Why You Should NOT Build Railroad Tie Garden Beds

If you’re considering using railroad ties around your garden, it’s important to know that it’s not recommended. One of the main reasons is the presence of creosote, a toxic chemical used to treat the wood that can leach into the soil and harm plants.

While older, worn-out ties may have less creosote, it’s still a risk to use them around a garden. Especially when growing plants you intend to consume (more on that in a moment).

Creosote soaked railroad ties can also pose a threat to children and pets who may come into contact with them. What’s more, they don’t even look that great in gardens. Instead, there are plenty of safer and more attractive options to consider when building raised garden beds.

Some alternatives to railroad ties include using untreated wood, concrete blocks, bricks, or stone. These materials are all durable and long-lasting, and won’t pose a risk to your garden or those who enjoy it. We’ll cover these options and more in this article.

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The Dangers of Creosote

If you are considering using railroad ties for your garden, it is important to understand the dangers of creosote. Creosote is a toxic chemical used to treat the wood in railroad ties to make them more durable. Over time, creosote can leach out of the ties and into the soil, potentially contaminating your plants and harming your health.

According to the CDC, “if the soil in your yard was contaminated by creosote in the past, you should probably not grow food in it.” The CDC also mentions many alarming health concerns in their Creosote Public Health Statement.

While others may tell you the creosote content will be too low to cause any harm, why would you want to risk it? Especially since there are better alternatives that are guaranteed safer for your family’s health (more on those in a moment).

Health Concerns for Humans and Animals

Using railroad ties for garden beds can pose a threat to your health, as well as the health of your pets and other animals. Creosote has been shown to cause respiratory problems, and even cancer if ingested or inhaled over time.

It’s already been said, but it’s worth repeating: if you are growing plants to consume, using railroad ties is not recommended. As the creosote can leach into the soil and be absorbed by the plants, potentially causing health problems for those who consume them.

Additionally, railroad ties can attract pests such as termites or carpenter ants, which can cause damage to your garden and potentially spread to your home.

Environmental Concerns

Using railroad ties can also have negative environmental impacts. Creosote is a hazardous chemical that can leach into the soil and groundwater, contaminating the surrounding area. This can harm nearby plants, animals, and even humans if the contaminated water is consumed.

Other Reasons for Not Using Railroad Ties

Aside from the dangers of creosote, there are other reasons why railroad ties are not recommended for garden use. For one, they are heavy and difficult to move around, making them a poor choice for raised garden beds or other structures that may need to be relocated in the future.

Additionally, railroad ties can be unsafe for pets and children. The chemicals in the wood can be harmful if ingested (and let’s be honest, who knows what the dog will chew on) and the rough edges of the railroad ties are likely to splinter.

If you are looking for a safer alternative to railroad ties for building raised garden beds or other garden structures, there are many options available. For example, you could use untreated lumber or composite decking boards. These materials are safer for growing plants and are also easier to work with than railroad ties.

Alternative Options for Building Raised Garden Beds

Wooden Raised Garden Beds

Wooden raised garden beds are a popular and affordable alternative to using railroad ties. Cedar, redwood, and cypress are naturally resistant to rot and insects, making them great choices for outdoor use. These woods are also non-toxic and safe for growing edible plants.

When building a wooden raised garden bed, make sure to use untreated or naturally treated wood. Avoid using pressure-treated lumber, which contains chemicals that can leach into the soil and harm your plants.

You can use non-toxic sealant such as Garden Seal to protect the wood and ensure your wooden garden bed lasts longer.

Use untreated cedar or redwood to build raised garden beds out of wood that will look great and keep your family safe. Avoid harmful railroad ties for garden beds.

Corrugated Metal Raised Garden Beds

Corrugated metal raised garden beds are durable, long-lasting, and can add a modern look to your garden. They are also easy to assemble and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

When using corrugated metal for raised garden beds, make sure to line the inside with landscape fabric or plastic to prevent the metal from rusting and leaching into the soil. You can also paint the metal with a non-toxic paint to further protect it from the elements.

King Bird sells easy to assemble galvanized steel raised garden beds. These would be a better option than railroad ties.

Composite Material Raised Garden Beds

Composite material raised garden beds are made from a combination of recycled plastic and wood fibers, making them eco-friendly and long-lasting. They are also lightweight, easy to assemble, and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

When choosing a composite material raised garden bed, make sure to select a product that is free from toxic chemicals and safe for growing edible plants.

Vita Classic 4’X4’x11 Vinyl Raised Garden Bed

Other Alternatives

Other alternatives for building raised garden beds include straw bales, galvanized stock tanks, and recycled materials. These options are affordable, easy to assemble, and can add a unique look to your garden.

When using these alternatives, make sure to line the inside with landscape fabric to prevent the materials from breaking down and leaching into the soil.

For inspiration on better alternatives to railroad ties, checkout our article on diy raised garden bed ideas!


While railroad ties may seem like a cheap and durable option for building raised garden beds, they are not recommended due to the presence of creosote and other chemicals that can be harmful to both plants and people. Creosote is a toxic substance that can leach into the soil and potentially harm the plants you are growing, as well as anyone who consumes them.

Additionally, railroad ties can pose a physical hazard to children and pets who may come into contact with them. The rough, splintered wood can cause injury, and the chemicals present in the wood can be harmful if ingested.

Fortunately, there are safer alternatives to using railroad ties for raised garden beds.

As you have learned, you can use untreated wood such as cedar or redwood, which are naturally resistant to rot and insects. You may also explore other options such as corrugated stainless, or composite materials that are non-toxic.

When choosing materials for your raised garden beds, it is important to prioritize safety and sustainability. By avoiding toxic materials such as railroad ties and opting for safer alternatives, you can create a healthy and thriving garden that you can enjoy for years to come.