A Guide to Staining Garden Beds

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The best way to get your plants the nutrients they need is through garden bedding or garden boxes. Whether you took the time to build them or got them ready-made, staining them will protect your plants from molds, fungi, or other harmful insects. So, you must be wondering what to stain garden beds with? 

It’s possible to stain your garden beds with oil-based stains, milk paints, beeswax and so on, without causing harm to your plants. Additionally, it will protect the wood or lumber you’ve used for years as the stains penetrate the pores of the wood and seal it from within. Many colors are available, and you can even choose transparent ones.

Staining your garden beds is an essential part of gardening. It will make sure that the structures holding your garden together last the longest possible. So, in this article, I will explain why staining your garden beds is important, how to do it and the best sort of products you can use to stain.

Why Should You Stain Garden Beds

As garden beds are supposed to be outside, you can imagine what it goes through out there. Harsh sun, constant rain, dust, and debris, you name it. So, whatever material you have used for the boxes requires some extra protection against all those elements. Staining your garden beds will save you from a lot of inconveniences, as you won’t have to worry about them degrading quite so much.

Apart from mold, microbes, and other hazardous insects, stained beds would safeguard your wood or lumber from rotting. The stains do not allow water to get inside, so it generates an additional layer of waterproofing. In addition, you can also get stains that are water-resistant so you can be certain no water is affecting your garden beds.

Moreover, it improves the overall appearance of your backyard and gives it a more cohesive look. You will notice with time, the color of your stains will become more opaque, and that would give your garden a more rustic and natural feel.

Nevertheless, many might wonder how safe stains can be for beds because most people use them for harvesting foods. in the past, staining was not considered safe for this purpose, hence why some people still have misconceptions about it. However, nowadays, you can purchase eco-friendly stains that will not contaminate the soil, so your plants will be safe for all uses (even consumption).

What Are Some Safe Stains That Won’t Harm Your Crops?

As mentioned, there are varieties of stains available for garden boxes that allow your crops to grow without getting contaminated with harmful chemicals. Depending on what material you have used, and what kind of finish you want on the beddings, you can choose any of them. The weather and your specific needs are two things to consider when you select stains.

Below are a few popular categories of stains that have no toxins in them, so they won’t damage your crop or the surrounding soil. You can also try DIY stains if you are comfortable with them. However, going with branded ones will serve you more consistently and make the whole process easier.

1. Oil-Based Stains

Oil-based stains or even paints are extremely durable in garden beds. They do however take more time to dry than any other stains, but they will leave you with a weatherproof coating. Colors can be added to them if you prefer, and that will leave you with a painted effect, but better protection. You can also smooth them down with the help of sandpaper.

However, oil-based stains can have an odor that might not be pleasant for some people. So, when selecting the oil base, try to stick to neutral smelling oil such as Tung oil, Linseed oil, Hemp oil, and more. There is nothing better for the perpetual protection of your garden beds than these. As these are non-toxic, your crops will not be harmed at all.

2. Water-Based Stains

Water-based stains just mean water is being used as a thinner in this application. For this reason, this method contains water-soluble aniline dyes, which later transfer the pigment to the wood or lumber beds. The stain comes in powdered form and is mixed with water to get a paint-like texture. It dries very easily in comparison to oil-based stains.

If you choose to use this method, you have to be careful and clean your beds properly before applying the stain. Otherwise, you would end up with an uneven coating which can be tricky to get rid of. Another problem with water-based stains is, they have very low penetration. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid using this if you reside in an area where it rains frequently or is weather-beaten (like on the coastline).

3. Milk Stains

As the name suggests, these stains are milk-based. You can easily make these at home with milk, cheese, or curd. Simply add your desired colors to them, and it can become a fun project for you and your family. You can also try adding organic constituents into the mixture, so it gets thicker and more pigmented. It’d be a sensible option for those who are concerned about the safety of gardening.

Although milk-based stains are widely popular, one disadvantage is that they’re very water-soluble. It can create small spots of faded paint, especially when it rains or when you water your plants. If you want to avoid this, then you can try sealing the garden beds with linseed oil. It’s alright if you can’t get your hands on that. Any other neutral oils mentioned here are a good alternative.

4. Whey Stains

Whey-based stains are another notable example of eco-friendly stains. You can get them at any local gardening or DIY store in your area. They are amazing as they will also protect the beds from harmful UV degradation and water. There will be no negative effects from mold, fungi, or other harmful elements. Furthermore, they also tend to dry up rather quickly.

These are easy to clean with just soap and water. Your garden can be decorated in many different color combinations, as these offer several colors. Also, since these are whey-based, they are pet-safe and are completely harmless to use around vegetable and fruit plants.

5. Beeswax Treatment

Beeswax would be a great choice for waterproofing your garden beds. It is eco-friendly and even has added benefits that could lead to more growth in your plants. Additionally, it will keep your wood safe for years as long as you are taking care of it properly. It’s also antifungal and antibacterial, so it’s a great choice for non-toxic garden beds.

The process is very easy for this one, as all you would have to do is melt the wax and add a carrier oil to the mix. Then, with the help of a cloth, you have to spread it evenly on your wooden beds. Let it dry for 2 hours, and you are done. This process would not add color to your wood, but it would help give the woods’ natural colors more depth.

Non-Toxic Paints for Raised Garden Beds

Some may not like staining their garden beds, so painting them can be an option. If you want to try your luck with painting raised garden beds, then I recommend you using non-toxic products again. Since painting is different from staining, you might want to be careful with it. So, what paint is safe for raised garden beds?

Raised beds are also made of wood or lumber, so you have to take care of them the same way you would take care of in-ground beds. Just choose some well-known branded paints that are eco-friendly. Don’t forget that paints can crack or chip when they come into contact with water. So do look for water-proof paints.

