Wood is a natural product that can be used in a huge variety of ways to immediately enhance any garden. It is important to choose the right timber for the job so that it will last longer. Timber garden products can last for years, but a little extra care will help to maximize their service life.

The performance of naturally rot-resistant hardwoods can be matched by low-cost preservative-treated softwoods. But not all preservative-treated timber is suitable for use in the garden, where it will have to cope with all sorts of weather conditions. Changes in regulations governing the use of some wood preservatives have affected what can be used and where; and proper disposal of preservative-treated timber must also be considered. Choosing wood that has an FSC or PEFC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) logo on the label allows you to tell your customers that it is from sustainably managed forests.

Treated or untreated?

Timber in gardens is fully exposed to the weather, so it normally needs to be treated with a wood preservative to ensure it lasts longer. This is true for most common uses of timber in the garden, especially for parts that are in direct contact with, or embedded in, the ground.
Pressure-impregnation treatment is best for new timber components. In Europe nearly all timber that is sold by timber merchants and builders’ merchants for use in the garden has already been pressure-impregnated with wood preservative. Timber that has been pressure-treated is a distinctly different colour to untreated wood – it is usually coloured green or mid-brown.

Cutting a pre-treated timber to length or notching it can easily expose untreated timber. Untreated/cut surfaces need a generous coat or two of brush-applied preservative. When handling pre-treated timber, wear gloves to prevent splinters and abrasions.

People, pets and plants

Modern pressure-impregnated wood preservatives and most water-based proprietary products won’t usually affect people or pets unless eaten. Climbing plants will happily grow up pressure-treated timber pergolas or trellises. Solvent-based wood preservatives and solvent-based coatings such as paints or stains are also available to extend the life of weathered sheds or fence panels or simply improve their appearance. Some of these products could potentially be harmful to people, pets and plants, so take care to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Timber structures and buildings in gardens

There are a huge variety of timber structures for gardens, including sheds, kennels, decks and tree houses. Some need planning permission. Many are sold in pre-formed panels that can simply be nailed together. Other structures, such as summer houses or log cabins, may need screws or coach bolts to fix them together. The timber is usually pre-treated, so normally no additional preservative treatments are needed.

Take care not to damage roofing felts, and ensure that roof coverings such as shingles or slates are correctly fixed; any leaks could result in rot, which can significantly reduce the service life of the building. 


Prefabricated timber fence panels are widely available and are almost always supplied pre-treated. No other treatments are needed. However, a good way to extend the service life of the fence panels is to support them off the ground using pre-treated gravel boards. If the gravel boards rot in the future, they can be easily replaced at low cost, instead of having to buy new fence panels. Gravel boards can also be used to take up unevenness in ground levels, so the prefabricated fence panels can simply be slotted into place.

Pre-treated fence posts are available in a range of lengths and sizes, either in the round, or as square sections. The section size must be a minimum of 75mm x 75mm. For areas exposed to high winds, or for high fences, larger section-size fence posts are often needed.

Fence posts can be concreted into the ground or fitted into metal post-spikes or into brackets bolted to concrete footings. It is good practice to protect the end-grain from wetting, so the tops of the posts should be capped or sloped to shed rainwater.

Play equipment

For play equipment in the garden, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when installing and avoid sharp edges, rough surfaces and protruding fixings, adding caps to all ends. Check that the equipment packaging states it is manufactured to meet the requirements of BS EN 71, and that it is CE marked. Consider the safety of the ground surface, the suitability of the location and whether the equipment requires securing (e.g. in concrete). Paints and coatings must be non-toxic. Ideally you should seek specialist advice before you design or build garden play equipment, as you will need to observe the relevant safety standards. For example, you will need to avoid small gaps that could become finger-traps or head-traps for children.


Pressure-treated timber sleepers have many potential uses in gardens, including raised beds, steps or pond structures. New sleepers are usually treated with modern preservatives, because creosote, which was used historically to treat railway sleepers or fences, is no longer allowed for garden use. Used creosote-treated timbers (typically old railway sleepers) are allowed, but many restrictions apply. All pre-treated timbers should be isolated from ponds using appropriate pond liners.


Pre-shaped and pre-drilled balustrades for garden decking, steps or small bridges are available with timber or metal balusters. Alternatively, balustrades can be made on-site from pre-treated wooden spindles, rails and posts. Vertical balusters (eg the spindles) should be spaced a maximum of 100mm apart and rails should be at least 900mm high, or 1,100mm for a deck that is more than 600mm above ground level.

Weathering and maintenance

Uncoated timber in the garden will weather to a silvery-grey colour within about 18 months to two years. If the wood is required to stay a particular colour, it will need to be stained or painted every few years. Many brush- or spray-applied wood treatments are available, and these can also help to extend the life of existing garden timbers.


Offcuts from pre-treated timber should not be burned on a bonfire or barbecue. They should be disposed of in a landfill site, or burned in commercial or industrial incinerators or boilers in accordance with national regulations.

Resource from Wood Campus

Guidance on fence post length for prefabricated timber fence panels

Prefabricated timber fence panel height

Minimum distance embedded into ground

Minimum post length needed (without gravel boards)

Minimum post length needed (with 150mm gravel boards)

1,400mm or less


Panel height +500mm

Panel height + 650mm

1,400mm to 2,000mm


Panel height + 600mm

Panel height + 750mm

Gardening: Photo Richard Burbidge
Gardening: Photo Richard Burbidge
Treated Timber: Photo Beaumont Forest
Treated Timber: Photo Beaumont Forest
Cut ends need to be coated with preservative
Cut ends need to be coated with preservative
Fencing-Photo Beaumont Forest
Fencing: Photo Beaumont Forest

European Wood (in China)
C412, Beijing Lufthansa Center
50 Liangmaqiao Road, Chaoyang District
Beijing, P.R. China 100125
T +86 10 6462 2066, F +86 10 6462 2067
Sino-European Wood Center
Room 202, Engineering Department,
Taoliyuan Hou, Xuhui Campus of Jiaotong University,
No.655 Panyu Road, Xu Hui District, Shanghai