Are Old Tires Or Treated Wood Safe To Use In Gardens?

Marjory’s note; I put out a request for articles on making one of those ‘potato’ gardens out of old tires.  You know, you start the potato plants in the lower one, and keep adding hay and compost and another tire are the plants grow up and up.  By the time you’ve got plants hanging over the top of a stack of 4 or 5 tires you can knock the thing apart and harvest out a big crop of potatoes.  It sounds to me like a great system for either smaller areas (going vertically keeps a smaller footprint) and addresses my major concern – gophers.

I got a lot of comments that these tires are toxic and shouldn’t be used.  Does anyone have any links to research done on old tires and suitability for use as a growing container?

I certainly understand about treated wood – which used to contain arsenic, and now contains copper sulphate (see Eric’s comments below).  And railroad ties are steeped in creosote….  Treated wood is definitely toxic and off my list for using in or around gardens. 

But old tires?  I just don’t know.  Old tires have had a lot of use, exposure to high temps, and time to off-gas.  Lots of gardeners use various plastic containers for their plants on patios.   I can certainly see why there could be a concern, but is there really?  Aren’t they mostly rubber and steel belts?

What are tires made of?  How long does it take for them to decompose?   What do they break down to?  Could the inside of the tires be painted – or otherwise separated from the soil and possible contamination?  Almost everything in our world seems to be toxic these days – so yes, I feel concern.  But is this over reacting?  How can we more objectively decide?

tire planter in cuba small

Do you have any info on toxicity of tires?  What is your opinion on the matter?  Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

Brenda T. wrote in saying there were lot of other alternatives, but she didn’t say what they were.  Tires are super easy to get a hold of, and have the perfect shape for a modular vertical growing system.  So I would appreciate any other suggestions for other easily obtained material that can be used.   

Here is what Eric H. wrote in (and thanks to Brenda, Jane, and Ryan for writing in too):

“Using tires, or treated wood, (and probably some plastics as well) is probably not a good idea. The (volatile) chemicals used in tire manufacturing will eventually leach into the soil as the tire breaks down/decomposes, mostly from UV exposure. Ditto for treated wood. That blue coloring (and the green goo as well) you see occasionally on treated lumber is copper sulfate – not exactly what I would want in the soil where I grow my food.”

And finally, Billy wrote up a post with his results of his experiments growing ‘taters in tires’ and ended up with a very poor yield.  So are we totaly barking up the wrong tree?   http://www.growyourowngroceries.org/billy-tries-taters-in-tires-with-poor-results/

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  • Michael Ruff says:

    Why not just take old tree limbs and build your way up? Same as tires but you have guaranteed organic materials. Unless you don’t live in areas where there are available tree limbs.

    1. Tara says:

      I am very chemical sensitive and can’t even be around tires because of the chemical smells coming off them. They smell like they definitely have petroleum products in them also. Once the sun or heat hits them the smell is even worse. I looked it up online and it states that original tires in the past were made from natural rubber but are now made also with chemicals and petroleum products. I will paste the info or link below. I wouldn’t want that transferring into my potatoes or the environment. I use various natural things as raised beds or for crops like stacking stone, bricks, real logs from the woods (which will break down after a while and become more compost), bamboo sticks grown (not treated ones you buy), string, rope, etc. If the soil conditions are correct, you can grow a lot of potatoes in a very small space. I used two 3′ x 3′ boxes one year for sweet potatoes and had so many that they filled the floor of my living room. Some were gigantic and none had any damage or insects. I made the slips from one organic sweet potato I bought in the store. I have photos.

      How Much Petroleum Is in Tires?
      By John Fairless, eHow Contributor

      Print this article

      How Much Petroleum Is in Tires? thumbnail
      Practically all automobile tires contain some petroleum ingredients.

      Automobile tires have always been made from rubber compounds. In the early years of the 20th century, natural rubber made from the latex sap of rubber trees was the major component. Later, artificial rubber made from petroleum products was developed. Have a question? Get an answer from a Medical Professional now!
      Other People Are Reading

      The basic components from which tires are constructed include pigments, chemicals, more than 30 different kinds of rubber, cord fabrics and bead wire. Manufacturing Process

      The process of building tires begins with the mixing of basic rubbers with process oils, carbon black, pigments, antioxidants, accelerators and other additives. Tires are formed on machines and heated at over 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 25 minutes. Petroleum Products Used

      Petroleum products account for approximately 22 percent of the materials used in the average tire. This equates to between 5 and 10 gallons of petroleum products, usually crude oil, natural gas or other hydrocarbons.

