There are many benefits to constructing your raised bed with juniper lumber. Restoration Juniper is long-lasting, beautiful, and chemical-free lumber that supports family-run mills committed to restoring Northwest ecosystems. Juniper lasts much longer than today's cedar or redwood, up to 50 years or more in ground contact applications because of its naturally high oil content that is decay and rot resistant.
It is genuinely not a good idea to use pressure treated lumber for raised beds: the chemicals can leach into your soil and ultimately into your vegetables. So juniper is a good alternative for the environment AND your health.
Understanding juniper lumber is key to successfully building a raised bed out of Juniper. Juniper landscape timbers come in a variety of sizes. The most common sizes for raised beds are 2"x6"x8' and 2"x8"x8'. Juniper lumber comes from a small tree that has a great deal of character. Juniper landscaping timbers are true dimensions, meaning they are an actual 2" x 6" or 8", which is pefect for stacking. Landscape grade lumber will often have some bark, wane, knots and is rough sawn. Understanding Juniper’s unique character before you embark on building your raised bed will provide a much more satisfying experience.
Let’s take a look at what is required to build a 4-foot by 4-foot raised bed out of Juniper boards. I chose this size for our example raised bed because it makes sense from a materials standpoint, as there will be little waste. It’s always a good idea to sketch out your project first to take into account the ideal length of lumber you’ll need, as well as how many pieces you’ll need so you can get everything in one trip.
This project will require one 4x4x8 Restoration Juniper timber, four 2x6x8s or 2x8x8s depending on the height of the bed walls, coated (or stainless) 3/16” or 1/4” (min. 3-1/2” long) flat-head or hex-head timber screws, a saw (circular or hand), measuring tape, a pencil, a carpenter’s square (or “speed” square), power drill, drill bit that matches the diameter of the shank (unthreaded portion) of your screws, a drill bit that MATCHES the diameter of the screw threads, and a driver bit (for the drill) or a socket wrench.
The first thing you need to do is decide on the height of the walls or depth of the bed. Beds that are at least 12” deep can support most vegetables. Deeper beds with higher sides, those that are 16” to 18”, are wonderful for limiting back strain. My own raised beds are 24” tall with a 6” ledge running around the top for sitting and for placing garden tools (and the taller beds are the perfect height for very young gardeners). A personal observation: I have noticed that my taller raised beds need watering less often than 12" beds.
To create a 12” deep bed you will need 2x6x8 Restoration Juniper, which can be found at Sustainable NW Wood. Our staff can help you select the Juniper that will work for your project. We’re using 8-foot long pieces because the raised bed will be 4’ long and 4’ wide. Two rows of 2x6 per side will get the 12” depth for your bed. If you would like the walls to be taller, two rows of 2x8s will give you a 16” depth, which is close to standard chair height (for comfort). Using 8’ lengths helps to eliminate too much waste.
Start by cutting the 4x4x8 into the correct length using a circular saw, four pieces at 12” long for the 12” walls or four pieces at 16” long for the 16” length. Many circular saws won’t cut all the way through a 4x4 post, so you will have to mark around to the opposite side to make your cuts on the opposite side line up properly. If you don’t have a circular saw, you can also use a handsaw, it will just take some muscle.
Now measure your boards to make sure each cut will give you a 4’ section. Make all your cuts at once so that everything will be ready to assemble. You will need to cut two pieces of 4’ for each side. You now have everything cut to the right lengths to get started on building your raised beds.
Fasten the 2x6 Juniper boards to the posts using the timber screws (which are very rust-resistant). You will need to be careful to position the screw holes so they won’t hit each other coming in from a right angle. To do this, you will alternate our holes at high and low points on the post at each corner for each 2x6.
Since your screws are at least 3-1/2” long, you will take you drill bit that is the diameter of the SHANK of the screw and drill the FULL depth of the length of the screw. This is the PILOT hole; this is the hole that the screw threads bite into. Then follow this with the larger drill bit (sized to the diameter of the screw threads) JUST to the thickness of our outside board. This is the CLEARANCE hole; this allows you to easily pass the screw through the first board and allows ALL of the attaching power of the threads to be applied to the second board (your upright post).
Screw the first board to a 4x4 post making sure it is flush with the bottom. Repeat this at the opposite end of the board with a second post. Secure the second row in the same manner. Now you are ready for the next side. As explained earlier, stagger the attachment holes on the right angle of the post and screw the bottom tier to the post and repeat with the second tier.
