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5 Tips for Painting Raised Garden Beds

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When you put together your first raised garden bed or two, it’s natural to want to do all that you can to make it “pretty”. We naturally want pretty things in and around our homes and, to some, a plain wooden box filled with nothing but soil doesn’t fit the bill. So can you paint raised garden beds? Is it safe? Let’s have a look.

worker painting a wooden plank for raised garden bed

Can you paint raised garden beds?

You can paint raised garden beds in any color or pattern you like however, most people prefer to leave the natural wood surface to age as nature intended. When you do use paint, the type and quality of paint should be taken into consideration.

Tips for Painting Raised Garden Beds

1. Use a non-toxic, water based paint.

While there are very few paints that are 100% natural, there are many brands of paints that are labeled non-toxic. Keep in mind, just because they are non-toxic doesn’t mean you should eat them but, it’s certainly starting from a better place than using paints that can’t bear that label.

Alternatively, you could find and use mineral pigment paints which are 100% natural, but considerably more expensive.

2. Use a Bed Liner

If you want to paint, stain or seal your beds but at the same time want to minimize the risk of chemicals leaching into the soil, use a bed liner.

A thick plastic lining between the wood and the soil your plants grow in will help by providing a barrier between the two. Of course, you’ll have to be careful not to puncture the liner and replace it if it degrades over time.

3. Wash off any dirt before painting

If you are painting (or repainting) existing beds in the garden, be sure to throughly hose them off and let the wood dry before painting. Alternatively, you could use a wire brush to get off even the toughest particles of dirt.

The big thing here is making sure the paint has as clean as possible of a surface to adhere to.

4. Consider Oops Paint

Many department stores have a section of paint called “oops” paint. Sometimes you can find bright colors but, a lot of the time, there will be gallons of light colored paint as well.

You can definitely get lucky if you are in the right store at the right time. Just be sure to choose the right type of paint for the job (more on that below).

5. Decide whether or not to use a protective coat.

After your beds are painted the next step is to decide whether or not you want to use a protective coat. The whole idea behind painting is to increase the longevity of the wood as well as to enhance the garden overall.

There are many types of top coats to consider. You could do a more natural wax or opt for an poly acrylic top coat instead. The choice is yours just remember to be conscious of the ingredients in the paints and sealers you use.

raised plant beds

Pros and Cons of Painting Raised Garden Beds

As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to painting a raised garden bed, here are a few.

Pros for Painting Raised Garden Beds

Help Preserve The Wood

Anything that prevents moisture from seeping into the wood is going to act as a preservative to some degree. Paint is no exception. Of course, that protection is dependent on a variety of factors including:

  • How many sides of the wood are covered
  • What type of paint is used
  • How many coats of paint are used

Paint Provides Decor Color and Decoration

open cans of paint, varnish and stains

The other pro, of course, is that painting your beds can give them added visual appeal. Perhaps you want them to match the house or surrounding area. Maybe you have a community garden and want to encourage the children to make the beds “their own”.

Whatever the case may be, paint can certainly add color and interest to wood used for any purpose, raised garden beds included.

Cons of Painting Raised Garden Beds

The biggest concern for painting raised garden beds is the potential for the chemicals in the paint to leach into the soil where you are growing your fruits and vegetables.

With raised beds exclusively growing flowers, this isn’t a concern. When you are going to take the items grown in the soil and put them into your body or use them to feed your family, you need to consider if the potential negatives outweigh any positives.

Some would argue that painting only the outside of the garden beds with a non-toxic, water-based paint should be OK. The chance of chemicals leaching through from the outside of the wood, to the inside of the bed, and then through the soil, and then into the growing food might be too small to worry about

young girl having her hands painted

It all comes down to risk tolerance. For me, personally, would I be OK with the kids painting the outside of the garden beds with non-toxic acrylic craft paint? Sure. Would I want them to paint the inside of the beds with paint? No.

The decision is ultimately yours. If you do decide to paint your beds, though, here are some common types of paint and the pros and cons of using them in a raised garden bed.

Type of PaintBasePROCON
Acrylic Craft PaintWaterTypically non-toxic.Will fade and chip off if no sealer is used.
Latex InteriorWaterEnvironmentally friendly (as paints go).May have ammonia, formaldehyde and/or acetone.
Latex ExteriorWaterDesigned for use outside. More durable and will last longer.May contain mercury.
Oil-Based PaintsOilExtremely durable. Ingestion can lead to poisoning and some sources suggest possible link to cancer as well.
Chalk PaintWaterLead-free, low VOC. Non-toxic Typically used indoors. May require multiple coats. Still paint.

Final Thoughts

Many people will argue against painting raised garden beds, or in fact, using anything that isn’t natural in them. Ultimately it’s a personal decision and yours to make. Painting a raised garden bed can add visual appeal and interest as well as help protect the wood.

We’ve given you some things to consider but you shouldn’t feel pressured one way or the other. Go with what will make you feel happy and what you are comfortable with. The garden is meant to be enjoyed not stressed over!


A wide variety of resources were used to write this article including personal knowledge. In some areas specifically related to paint toxicity, I found these articles helpful:

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