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Are Railway Sleepers Safe For Vegetable Gardens?

Are railway sleepers safe for vegetable gardens?

The problem with this question is that there will be a two-sided answer.

The pros for railway sleepers to be used in vegetable gardens.

And of course the cons. There’s no straightforward answer here other than to try to explain why they are both a good idea and a bad idea.

In the end, the decision will be yours.

Railway sleepers have been used for many years as a garden edging material. They are used to line the perimeter of a garden and then filled with soil, which is then planted with vegetables.

Sleepers are a popular choice for garden edging because they are cheap and easy to install.

They can be used to create a raised bed or a sunken garden.

However, there is a debate about whether railway sleepers are safe or not. Some people believe that they are not safe because of the creosote that was used to treat them.

The rails of railway sleepers are often made from steel, which will rust and corrode when exposed to the elements. When this happens, it can release toxic substances into the soil.

In addition, railway sleepers are often treated with chemicals that will also leach into the soil and affect its quality.

In this article we will explore both sides of the argument and investigate whether railway sleepers can be used as an edging material in a vegetable garden.

Do Railway Sleepers In Your Vegetable Garden Harm The Soil?

oiled railway sleepers for vegetable gardens
Old oiled railway sleepers. Probably not a great option for your vegetable garden

The main issue with railway sleepers is the fact that they contain creosote which can damage the soil.

Creosote has many negative effects on plants including stunting growth and causing leaf discoloration.

It can also cause root rot and fungal infections.

The use of railway sleepers has increased in recent years due to their ability to withstand pressure and resist wear and tear.

Railway sleepers are made from wood, so it is expected that they may harm the soil after a long period of time.

However, if they are properly treated with chemicals, then there should not be any harm done to the soil. But then the question is, what happens in the future through wear and tear when the chemicals leach out. Will they leach out?

The main concern is that if the wood is treated with chemicals, it may cause damage to plants growing in the area.

This is because the chemicals could slowly leach out of the wooden sleepers over time, and these chemicals could potentially be harmful to your plants.

Therefore, many experts recommend that you should consider only using untreated railway sleepers for short periods of time. 

What About Creosote?

old railways sleepers
Beware using old railways sleepers

Creosote is a substance commonly found on railway sleepers. It is a petroleum-based product that protects the wood against insects and fungi.

It contains other harmful chemicals such as arsenic and chromium. These chemicals are poisonous to humans and animals and could potentially be absorbed through contact with the skin.

Is there any way to avoid creosote?

There are ways to avoid creosote getting into the soil during installation. One way is to make sure you only buy untreated sleepers. Another option is to ensure that you do not plant anything near your railway sleeper fence.

If you choose to go down the second route, then you need to take care to ensure that you do everything possible to prevent weeds and grasses from growing up between the sleepers. This means using weed killers and fertilizers.

There is no way to remove all traces of creosote from railway sleepers, but you can reduce the risk by treating them with a waterproofing agent.  This will prevent water from getting inside the sleeper and causing the creosote to seep into the soil.

Are Railways Sleepers Safe For Vegetable Gardens: The Pros & Cons?

Stacked railway sleepers
Stacked railway sleepers. Garden material?

There are several pros and cons to using railway sleepers in the garden, so it is important that you consider this before making your decision.

I’ve used railway sleepers all my life whether it was as a retaining wall, garden bordering or simply as a decorative aspect, I haven’t had any issues. But I have never used them in the middle of a vegetable garden. I was always hesitant to do so.

I sought and received good advice. And I made sure I was responsible using them.

Here are a couple of simple pros and cons to using railways sleepers in your vegetable gardens.

Pros: Railway Sleepers are strong, durable and long-lasting. They make a beautiful garden decoration if you want to create a rustic theme.

Cons: Railway sleepers can be expensive and difficult to install. You may need to hire an expert if you don’t have the right tools or expertise yourself. That will prove to be an expensive exercise.

Conclusion: Can You Use Railway Sleepers In Your Veggie Garden?

railway sleepers in your veggie garden
Still on the fence about using railway sleepers in your veggie garden?

Are railway sleepers safe for vegetable gardens?

The choice of railway sleepers in the backyard has many advantages and disadvantages.

Just like most other things in life, there are always trade-offs involved.

One of the best uses for railway sleepers is as a border around a patio area. You could also use them as borders around flower beds or vegetable gardens.

They are also great for creating a natural looking pathway through a lawn.

But again, the question is, are railway sleepers safe for vegetable gardens? And the answer is always going to be a little yes or no.

Railway sleepers can be very effective at keeping unwanted vegetation out of your garden. However, they can also harm the soil and damage plant roots.

In most responses, you’ll get a two-sided answer.

My recommendation? Well, as I said above, I’ve used them to good effect but never in the middle of a vegetable garden.

Untreated railways sleepers in limited blocks of time is what is recommended. But that can be undoable for most people.

As wall retainers, they are good to go in my opinion. But in a vegetable garden, I’m not so sure I would restrict their use to the outer border areas. If you are just not sure, then don’t consider using railway sleepers. It may be a better, safer and more beneficial option to use more natural wood bordering.

JD Dean

Growing up on a farm gave me and my family some huge advantages. One of them was learning to grow our own food. Apart from acres and acres of crops, we had a magnificent fruit and vegetable garden plus, we canned our own food. I’m hoping to pass on some of this expertise and experience to you.

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