Now you are ready to set the 90 degree angles of the two sides. This can be done using a carpenter’s square, or, if you only have a measuring tape, the 3-4-5 method (SEE ILLUSTRATION). It is important to make sure each corner makes a 90 degree angle or your raised bed will not be square. You just have to repeat these steps for the two remaining sides, making sure each board is secured to the post with two timber screws.
When you’re finished, get someone to help you position it where you want the bed, making sure it gets plenty of sun. I recommend laying steel mesh (also called ”hardware cloth”) followed by landscaping cloth on top before you add the soil. This allows for good drainage while keeping gophers and other unwanted critters out. Pick a screen size that is less than 1” squares; DO NOT use window screen. If you want to put a layer of gravel before the soil goes in, this will further aid drainage, also. I recommend 3/4–minus gravel (can be purchased in bags) about 2” deep.
Basically, you’re done. But if you want to add a sitting/tool ledge around the top, remember to figure in extra 2x6s for that; these can also be added later if you decide.
There you have it! Now it’s time to fill it up with your favorite mix of garden soil and other soil amendments and you’ll be ready to plant your healthy garden. Your new Restoration Juniper raised bed will give you many years of gardening enjoyment and without the introduction of any harsh chemicals from the lumber.
Earlier this fall, we took some time to travel around Eastern Oregon and visit the mills that are cutting juniper for us. It was an opportunity for usto meet some folks who are new to the scene, and to keep our finger on the pulse of the mills as they work to produce ever more juniper for growing markets up and down the West Coast.
First, we visited with Caleb Morris, who runs the juniper milling operation for the Ritter Land Management Team. A collaborative group of landowners near the "place" of Ritter (it's not technically a town, they take care to explain to visitors, but a community nonetheless) is working toward juniper remediation by culling logs from overgrown private ranchlands. They recently qualified for a grant through the Western Juniper Industry Fund to invest in a sawmill, and plan to turn the juniper into useful lumber to help offset the costs of the landscape restoration efforts.
Next we ventured to John Day to see the new milling operation at Malheur Lumber, a sawmill that is owned by the larger timber company Ochoco Lumber. Ochoco is a staple in Eastern Oregon and has been in operation since the 1930's, cutting Ponderosa pine and other softwoods harvested from the bountiful forests nearby.
As the forests and rangelands changed over the decades, with juniper encroaching on Ponderosa territory and the composition of the woods changing, Ochoco saw an opportunity in juniper, and recently, through the Western Juniper Industry Fund, acquired special milling equipment to cut it. We recently brought in 2x10 and 2x12 juniper from this mill and anticipate introducing more of this lumber to our customers in 2018.
After John Day, we stopped in the hamlet of Dayville, along the scenic banks of the South Fork of the John Day River, to talk with two small mills there, South Fork Gardens and South Fork Mill.
And finally, we visited In The Sticks Sawmill in Fossil, which is owned by Kendall Derby. We have worked with Kendall from the start of our work with juniper and have enjoyed watching his business blossom as the market for juniper has grown. Kendall, too, recently acquired more milling equipment and is rapidly producing high-quality, beautiful juniper lumber.
The upshot of this uplifting tour is that we expect to be able to provide growing markets with a stable and steady supply of juniper lumber in the coming months.
Juniper is an ideal solution for building a wood retaining wall. It is long lasting (30+ years in ground-contact installations), free of chemicals and creosote, and has a beautiful, natural look to it that other types of wood simply cannot offer. Learn more about this wood and the ecosystem restoration projects from which it comes.
Here are some popular styles of juniper retaining walls and the specific lumber dimensions that were used to create them:
Juniper 2x6 stacked and supported with 4x4 vertical posts (photo credit Inner City Farm):
Stacked 6x6 timbers:
Stacked 5x5 timbers paired with decomposed granite:
More ideas for juniper retaining walls can be seen on this Pinterest board.
There's the old adage about the cobbler's children never having shoes...well, recently my family disproved that ancient fable by building our very own Restoration Juniper raised beds. We're quite pleased with the results! We love the organic, wabi sabi look that juniper provides -- and after such an undertaking, we love that we won't need to rebuild them for a very, very long time. Turns out building raised beds is a lot of hard and heavy work!
We used rough 2x6x10 juniper to build beds that are 4' x 6' rectangles, with 4x4 vertical posts to support and secure the beds. We planned our beds to optimize the yield of the lumber with minimal waste.
