- Author: Brenda Altman
The warm days of spring are here and summer is just around the corner. Planning to start a garden this year? So many things go into planning a new garden. First, choose the spot that gets lots of sun. The afternoon sun is the warmest so a southwest location is best. The next issue to deal with is: Plant the garden in the ground or plant a garden in an above ground raised bed? An in the ground garden may involve digging up an old lawn or digging through hard clay soil. If you don't want to do a lot of work, a raised garden bed might be an easier and faster option. If opt for a raised bed garden be careful in choosing what material you will be using
Please don't be tempted to build your raised beds using old railroad ties. They may look like the ideal wood to use. They are durable, strong and rot resistant. Aha, Perfect you say! However, the chemicals, commonly known as creosote, that give them these qualities may cause cancer, other health, and environmental problems.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (AISDR), “Exposure to creosotes, coal tar coal tar pitch or coal tar pitch volatiles may be harmful to your health.” Harm comes from direct skin contact and breathing the fumes. Most of the chemicals in creosote do not dissolve in water but some components do dissolve, leaving a remainder of large tarlike globs. Pets may lay on creosote timbers or breathe in the fumes on a hot day. Consult your veterinarian for removal of creosote on pet hair and fur.
Railroad ties are available at local home improvement stores and may come with the description like: “Ideal for landscaping edging and retaining walls.” Buyer beware most of the railroad ties may only say they are pressure treated but read the fine print in the description you may find that they are treated with creosote and not recommended for home garden use.
Over time the creosote can leach out of the timber and infiltrate the soil and groundwater. Once in the water and soil, it is highly difficult to remove. The AISDR reported that “Children who played on soil contaminated with creosote had more skin rashes than children who played in uncontaminated areas.”
Don't be fooled if you see railroad ties used in a landscape structure which sprouts beautiful flowers or shrubs, it's not safe for you and your pets. Most plants don't react adversely to creosote unless their roots come into direct exposure to it. Still, want a raised bed garden? Consider making one out of re-purposed concrete, cedar planks or other untreated lumber such as redwood.