There are also oil-based paints and water-based paints you can use. A few other safe choices include chalk, milk, clay, natural latex. There are additionally commercial paints that you can use such as Natural Paint Universal Primer and Lullaby Furniture Primer. There are no toxic ingredients in these products, and they are the best in the market for wood and lumber.

Top 3 Non-Toxic Commercial Staining Products

Below are the 3 best non-toxic stains that are available commercially in all stores and online shops. All of them will ensure a safe gardening experience for you.

1. Seal It 

This is one of the top-rated products. It has no chemicals or odor. Remember to only use it on the surface of your garden beds, however. It will also seal off potential contamination that you might face from other products you use in the soil. So, all in all, it’s one of the best ones out there.

Seal It can be used in any kind of wood and other materials you may choose for beds. This product’s quality makes it convenient to purchase and become a quick and easy solution. You would only need one coat, but we would recommend using more if you have porous wood. It’s also very easy to apply as it comes in a bottle. The stain will last 10+ years without any doubt.

2. Valhalla Wood Preservative

This product claims to last a lifetime. It has zero toxins and creates no disturbance in the soil you have used in your garden beds. It will keep bugs away too and would protect the bed’s wood from beetles and other wood-eating insects. So, if you live in an area where you have suffered from bugs, this one’s for you!

Valhalla Wood Preservative would be a great choice for larger gardens as it comes in 1-gallon size. You can also add colors to it if you want. However, keeping it natural would allow your beautiful wood to create a rustic look around the garden.

3. Rust-Oleum

This is a chalk-based paint and stain that will leave a matte finish on your boxes. If you did not know, chalk bases are widely used for staining woods that are used in gardens or farms as well. As it’s a natural product, it does not harm your plants at all. In contrast, it has beneficial properties such as:

Rust-Oleum dries very quickly; within 30 minutes. It will leave you a velvety smooth texture. However, you might need to seal your boxes later, as this is chalk-based. The one shown here is called “Linen White”, but you can also take a look at the rest of the colors they have. It is going to make your garden look very artistic.

Process of Staining Garden Beds

Garden beds can be stained in several ways. It depends on what tools you have in hand and the kind of stain you have selected for your boxes. Although the process requires little effort, it shouldn’t take more than four hours to complete. So, without further ado, let’s get right into the easy-to-follow steps, which are doable even if you have never done this before.

Step 1

First, you have to wash your garden beds clean. Depending on which wood or lumber you have used, the process of cleaning them would vary. So do check that out before you start.

However, if you have already installed the beds, then you can simply brush them down with a bristled broom to remove dirt. Soaking them in water should be avoided, as you risk damaging them.

Step 2

This step requires a mold killer. It’s an essential step for people who are using natural wood for their beds. It will kill the mold you already have and also prevent its growth in the future. So don’t skip this. You can buy these products online or even in your local hardwood stores.

Most of these are sprayed on top of the beds after they are mixed with 3 to 5 parts of water.

Step 3

After your mild solution is completely dried, you can move on to mixing your stain with your desired base. As mentioned, oil, water, milk, and whey are some of the popular options which are non-toxic.

Just pick one of these and mix with your stain with the help of a paint stirrer.

Step 4

Finally, the stain is applied in the garden beds. Usually, stains are very pigmented and only require one coat. Whereas paints take 2-3 coats to cover the wood properly. So make sure to follow this guideline and coat accordingly.

It can be sprayed on or painted on with a brush, so use a tool that is most convenient for you. Please allow at least 4 hours for it to dry completely.

If you are unsure whether your beds are coated enough follow this simple guideline. If your stain is not pigmented enough, or you have left some uncoated spots, then a second coat will be required. As long as you have chosen a non-toxic stain, you don’t need to worry about chemicals leaching into your plants.

Things to Consider While Staining

Staining garden beds on your own can be a fun project. It’s essential to remember some key techniques that can make your work manageable. Plus, you will be saving a bunch of money!

1. Stay Protected

You need to wear safety goggles or some sunglasses while working with stains to protect your eyes from burning. It’s also advised to wear disposable rubber gloves.

Stains, as mentioned, are very pigmented. So, it will stain your fingers too. Put on old clothes, as well because stains are hard to remove from fabrics.

2. Stir Thoroughly

Stains usually don’t come separately with dry and wet ingredients, but if they do, remember to stir the stain completely and thoroughly with a stirrer.

It’s also advised to stir oil-based stains, even the ones that are premixed. The reason is, oil tends to separate from other components. Hence, they must be mixed again.

3. Go against the Grain

Staining against the grain of your garden beds ensures the stain will penetrate the wood better. Therefore, it will last longer.

Also, wipe the excess stain that goes in the grain’s direction. Otherwise, that will leave an uneven texture and blotches of extra dried stains.

4. Don’t Combine Different Bases

It might seem that mixing two different colors will result in a prettier colored stain. Although you may be right, you still have to be cautious.

Always check your bases before you start mixing. For instance- never mix a water base with an oil base. Sometimes even the same bases don’t operate together. So, check before you apply.

You never know how the different chemicals or components may react when combined. Off-gassing could be a potential problem.

5. Apply a Protective Coating

To get a nice finish, you need to apply a coating at the end. A stain will only give your wooden garden beds a color. It won’t provide a protective barrier like paint.

Look for non-toxic kinds and only apply them on the surface of the garden beds. Your plants will be protected from unwanted materials, and the boxes will last longer.


A garden bed is an excellent place to grow food to feed your family. Staining the garden beds is a necessity, so you must choose safe and environmentally friendly products so it doesn’t harm your plants. I hope this guide has helped you understand what to stain garden beds with and other things related to the staining process.

Thank you for reading and happy gardening 🙂