Using wood to build structures in your garden can be a sustainable choice. But if you are trying to create a garden which is sustainable and eco-friendly, you might wonder how to preserve wood outdoors in your garden so that it won’t rot and have to be replaced.
As you may or may not be aware – you could do more harm than good if you choose the wrong product to treat and preserve wood in your garden. So it is important to make the right choices.
Is it a Good Idea to Use Wood in a Garden?
Using wood in a garden can be a great idea, as long as you ensure that the wood you use has come from sustainably managed systems. It can be especially eco-friendly if you opt to use natural wood from your own garden, or reclaimed wood for the purpose.
However, it is important to understand that as a natural material, wood will break down over time. If left untreated, though it can still often last quite a long time, it cannot be considered as a truly durable solution. When in its natural state, it will decay, rot, and return its elements to the system over time.
Fortunately, there are eco-friendly and sustainable ways to preserve wood, and build more long-lasting wooden structures in your garden.
Do You Need to Preserve Wood in Your Garden?
Whether or not wood decaying is a problem will of course depend on exactly how and where the wood is used.
Sometimes, such as when wood is buried within hugelkultur mounds or raised beds, we may want the wood to decay.
In some other cases, such as in the edging for borders or raised beds, or in the creation of more temporary supports for annual plants, you may also be quite happy to allow the wood to naturally decay slowly over time.
Decaying wood can actually bring benefits in your garden. It can provide habitat, increase biodiversity over time, and feed micro-organisms to create a rich and healthy soil ecosystem.
However, there will of course be plenty of instances where you want to preserve wood outdoors in your garden to keep it in place for longer.
You might wish to keep wood in place as more permanent bed edging. As fencing or fence posts, or as part of garden structures like sheds, chicken coops, gazebos, pergolas, decking, cladding etc… wood is a great choice which, especially when you are considering reuse rather than buying new, can be very affordable too.
How to Preserve Wood Outdoors Sustainably
Unfortunately, many of the products commonly used to preserve wood outdoors pose a threat to ecosystems and wildlife. But there are some more planet-wise options to consider, that are outlined below:
Charring Wood For Preservation
Charring wood for preservation is an age-old technique. When a piece of wood is charred, this protects it to a degree from the natural rotting process. An ancient Japanese process, commonly used with cedar wood, but working with all wood types, is known as Shou sugi ban in western nations.
This technique makes wood waterproof and more rot-resistant, as well as giving the material greater ability to withstand fire, insects and UV effects from the sun.
Today, a blowtorch is often used to char the timber. But if you want to be as eco-friendly as possible, you should avoid using fossil fuels.
Instead, consider creating a bonfire with the timber you wish to preserve at the heart, and covering it over with a layer of soil.
While it can be difficult to do fine work and achieve the perfect finish with this approach, it can work well where, for example, you wish to treat the ends of logs or stakes before inserting them in the ground.
Oiling or Painting Wood for Preservation
Many of the oils and preservatives commonly used are not the most eco-friendly choices, and many can contain toxic ingredients which should not be used around food, or in any wildlife-friendly space.
However, using raw oils – usually linseed, tung or walnut oil, can help you preserve wood in certain situations outdoors.
And if you do opt for a commercial preparation, be sure to read labels carefully and note that some are far more eco-friendly than others.
Eco-friendly chalk paints or other eco-friendly paints might also be an option to give wood a certain level of protection outdoors. Just make sure you don’t use acrylics (plastic paints) or toxic paints – especially close to where you are growing food.
Fossilizing Wood For Preservation
Another relatively new option on the market, and an extremely eco-friendly and sustainable option well-worth considering is a product known as Organowood®, which preserves wood through speeding up a natural process which turns wood to fossil.
Protective silicon compounds are added to the wood to mimic the natural fossilisation process. Once treated with this, a protective layer forms which prevents the wood from rotting and provides effective flame resistance. Over time, wood treated in this way takes on an attractive silvery-grey colouration. Non-toxic and free from chemicals, this option is friendly to wildlife, people, and can be used around food production.
So if you want a long-lasting option, which suits wooden structures designed to remain in your garden over longer periods, then this is something well worth considering.
Whether you choose to preserve wood in one of the ways above is up to you. However, we would urge you to be very careful when choosing any preservation method or treatment, to minimize your negative impact on the environment and to create a safe garden environment for you and your family.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.