      Read more: http://www.ehow.com/facts_7455418_much-petroleum-tires_.html#ixzz2sT976mrB



  • I was just wondering about putting a liner in the old tire… such as the large size industrial strength garbage bags… I have used these to make new covers for my earth boxes and also to line other planting areas before putting down compost,topsoil,sand, etc… It kills the weeds and then some… but my garden is weed free, and plentiful…. Just an idea…Hope my idea is helpful to you… I do this in Tennessee.

    stack the tires, put in the liner with a couple of pencil size drainage holes in the bottom, fill with some rocks up to the second tire.. so water can at least slowly drain out in heavy rains… then fill with a mixture of potting soil, top soil, sand, vermiculite, manure, and then plant the potatoes…. add tires as needed… great yield

    1. Darryl C. says:

      I also garden in NE Tenn… I used to work fuel desk @ a T/A truck stop>>> I knew the shop mgr and got 12 semi sized tires… I use these to grow my potatoes… Sometimes good, some not depends on wet weather… BUT My garden has 5 concrete block raised beds… I got tired of the clay here. I based my soil on the Square Foot Garden system… 3 beds R 8′ x 2 1/2′ 1 – 4’x4′ 1- 8’x4’… I also have an Asparagus bed (not raised) 8’x10’… 2 Fig trees and 2 Apple trees in the same enclosed area… I still have area to B gardened>>>

  • Arthur Balin says:

    I have been testing potato growth with a square of cinder blocks. The bottom row 3 or 4 blocks on a side with the two holes facing the sky. The rows on top of them the holes face parallel to the ground. The potato vines grow out of the holes. Then the top row can point toward the sky and each hole filled with a different herb or marygolds. I tried 8 bricks high but I think that was too much. Probably 4 bricks high would be better and that’s what I will do this year.

  • Toby says:

    I grew zucchini in old tires one season with fair-to-middling results. The problem arose when a second growing season arrived: the zucchini plants had developed powdery mildew (very common in the Pacific NW), and, of course, the spores got into the rubber of the tires. There was no easy way to sterilize the interiors before starting a second crop. I would not repeat the exercise.

    1. Ahhh, that is an interesting aspect to consider.

  • Mike Slack says:

    My wife used large truck tires and tractor tires extensively for raised beds, and smaller car tires for potato towers. As long as the belts and cords are not showing, covered with rubber, she belived them to be safe.

    To expand growing room we would cut out the sidewalls with a Sawsall. I’m still using 40 tires to this day, no ill effects.

    1. Hi Mike,

      Glad to see you posting. Sure miss Debbie…

  • Bruce says:

    Hello Marjory,

    While I can’t give you any factual information on the potential toxicity of tires (they’re a little suspect), I can give you the results I have had using them.

    I made a side by side experiment, tires vs regular garden and found no difference in the square foot productiveness by growing in tires compared to regular methods. While I only tried it once out of curiosity, I think it is indicative of the results you might get. I have read where some potatoes varieties perform differently than others so this might not be the final word but since I have an abundance of space, I have had no real desire to experiment further.


  • Sandy Jones says:

    Hi Marjory,
    I love doing internet research and in the process I found this article on the pros and cons of using tires as planters: http://www.thegreenestdollar.com/2009/03/how-to-recycle-tires-in-your-garden/ I think the article presents both sides quite well.

    1. Hi Sandy,

      That was a very balanced article about tires. Hey, I am going to contact you about doing research. I could use some help on a few topics.

  • Donnally King says:

    I have no personal knowledge on the topic of tires, but Michael Reynolds, the architect who designed the EarthShip, has done research and after 40 years has not detected any off gas as he writes on his website: Earthship.com

    1. Hi Donnally,

      Yes, someone else has posted up studies on earthships being safe. Gut those tires are completely encased in adobe, or other earthen sealant. So I wonder about that…

  • Bret says:

    Some info on tire toxicity:



    There is lots more out there.