We went three boards high, so the beds are 18" above ground. Because of their location along the parking strip of our street, we chose this height to protect the beds from the errant noses and raised legs of passing dogs, but lower heights would work just as well in other locations.
To build the beds, we first trimmed all the lumber to the proper uniform lengths. Next, we attached 2x6 members to two 4x4 posts, then did the same for the opposite end of the bed, and then secured those two sides together with more 2x6, as shown in the photo. The beds got very heavy quickly, so we ended up pre-drilling all of our holes and screwing the lumber together (as shown in photo at left), then removing pieces of the 2x6 sides so that we could move and properly position the beds. Then, once the beds were in their final locations, we re-attached all the 2x6 to the sides.
We also added the decorative cap along the top, complete with carefully mitered corners. My husband really wanted this artistic touch because of the beds' location at the front of our home, and we agree that it completes the look nicely.
To secure the lumber on the sides of the beds, we chose black Headlock screws, which provide a decorative touch that we like. For the caps along the top of the beds, we used wood-toned exterior screws to secure the caps on top so they inconspicuously blend into the wood.
Juniper has a lot of elasticity in the wood, so in a few cases we had to flex the wood back into straight lines and then secure it (see photo at right). Once secured, it stays put. Juniper also holds screws exceptionally well, so it isn't apt to warp over time, as other species can.
One of the other surprising qualities of the wood was variations in the thickness and widths. Some boards were up to 1/16" thicker than others. We don't feel that this negatively impacts the look of the beds at all, but it was a surprise when we began assembling them. Because of the way the lumber is milled, this is a feature that should be expected; it could be avoided by using surfaced juniper instead.
Here's the finished product. Now to fill them with a thousand pounds of soil...!
It's so much fun when a builder sees our lumber as a blank slate, an opportunity for creative transformation. This patio was built with our Restoration Juniper 6x6 rough landscaping timbers -- transformed into amazing decking by surfacing the timbers and artfully finishing the edges and joining them together.
This deck, outside Ankeny Tap & Table in SE Portland, was built by Steel Leaf Design. Says Steel Leaf's owner, Stephen Blum, "We hand-routed all the edges to provide that deck board look. Once we finished sanding the tops of the timber decking, we coated the tops with clear Preserva Wood to help hold the color."
"Our client was very open to the idea of using a locally sourced material," says Stephen. "Especially when I talked to him about what juniper's negative-to-positive life cycle is, how much damage it does to the eco-system, and how it has such great durability, for an outdoor building material."
Visit the taproom in person and enjoy your outdoor perch on this bright and innovative patio.
As anyone who has ever travelled east of the Cascades knows, juniper is prevalent in Oregon's high desert. Juniper is an ancient species that has been part of our landscape for millennia, but recently it has seen unprecedented population growth, thanks to human interference with the natural fire cycle that used to keep young juniper trees in check.
How much population growth? A lot. Eastern Oregon's juniper has increased from about 1 million acres in the 1930's to more than 6 million acres today.
Juniper's success means additional challenges for the grasses and other plants that compete for space on the desert plains. Not only is there more competition for sunlight, but juniper is a thirsty tree that significantly depletes the groundwater table. The reduction in grasses results in increased erosion, reduced biodiversity, and more difficulty for desert wildlife to find the foraged foods on which they depend for survival.
In an attempt to restore the native grasslands, Eastern Oregon ranchers have for many years cut the trees and burned them, but today Sustainable Northwest and other dedicated groups are working hard to create new markets for the juniper trees to ensure that this useful and beautiful wood is put to use.
This restoration work helps enable the grasslands to recover and helps keep Eastern Oregon sawmills, an important source of jobs in rural communities, generating income for these communities. In general, the trees that are cut and milled as part of this restoration work are smaller, younger trees that have sprouted in the years since our fire restriction policies were formed -- the older, grander trees that predate these policies aren't cut.
Juniper is naturally rot- and decay-resistant, more so than any other native Northwestern species, according to studies by Oregon State University. It also offers a beautiful rustic aesthetic with warm cream, chocolate, and reddish tones. Its durability, combined with its beauty and environmental credentials, make it an excellent choice for decks, garden beds, fencing, and many other uses for homes in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo at top: The Cottonwood Creek watershed near Fossil, OR, used to be rolling hills covered in grasses. Today, many acres of juniper woodlands can be seen from this viewpoint
Photos below: The Crooked River National Grassland was designated in the 1960's; since then, it has sprouted a dense juniper forest. The photo at bottom was taken near Burns and shows many infant juniper trees growing on the plains.
