University of Illinois Extension

Reusing Wood Pallets in the Garden

The trend of reusing wooden pallets for gardening seems to have become as popular as ever, said a University of Illinois Horticulture educator.

“It’s a great idea for the environment to reuse and recycle as much as possible for use in gardening, but one must also think about the safety of the product they’re reusing first,” states Candice Miller. “Many people don’t stop to think about that before reusing wooden pallets.”

Newer regulations require pallet manufacturers in Canada and the U.S. to treat the wood on pallets before shipping. They are required to undergo either a process of heat treatment or fumigation, both of which must be carried out to an agreed standard and by an approved source. This is done to prevent pests from surviving in the wood and being transferred from country to country, similar to how the emerald ash borer is believed to have made its way to the U.S.

“When looking for pallets that have undergone this process, look for the IPPC logo (International Plant Protection Convention) on the pallet,” she said. “On the logo will be either an HT or a MB. The HT on the board means it’s been heat treated, or kiln dried.The MB means it’s been treated with methyl bromide. Avoid the pallets treated with methyl bromide and choose a heat treated pallet for use in the garden.”

In addition, many pallets are tossed out after being shipped across the country and even across the world. There is no way of knowing what exactly was shipped on these pallets. They could have been carrying harmful chemicals or even food which may have transmitted a variety of bacteria to the porous wood of the pallet.

“The take away message should be to think carefully before reusing a pallet in the garden, especially if you’re going to be growing a food product in the pallet,” states Miller. “Utilizing a brand new wooden pallet would be the safest choice, but if a used wooden pallet is the only choice, take some precautions.

“Wash the pallet thoroughly with hot soapy, water or bleach and allow to dry thoroughly. Consider painting or sealing the pallet as well, though the effectiveness of actually sealing in any harmful chemicals or bacteria is unknown.”

Always wear gloves when working with pallets as well and sand down any rough areas on the pallet to avoid injury, she recommended.

Visit our Pinterest page to see more ideas and inspiration on reusing pallets in the garden.