    Bottom line:
    There are 70-80 chemical constituents that go into a tire, including various catalysts to get the rubber to cure and some of these can include heavy metals. PAH’s (poly-aromatic hydrocarbons) can also be present (I suspect from the carbon black that is added to every tire formulation) and these are carcinogenic. Leaching of these materials is accelerated in moist environments, like you would find around a plant you were watering. The levels are very low, but chronic and continuous as the rubber breaks down through ozonolysis and microbial action.

    I think a lot of environmental concerns are overblown, but as a gardener (hobby) and chemist (vocation) I would steer away from tires anywhere around fresh water or anything I eat.

    1. Thanks Bret,

      I appreciate your concise summary of your findings.

    2. Michael says:

      High Brett,
      I just tread the two articles, and they, however are about rubber, they are about mulching rubber or shredded rubber, not whole tires in tire stack garden beds. I would imagine that the process of shredding would effect the tire and the compounds considerably Some suggest if left in the natural tire state, they are fine for short term garden beds. I am just asking you this as I noticed your vocation, and am interested if you have found conclusive evidence stating similar findings in tire stacks?

  • Gary Conklin says:

    Tires are made of OIL. Not a good Idea for food but make pretty planters for flowers when turned insideout.

  • gena says:

    Apparently hit on wrong link with answer or potential answer. Tires contain quite a bit of petroleum byproducts which would likely leech out into whatever you grew inside them. Same with plastics. All plastics have some degree of petroleum byproducts in their manufacture if I remember correctly. That was why vinyl products went up in cost so much after the first OPEC oil embargo back in the 70s (why foam mattress got so hard to find and expensive – also petroleum derivative). Plastics and tires both give off some degree of fumes from those petroleum ingredients the life of the product. I don’t know if you are aware that particle board is bound together in part with formaldehyde, and it, too, gives off fumes for the life of the product. Most furniture now has some degree of particle board in it, and products like those are, in my opinion, a good degree of why there is such an increase in respiratory illness in children today, even though health officials like to still claim it is due to second hand smoke, since less than 1/3rd of the people smoke that used to. These petroleum containing products and formaldehyde containing products provide much of the environmental pollutants that are causing so much havoc these days with so many peoples’ respiratory systems. (and doubt they would be great to have leeched into your food supply either)

  • I heard a burlap sack would work just fine, put hay in it and your potatoes, add hay as they grow.

    1. Hi Dorothea,

      Yes, I think it would be good – but I am guessing for my area I would need more protection from the wind and the contents of the sick drying out.

  • Rhoda says:

    I would check out earthships for info on tires. The inventor of them Mike Reynolds has extensive information regarding used tires as they are his main building supply. Watch the movie Garbage Warrior it’s about him and his innovations.

  • Mike says:

    Many years ago I worked on a project with the Forest Service where we installed tire structures into a lake that had no fish structures in deeper water. We bolted several tires together into a pyramid and sunk 2 of those in the lake. This was done with the blessings of the fisheries biologist and the state fish and game folks.

    In googling tires for fish structures I find several educational orgs recommending tires for fish structure. If tires were toxic I think that would not be allowed. Based on this I would not hesitate to use them for gardening. In fact, that’s what I will do this year. I’m going to try the potatoe stack to see what it does.

    1. Huh, oh that’s an interesting idea; use the tires to make fish structures…

      Hmmm, I am guessing underwater they wouldn’t get much sunlight nor oxygen to decompose…

  • Debra says:

    I don’t think that using old tires are particularly harmful, after all, a lot of people have used them as walls for their houses. You would be saving environmentally by repurposing them instead of letting them just lay around and rot. Tires are made of rubber compounds these days, and so far, I’ve not heard of anyone coming down with any dread disease from them, if that was the case, there would be people sick all over the place because roads are resurfaced with old tires, they use them in playgrounds, just the hit tires on your vehicle would cause problems. I read some posts on another site where a guy raised potatoes in old tires 30 years ago and is still going strong…no problems with him or his family. Mother Earth also suggests using them for raised gardens, and they are a very organic, environmentally safe site. So use them and enjoy the bounty. I’m starting to think that I may do it also, if those old tires are still out back by the shed. Good luck on your garden.