In the late 1800s, pioneers that arrived to settle in central and eastern Oregon, southeast Washington, northern California, and southwest Idaho saw a very different landscape than the one we know today. Rolling grasslands and sagebrush steppe provided adequate breeding habitat and forage for wildlife species like mule deer and sage grouse. Only the occasional Western Juniper tree was visible on the ridgelines.
Following this time, a period of overgrazing of domestic livestock compounded by federal fire suppression policies allowed the tree to thrive. Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) is a natural survivor and is well adapted to the high desert. Wildfire is its only natural predator, and without a regular fire cycle to clear out new seedlings, its presence has increased exponentially over the past 150-180 years from its historic recorded range of 1 million acres to nearly 9 million acres today.
RENEE MAGYAR serves as Sustainable Northwest’s communications director. She can be reached at 503-221-6911 ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's an interactive map that shows where to buy our juniper landscaping timbers. This map shows all of our current dealers in Oregon, Washington, and California.
If you're in an area outside the regions covered by this map, please let us know and we can discuss ways to get you the wood you need.
Great news for gardeners and landscapers in Southern California: Jones Lumber in Lynwood is now stocking our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers! Stock up here for all your raised garden beds, retaining walls, and other landscape projects.
Juniper performs exceptionally well outdoors and will last longer in ground-contact applications (30+ years!) than any other Pacific Northwest native species, including cedar and redwood. It is also a great substitute for chemical-laden pressure treated wood, making it an ideal wood to use for raised garden beds, retaining walls, trellises, arbors, and other installations.
Our Restoration Juniper is sourced from grassland restoration projects throughout the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of wildfire suppression have allowed it to take over what was formerly a grassland ecosystem. Its out-of-control population growth and thirst for limited water supplies lead to erosion and a loss of biodiversity.
Many acres of juniper are now being cut as part of a collaborative program to restore the grasslands, the groundwater supplies, and the habitat of critical species including the sage grouse.
Jones Lumber is stocking the following Restoration Juniper products:
- 2x6x8 surfaced lumber
- 2x6x8 rough lumber
- 4x4x8 rough timbers
- 6x6x8 rough timbers
Click here for more information about juniper, its exceptional durability, and its special story.
But there are so many options for choosing what wood to use for retaining walls. You know you want something durable, affordable, and non-toxic. But what?
Wood retaining walls must be:
- Chemical free, not soaked in creosote or pressure-treatment chemicals
- Extra durable in ground-contact settings
- Non-toxic alternative to carcinogenic railroad ties
- More affordable and longer lasting than cedar or redwood ties
- Responsibly sourced
Luckily, we have the perfect solution that fulfills all these criteria: our Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers.
Chemical-free: These untreated, completely natural timbers are ideal replacements for creosote-laden railroad ties and pressure-treated wood.
Extra durable: Juniper gets its remarkable durability from a high content of aromatic compounds that make the wood resistant to microbial decay for many decades. Juniper can last up to 30+ years in ground contact settings, according to studies from Oregon State University.
Affordable: Our juniper landscaping timbers are also far more affordable than using cedar or redwood, other long-lasting species that come with a high price tag. In fact, juniper lasts far longer than these species -- providing a lot more bang for your landscaping buck.
Responsibly sourced: Restoration Juniper landscaping timbers are sourced from grassland restoration projects in the high deserts of the West. Juniper is a native species, but decades of fire suppression and the unintended consequences of livestock grazing have allowed this species to grow unchecked, claiming millions of acres of sagebrush steppe and turning it into dense woodlands. These juniper woodlands suck up groundwater and are contributing to the decline of several key species, including the sage grouse. A collaborative group involving ranchers, loggers, environmentalists, and state government agencies is working together to harvest juniper trees, restore the grassland ecosystem and water supplies, and build a market for the wood. Your purchase of juniper lumber supports this effort.
Beautiful: Juniper also provides a rustic, organic look that is perfect for modern gardens and landscape design.
Please contact us to learn more about Restoration Juniper for retaining walls and other exterior uses.
Photos, from top: A recently-constructed residential retaining wall built with 6x6 juniper landscaping timbers shows juniper's rich colors and grain patterns; steps and a small retaining wall built out of 5x5 juniper timbers show off the silver patina that will develop over the years if the wood is left unstained; a large retaining wall built with 6x6 timbers stands at the University of Washington-Tacoma (photo credit Place Studio).