Using railroad ties in landscape design

Railroad ties (or "sleepers") are wooden beams to which railroad tracks are secured. You could buy new, never used railroad ties to use in your landscape design but a more economical approach is to buy used ties. Used railroad ties are made available to the public when out-of-service railroad tracks are removed and the railroad ties are typically purchased by landscaping businesses to sell to homeowners or landscape designer. The wood beams, which are usually between 8 and 9 feet in length, can be used for a variety of landscaping projects.

Common Landscape Uses for Railroad Ties

Retaining Wall. Secured horizontally in the ground, railroad ties can be used to to hold soil. The ties are stacked and secured together, building a wall.

Steps. Take the challenge out of hilly landscapes by imbedding railroad ties in the ground to create steps.

Flower Boxes. Railroad ties can be placed on the ground, one row high or several rows high, to create a grounded flower box or raised garden bed.

Unique Landscape Uses for Railroad Ties

Upright, Spaced Apart. Embed 24 to 36 inches of the railroad tie into the ground, spacing the ties a foot or more apart to create semi-privacy screen that may also help to prevent or slow a wayward vehicle from advancing into your landscape. Use varying heights of railroad ties embedded upright in the ground for an artistic approach, or cut the ties to create a small grouping. Lighting can be added to the top of the railroad tie.

Horizontal, Side-by-Side. Design a walkway using railroad ties that have been cut in half and embedded flush to the ground, side-by-side as shown above.

Patio. Design your patio entirely of railroad ties or of brick or stone framed in by railroad ties. When creating an entire patio, the ties can be laid parallel to one another in a staggered pattern much like an interior wood floor is laid. Another option is to cut the railroad ties into equal or varying lengths to create a pattern, setting the beams at right angles to one another.

Ways to Secure Railroad Ties Together

Rod. Drill a hole straight through each stacked railroad tie and insert a piece of rebar through the holes and into the ground. Spikes can be hammered from one tie into the tie beneath it to hold them together.

Notch. Cut a notch in one railroad tie into which the end of another notched railroad tie will fit when the ties are fitted perpendicularly.

Miter. Cut a 45-degree angle at the end of the railroad ties to fit them together like a picture frame. Drive long bolts through the side at each corner to hold the mitered corners in place.