    1. Hi Fred,

      Wow, thanks for those links. I skimmed most of them. to be honest, I wasn’t convinced that tires were really bad. Of course they aren’t perfect…

      Thanks for posting

  • Johnny P says:

    Tire Potatoes. Last year I read more than once that it was a great idea. It was tried here in NH. I planted about three lbs of potatoes according to instructions. Added a layer as it grew. After 12 weeks of watering my crop was not more than, on a guess, two lbs of the tiniest potatoes. Not one was any larger than a lima bean. I can honestly tell you it made me feel as if I had ten black thumbs. So, this year with a raised garden and roughly 60 square feet of space, what comes to mind is tomatoes along with possibly peppers and squash [of any kind]. If it grows that is good – if it does not grow – hopefully there will be next year. Giving up is not in the stars.

  • Debbie in MA says:

    Check out Patrice Lewis:
    She has already done the research.

    1. Hi Debbie,

      Wow, I like that woman – Patrice Lewis. Yup, she is what she says she is – opinionated in your face north Idaho rural housewife. For those that didn’t follow the link, Patrice did her research and found no problems with using tires – and she is mostly gardening with them. Her article outlines responses to almost any objection anyone can raise. I’ll have to contact Patrice and see if we can re=print her article on this site.

  • Nola Franzen says:

    My Husband & I have discussed this & feel that this is pretty much a non-issue. We have tires in our back yard that have been there for 10+ years. They are weathered but still intact. The recycle centers that I have talked to, our landfill, and various others have told me that tires do not decompose well. When they are sent to the recycle center the steel is removed & the rubber is shredded to be used as landscape mulch, playground cover, etc. The rubber that is melted is put back into rubber products.

    I have no problem using tires but if someone does they should probably use another medium. I am not fond of tires for potatoes because of the work involved digging out the potatoes from the tire wells. I use 1X12 boards cut to 36 inches and joined to make a square frame. I then put them in a staked area for my potatoes. I put 2″ metal tubing into the ground (12″ tubing 6-8″ deep standing upright) & use 1 1/2 ” solid metal posts in the tubing to hold the frames. I simply change the metal post from the 1 1/2′ to the 3′ one when I add another box inside the frame & add the soil to bring it up to the height needed. It is much easier to change out the posts that hold my frames when I harvest than fight with the weight of the tire or the problem I have with my fingers (arthritis) trying to dig out the potatoes from the tire wells.

  • Jamie says:

    If in doubt, you could always try lining the inside of the tire with a thick plastic sheet.

    Personally, I have never and will never use tires or treated wood as planters – especially for growing veggies, fruits, or herbs. I’d wager that the use of harmful chemicals in any kind of tire is pretty much guaranteed.

  • Jeff says:

    We know that a decomposing tire ads nothing to the soil or a plant’s health. Right? We suspect that a decomposing tire (a petroleum product subject to a variety of chemical additives and processing) may be toxic to our soil and the plants that are dependent upon that soil. DUH!!

    Are used tires the worst pollutant to our environment or a potato patch? Maybe not. But of all the items and elements available to us, does it make sense to anyone that a pile of (even mildly toxic) petroleum products is the best place to grow potatoes – or anything else for that matter??? I’ve read a lot about “Vertical” gardening and Hugelkultur; I’ve never come across an article or book that condones this method.

    I understand that – in an effort to reuse and recycle – it would be great to put these wasted tires to good use. May I suggest an Earth-ship foundation, or a retaining wall of non-edible plants. Still – even though I’m a big advocate of “earthen buildings” – I wouldn’t surround myself or my family with the toxicity of decomposing tires. I sure as hell wouldn’t consume food from that same cesspool.

  • Tom Thomas says:

    I have a friend that uses large truck tires for raising tomatoes and I will tell you that they are phenominal and the amoount produced is just extraordinary. He has been using this method for years. I don’t know about potatoes, but assume that they also would be safe to eat.

  • Mike Wood says:

    I’ve raised potatoes many years in a row. I have done it in the same area year to year but till in new soil and compost each year. In the past couple years I simply started piling dirt on top of them after starting them low in the ground but I did not keep at it over the season as things got busy. I’ve always enjoyed the yield from potatoes but I think we make this vertical growing option too difficult. I think an easy option is to use untreated wood. We have a lot of houses being built in our area and there seems to be no end of other construction or demolition projects around where you could pick up free wood if desired for this.

