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Use of treated lumber not recommended for vegetable raised beds

  • Subject: [cg] Use of treated lumber not recommended for vegetable raised beds
  • From: "Greg Lecker" <glecker@michaudcooley.com>
  • Date: Mon, 31 Dec 2001 14:33:07 -0600
  • Content-description: Mail message body
  • Priority: normal

The use of pressure treated lumber for raised vegetable or fruit 
planting beds is not recommended, as evidenced by the 
following information which I summarized from the Minnesota 
Master Gardener List Serve Archives. Uses for non-edible 
landscaping seem to be possible, although precautions are still 

Alternative long-lasting materials for raised beds are cinder 
blocks, interlocking landscape blocks, redwood, cedar,  plastic 
lumber, “Trex” (made from wood and recycled plastic), the sky's 
the limit.

CCA lumber is also called pressure-treated lumber or "green" 
lumber.  It does have a green cast to it.  CCA stands for 
chromated copper arsonate (copper, chromium, and arsenic are 
all toxic metals at elevated concentrations).  I understand that 
there is research being done to look at the fate of the arsonate in 
soil surrounding very old timbers, but so far I’ve not heard of 
conclusions having been drawn.   Now the timbers have been 
pressure-treated, and the chemical is bound tightly into the wood 
at least in landscape timbers that are not so old they are 
beginning to deteriorate.  However, to my experience, if I were 
to walk through an area of a lumberyard where such treated 
wood is stored I would definitely detect an odor of the CCA 
chemicals.  This is an indication that some fraction of the CCA 
treatment is mobile in the environment.  It is also true that ALL 
compounds tend to dissolve in groundwater to some extent.  I 
would NEVER surround veggies with CCA treated lumber.  I'm 
not sure if enough research has been done to indicate just how 
much arsenic leaches into the soil.  However, a director of a 
child development center in North Carolina mentions that her 
state mandated several years ago that there can be no CCA play 
structures in the playgrounds.   There is a test that can be done to 
determine how much arsenic is in the soil around the play 
structures, so some arsenic must be leaching out. 

Creosote is thought to be carcinogenic, gloves are recommended 
when handling railroad ties, and face masks to cover your nose 
and mouth are recommended when cutting them.

While it's true that for non-edible landscaping, some non-edible 
plants -- grass, shrubs, flowers -- are not bothered by the fumes 
given off by creosote-treated timbers.  Others, more sensitive, 
can be damaged.  I know of no list that distinguishes between 
them, however.  It would be pretty much trial and error.  Use of 
“older” creosote-treated ones that don't give off much in the way 
of fumes (on a hot day) may be a solution for non-edible 
landscaping needs.
Greg Lecker
A Vision of Michaud Cooley Erickson
Suite 1200
333 South Seventh Street
Minneapolis, MN  55402
Fax: 612.339.8354

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