
1. Gather the Right Tools
First, you’ll want to ensure you have the right tools and materials on hand for your project. This saves you confusion and hassle down the line.
No one wants to construct half a box and realize they don’t even have screws. Better to be prepared from the jump!
Here are some tools you’ll need for your planter box:
- Solid wood of choice
- Saw (table saw or hand saw)
- Power drill
- Sander (or sandpaper of varying grit)
- Non-rusting screws rated for exterior use
- A fine-mesh screen or landscape fabric for lining the bottom of the planter
- Paint brushes
- Water-based stain or toxic-free paint
- Natural sealant (beeswax, polycrylic finish, linseed or hemp oil, etc)
2. Cut the Lumber According to Desired Dimensions
Now that you have your supplies, you’ll want to create a drawing or plan for the planter box dimensions.
You can make it as high or wide as you’d like, but the standard is a height of at least 12-18 inches. Your plants need enough depth to create a stable root network.
Measure your available yard space to help you come up with the desired size, including the length of your planter’s two ends, front, and back pieces.
Once your plans are drawn up, you can start measuring out your boards according to your chosen dimensions.
Use your determined inner length and width to measure out a board that will serve as the bottom of your planter box. You want the board to fit snug once it’s put together.
Cut the rest of the boards to size using a handsaw or circular saw.
3. Assemble the Planter box
Now that the boards are all the right length, it’s time to put it all together. Here’s the process of assembling the final structure:
- Drill pilot holes into the ends of the boards so the wood doesn’t split from future screwing. The pilot holes should be ¾-inch from the end of the board edges.
- Line the boards up so the boards with pilot holes are on the outside corners.
- Drill each screw through the adjoining boards. Make sure the pilot holes are aligned.
- Place that bottom board you created in Step 2 into the box. It should fit snugly. Then screw it in place by drilling screws into the exterior sides of the box.
- Flip the box upside down and drill 5-7 drainage holes in the bottom. Don’t miss this step!
4. Sand, then Paint/Stain the Planter Box (Optional)
This step is technically optional, but applying some sort of sealant is recommended to prevent your planter box from rot and insect infestation.
First, you’ll want to take your sander or sandpaper and sand out any rough spots. This is an important step if you want your paint or stain to adhere nicely.
If you’re going to seal the inside of the box, do that before adding the landscape fabric to the bottom. You can use a natural wood preservative for this part.
After you’ve dealt with the inside, you can work on the outside of the container. If you’re painting it, it’s recommended you apply a non-toxic primer first.
Then after applying a couple coats of paint, you can apply your natural sealant. As mentioned above, you can use a polycrylic finish, or organic option like beeswax, linseed or hemp oil.
And if you’re simply staining the exterior, you don’t necessarily need to apply primer first. Not sure whether you should use stain or paint? This might help.
Is treating wood ok for raised beds?
Pressure-treated wood or CCA lumber is not recommended for planter boxes and raised garden beds. But if you want to treat it yourself with stain or paint and sealant, that is fine. Opt for a toxin-free, low to no-VOC paint, a water-based stain, and natural preservatives like polycrylic finish.
What wood should not be used in a raised garden bed?
If you’re constructing your own raised garden bed, you should avoid plywood and MDF, CCA wood, particle board, and pressure-treated lumber if possible.
How tall should the bed be?
The standard height of a planter box should be at least 12 inches, which will allow your plants to create a stable root network. But planter boxes can be much taller, depending on personal style.
Bottom line: cedar, teak, pine, Douglas fir, and redwood are all excellent options for planter boxes.
These solid woods offer a nice mix of durability, rot resistance, visual beauty, and eco-friendly safety for your edible crops.
Try to avoid using engineered woods, which can rot and decay a lot quicker than solid woods. Also avoid using pressure-treated wood, as you don’t want any harmful chemicals leaching into your gorgeous garden plants.
I hope you now feel well-equipped to pick the best wood, gather your tools, and crush your DIY planter box project. Summer’s coming, so let’s get to growing!
Jessica Vaillancourt is a freelance writer and blogger obsessed with the Travel, Wellness, and Personal Development industries.
She has 5+ years of experience helping human-first agencies, global companies, and entrepreneurs crush their content marketing goals, and serve more people. Jessica’s work has appeared on leading websites like UpgradedHome.com, BetterHelp.com, and TheDiaryofaNomad.com.
Today, her sole focus (besides finding the world’s best coffee shop) is writing to serve humans, and slow traveling abroad to expand her mind. You can get to know her work at JessAnneWriting.com.