Justin White, Landscaping Lessons │Caring for your outdoor wood features – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Almost all landscaping has some form of wood components, most commonly as fences, patios, retaining walls, pergolas, or garden beds. Although wood is a naturally occurring element, colonizing it as a hardscape requires routine care and maintenance, just like the rest of your yard. Wood features are exposed to several outdoor enemies including harsh weather, decay, rot, mold, fungus, and even harmful insects like termites. Protecting the wood in your landscape starts with choosing the right type of wood for your project. Redwood, cedar, and Douglas fir are some of the strongest options for outdoor projects, but redwood is your best bet against rot and pest infestations. Pressure treated wood also has a time and place that has preservatives incorporated. It’s a great option for retaining walls, stairs, posts, and paths. It has been modified to better withstand conditions like soil moisture, protecting it from rot and water damage. Don’t make it difficult for yourself by going against the grain. Follow this guide to promote the longevity of the pieces of wood in your landscaping.

Routine inspections and repairs

Just like plants and flowers should be pruned, your wood features should be checked regularly for damage or damage. Replace boards or beams that are severely weakened or corroded. Fix the bulge screws and hammer the protruding nails back down. Also, check that the interconnect boards are secure and stable. Sand down surfaces that can cause splinters, especially high-traffic areas that are often walked on barefoot, such as stairs and decks. If you have a wooden retaining wall or fence buried under or against the ground, it can be in constant contact with wet ground, which can put heavy loads on the wall and also create significant drainage problems. It is important that proper drainage is installed at the same time as a retaining wall to avoid water-related rot or damage to its structure. Again, I recommend using redwood for retaining walls that are in direct contact with the ground. It is also recommended to go a step further by installing a barrier between the wood and the floor. This will prevent your retaining wall from being shut down prematurely.


Caring for your wooden components also includes thorough cleaning. First, remove all plants, furniture, carpets, and other items from the structure. Sweep or blow off built-up dirt and grime. Clean the wood both vertically and horizontally with the correct cleaning material as you go against and with the grain. Cover all surfaces on the device, including railings and support beams. When applying by hand, be sure to wear protection when using a cleaner that contains harsh chemicals (as many wood cleaners do). Depending on the type of cleaner, you may need to leave it on for a long time and marinate. So remember when to start this project. It is best to wash the cleaner off under pressure. Be careful not to focus on one spot for too long as this can damage the wood. (Pressure washers burst between 1,000 and 3,500 pounds of water per square inch!) After you’ve bathed the wood, it will need to dry completely before proceeding to the final maintenance step.

Coating, sealing and coloring

You are not out of the woods yet … finish the crucial phase of wood care: coating and sealing. Most natural wood characteristics are treated with an oil-based preservative that helps starve mold, fungus, and rot. Painting the wood can also help keep them away, as it creates an impermeable surface that clogs pores, cracks and holes. The wood becomes darker through staining, while the natural color is retained through clear sealing. Make sure the wood is completely dry before applying a stain or sealant. Otherwise, harmful moisture will be trapped, which can lead to potential fungus or mold. There are an infinite number of sealers, coatings and colors that you can use for your wood. So be sure to consult a professional before starting your project. I recommend going to your local Ace hardware. I’ve found the people at Ace to be most helpful and educated when they take on a DYI project like this. When hiring a contractor, take some time to do your own research and make sure the recommendations are consistent with those of other professionals. As always, make sure the contractor is licensed and insured before you bring them onto your property.

Justin White is the CEO of K&D Landscaping, headquartered in Watsonville, California, and was named “Business of the Year 2020” by the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce. White is also the current president of the local chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) on the central coast. He is involved in several nonprofits across the community and sits on the board of directors of the Santa Cruz Business Council. For more information on landscaping, outdoor and gardening requirements, contact K&D Landscaping at kndlandscaping.com.

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