    I have often pulled lengths of 2×6, 2×8 or 2×10 out of the trash as construction sites where houses are being built. It’s a good idea of course to talk to somebody there working to make sure they are ok with it but generally if it is going into the dumpster or the big trash barricade they have put together it is free for the taking and they always tell me yes. You can pull out pieces in length from 12 in to 3 foot and if you just use a few screws or nails to build a basic square you can do vertical potatoes this way. Once the base level has started a few inches of green build another level and toss in the dirt. Keep it up until you get the height you want and when you have green at the top of a 3 foot stack or more you can remove a board from the bottom and start harvesting the potatoes while the upper levels are still growing. Of course if you take out too much from the lower levels you may cause the upper to collapse as well. Perhaps try to force some dirt back in and then move up a level the next week.

    I think this offers a good alternative to tires or other treated and worrisome options.

    1. Hi Mike,
      Sounds like you’ve got a great waster product in your area.

  • smokey says:

    I’m not familiar with growing potato in old tires. What is the point of growing that way? Potatoes are a root crop. The tires would not contain them, as the new potatoes spread out from the main root. The tops of the plants grow straight up. They don’t need a support to hold them up. When the potatoes are ready to be dug up they bloom. They are one of the easier vegetables to grow.

    If you want to grow in a tire I would consider why they charge you for disposal of your old tires. It’s not easy finding a place that will take old tires.

    On the other side of the issue they now grind up used tires to cover children’s play areas in parks and playgrounds so how bad it can be?

    As for railroad ties or landscape timbers I have gardened with both when I lived in different areas where the ground was to hard or rocky to really dig in the ground. Make sure the ties or timbers are dry. There will be little or no leaching of poisons into the soil or your crop.

  • randy says:

    As an old rubber compounder, I would advise that growing taters in old tires will most likely be safe from a health standpoint. Any components that may be questionable will likely not be available to be taken up into the plant because the plant is using water as the vehicle for absorption. The yield problem mentioned could be due to a lack of lateral root expansion due to the size of the tires used. Larger tires will likely yield more but will certainly be more difficult to handle. May I suggest using plastic fencing from your local home supply store, forming the soil container and then using “zip ties” to secure the soil. Also, use soil high in leaf litter or your leaf compost in your tater beds. That’s all! R

  • Robert says:

    I have done the entire thing potatoes as work to good or me. I have tubs that are one third the size of the 55 gallon drum. I planted tomato plants in them last year and they done really well. I planted eggplant bell peppers how opinions green onions lettuce and radishes in my tubs. I am starting to get the gardening fever. I think they call that cabin fever right. The tires are okay to plant in but not the treated wood. I’m going to try and build me eight cucumber trellis this year. That all run the water lines across the tubs. I will be drilling and water well in the backyard for all of gardening needs and yard this year. By the way I can 29 jars of green beans last year really good. Talk to you soon Bob.

    1. Bob, congrats on that yield of green beans!

  • Jake Robinson says:

    hmmm, they make earthships out of tires… how dangerous can it be? those folks “live in them.”

    So, in my mind, growing potatoes for 45 to 90 days surely can’t pick up anything dangerous…

    1. Jeff says:

      “… they make earthships out of tires so how dangerous can it be?” Seriously? ‘They’ (and I love the proverbial ‘they’) sell billions of cubic yards of carpet every year. How dangerous can that be?

      Jake, how many earthships have ‘they’ built? How much testing have ‘they’ done to determine the toxicity of decaying tires? Do you deny that the tires decay? Where do those microscopic elements go? Into the air? Into the soil? Into the water? Perhaps they are just magically floated away by the eco-fairies?

      Some people are claiming really good results from tire-plated-potatoes. Do they really think it’s BECAUSE of the tires? I suspect they’re using some good soil/fertilizer techniques. Surround your plants with mother-nature’s trees … trunks … branches … all the good stuff that mycelium can breakdown — and your potatoes will do even better.

