There Are Better Options Than Using Tires in the Garden

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tire with a garden planted in the middle

image by Lucy Bradley CC0

Disposing of old tires is an environmental and economic challenge that has led to a variety of creative strategies for repurposing the treads into new useful objects including containers for children’s gardens.

While this does keep tires out of landfills, and it can be an inexpensive way to create a raised bed, there are some potential risks.

Tires contain aluminum, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and sulfur, as well as a high level of zinc. They also contain plasticizers and accelerators used during the vulcanizing process. In addition, rubber can also absorb heavy metals like lead.

As tires breakdown, these toxic substances leach out, contaminating the soil, the plants, and leaching through storm water into creeks and lakes. Over time, this could pose health risk for gardeners or those consuming the produce. Contaminants can be breathed in; they can be absorbed through the skin; or consumed.

Toddler Wearing only a Diaper in the Garden

image by Lucy Bradley All Rights Reserved

Young Children are at Higher Risk

  • They are closer to the ground,
  • They are more likely to eat soil (dirty finger in the mouth, a vegetable not washed, a mud pie)
  • They are more likely to have exposed skin (diaper only, shorts, tank top, barefoot), and
  • Because of their small size, they are impacted by lower doses.
Vegetable bed with wooden border

Forsyth County Demonstration Garden image by Lucy Bradley CC0

Alternatives for Raised Bed Construction

  • ACQ pressure-treated wood, woods with natural rot-resistance, or other non-treated woods.
  • Bricks, stone, concrete, or other recycled materials may be safe, if they have not been exposed to lead paint, asbestos, or other chemicals.
  • path between vegetable beds with no border

    image by Lucy Bradley CC0

    Simply mound the soil, with no structure for the border. This is less expensive, brings in no potential contaminants, is more flexible, and can be beautiful.

There is no need to use tires in the garden There are other economical, environmentally sustainable, options that have less potential for health risks.

More Information on Minimizing Risks of Soil Contaminants in Urban Gardens

If you're a North Carolina resident with a question about a topic on this site, your local N.C. Cooperative Extension office can help.

Contact your local county center.

Written By

Lucy Bradley, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDr. Lucy BradleyConsumer and Community Horticulture Professor and Extension Specialist Call Dr. Lucy Email Dr. Lucy Horticultural Science
NC State Extension, NC State University
Posted on Feb 22, 2019
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