How To Recycle Tires In Your Garden

by heather

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

In the process of researching my own garden for the coming growing season, I stumbled across this green gardening technique that made me stop and have yet another EUREKA! moment.

The idea? Using old tires as planters for your outdoor garden.

Yep, I know. EUREKA! Times 3!

This whole idea is a win-win. By using tires in your garden you’re finding a new use for an old, cast-off thing. And, you’re getting a funky, artistic looking planter that no one else will have.

What’s not to love?

Pros and Cons To Using Recycled Tires


Timing: Tires raise soil above ground, which means it warms faster. This gives northern climates an earlier start to a flower or vegetable garden than traditional soil planting. By planting seeds early in a stack of tires and then draping plastic over it, you can create a mini “greenhouse” and get an early start on your garden.

Recycled tire garden in Buffalo, NY

Recycled tire garden in Buffalo, NY

Cost: If you want a raised bed in your garden, normally you’d have to build it out of wood. As you can imagine, this costs much more than using old, free tires. Plus, unless you’re using reclaimed wood, you’re using a tree to build your bed. Old tires are more eco-friendly.

Design: Old tires can be cut and painted a variety of ways, giving your yard a funky, artistic look.

Vertical Planting: Stacking tires one on top of another can allow you to grow root crops in a small space. Potatoes do especially well in tire stacks. Also, I read herbs do great in tire planters as well.


Design: I know I put design in the “Pros” category, but I can see how some people wouldn’t be into this look. So, it’s in the “Cons” as well.

Safety: If you’re planting a vegetable, like potatoes or tomatoes, then you might have to worry about chemicals leaching into the soil from the tires. More on this below.

Heat: Because tires are black rubber, they’re going to absorb heat from the sun. Regular raised beds are usually 8-13 degrees warmer than ground soil, and tires will be even warmer than this. So, you’ve got to be careful not to kill your plants with too much sun and heat.

Do Recycled Tires Pose A Health Risk?

According to Charles Sanders, a gardening expert and writer for Backwoods Home Magazine (where you can find an excellent article on using recycled tired in your garden here), that answer is no. According to Charles:

There is no appreciable risk in using recycled tires in the vegetable garden. While it is a fact that rubber tires do contain minute amounts of certain heavy metals, the compounds are tightly bonded within the actual rubber compound and do not leach into the soil. One of the ingredients in the rubber recipe is zinc. Zinc, in fact, is an essential plant element. I also expect that rubber is safer to use than treated lumber that contains copper and arsenic.

Now, let’s look at a differing opinion. According to the Editor-In-Chief at Mother Earth News, the answer is yes, tires do pose a long-term health risk.

Short-term, yes, tire planters are OK, although the soil in black tire planters will probably get hotter than most plants would prefer. Long-term, no, because the tire rubber will slowly biodegrade and release zinc, carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and other toxic compounds into your soil.

The final answer? Well, I looked all over the ‘Net and found differing opinions on this. I went to several gardening forums, read articles, the whole nine yards. And, I don’t have an answer.

Half of the things I read say yes, old tires are safe because they’re “old”, so most if not all of the chemicals and “off-gassing” is gone. The other half said “No, don’t use tires for vegetables”, because they’re always going to leach.

I’ll leave you with one more opinion. This one comes from Paul Farber, author of the book “Tire Crafting”. He runs, a great site with plenty of projects on how to reuse tires and give them new life as usable things. Here’s what he has to say about tire gardening:

Because of toxic concerns of the public, more than thirty years of internationally marketing and teaching tire crafting and gardening in tires, I expected to receive a lot of factual tire toxic information. We haven’t.

Most information has been about toxins and health issues in the manufacture of tires, and toxins emitted from tires when they are burned. Some is about tires leaching toxins when they are ground up or chipped for use as fertilizer, or in hydroponics, or as playground buffers or walking trails.

Occasionally, we receive an emotional complaint from an organic purist who will quote from some organic gardening magazine article. From researching the article’s own sources, my conclusion is that toxic evidence was distorted to deceive readers for the purpose of boosting sales. To my knowledge, no legitimate proof has ever emerged that a tire has enough of anything toxic in it to harm humans, and that a solid tire, whith no steel exposed, will leach nothing but carbon and/or sulfur.

So, I’m leaving it up to you to decide for yourself. To be super safe, you might just want to use them for plants and shrubs.

Last Word…

I was amazed at all the different ways you can use tires in your garden. I found plans to make a compost bin out of tires, hedging fences, retaining walls, you name it!

I’m definitely going to do this in my own yard (and risk getting lynched by my uber-conservative neighborhood, who think that white plastic fencing and shrubbery is the ONLY way to go…). I think using recycled tires is a great idea, and painting them definitely adds some funk to the whole affair.

What do you guys think? Is this too trashy looking, or can you see the artistic side?

Also, if any of you have done this in your own garden, I’d lovelovelove to hear how it went, and any problems you ran into along the way. I’m sure other readers would love to know your experience as well, so please chime in if you can!

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