  • Alton says:

    Zinc is concentrated (up to 2% by weight) to levels high enough to be highly toxic to aquatic life and plants.[49] Of particular concern is evidence that some of the compounds that leach from tires into water, contain hormone disruptors and cause liver lesions. taken from Wikipedia

    You can use the blue 50 gal water containers, or a 100lbs potato sack made from natural fibers such as what we used to use back in the day for a sack race in school instead of using tires. There are other options as well, using bricks to build what would look like a well-put your dirt in it and then the potato starters and build it up as you go, same idea as the tires but using bricks instead. This is something that can be used over and over and last a lifetime. Most people can find old bricks as scrap or at a demolition site for free.

    1. Hi Alton,

      Oh yes, or cinder block. Gosh I love cinder blocks… That would be a safer approach.

  • Jake Robinson says:

    I tried this last season and my results were poor. I didn’t use tires. I had a 4 inch raised bed with premium compost on it’s second season that runs along a fence. I then ordered seed potatoes from a supplier and planted my seeds. This raised bed has a soaker hose on a timer for watering. I added a t-connector and ran another soaker hose that I would lay across the top of the bed… Then, when the plants broke through the soil I added more compost with a mixture of straw to help give the medium a less compacted medium. I would then lay the extra hose across the top to make sure it had plenty of water… then when it grew up I would cover it over…

    I took some electrical conduit (10′ sections from Lowes cost $2 per pipe) I cut it in half and used each 5′ sections as anchor points and drove them into the ground in the front of the bed (opposite of the fence) I bought a roll of landscaping “screen” made of plastic… it was a “netting” really with about 2″ square netting similar to chicken wire. But it’s light0-weight but is fairly strong. I then used zip ties and secured this netting along the bottom of the bed to the conduit and (i had 6″ cedar boards as front edge of my beds and stapled them to the board, I only secured the netting on the conduit up about 6″ and left the rest of the netting lay down on the ground… as my potatoes grew up and i added more soil I would “roll up” the netting and zip tie it to the conduit along the bed… this allowed me to continue to work with the bed without having to work over a 3- 4′ “fence” (the back fence served as my other side) This method to build up the bed without a lot of cost and provide access worked well… My “fail” was that my potatoes didn’t reproduce throughout the vertical area.. I barely found any spuds on the very bottom layer. I don’t know if I waited too long and went “too high” (my beds were about 3-3.5 feet tall when I finally stopped adding soil/straw) I don’t know if it was the straw… or too much water… or who knows… I would be willing to try it again if I knew what caused this to go off the rails…

    My failure may give others info to avoid mistakes or identify my mistakes for others so that they don’t happen to do what I did.



    1. Hi Jake,
      thanks for posting. My thought is – was there too much air circulation and the soil/mulch too dry? That netting you used (nice way to go about it) but I know for my site it would let too much wind through and I wouldn’t be able to keep it moist.

  • Bryan Cloninger says:

    Thanks for all the interesting subjects you post here.

    Tires that have more than 60-70K miles on them have already off-gassed everything and are not toxic. I think you could play it safer by simply covering them with some earth or cob to keep the UV from degrading them (so you don’t end up accidentally eating some rubber particles in your food.)
    Studies have been done (to counter false rumors about Earthships) by the university of Wisconsin. here is the link:

    As for treated wood, I think it is prudent and cheaper to get untreated wood. I would also avoid any plastics as much as possible.

    As for the potato experiment. if you place your spuds on a big burlap or porous cloth and cover them with hay until you cant see them – they will grow and come harvest time you lift up the cloth and your potatoes are harvested.

    I could say more, but then my response would be longer than your blog post! 🙂

    Hope this is helpful.

    1. Hi Brian,

      Thanks for bringing up the Earthships issue.

  • Ken Anklovitch says:

    I grew fantastic tomatoes and strawberries last year in northern Canada in tires. I extended the season by at least 2 months with my incredible stacked tire garden. First of all cut off both sidewalls with a jig saw. Fill up the bigger bottom tire up to about an inch of the top and then put another slightly smaller tire on top. Voila – instant cold frame or hot bed or mini-green house or what ever you want to call it. It is then super easy to lay a top on to keep your plants from freezing. Another benefit I didn’t need any support for the tomatoes during the growing season, I just let both the tomatoes and strawberries hang over the edge where they stayed clean and fresh. In the late fall I just folded all the plants inside the tires to protect them from freezing. This year my entire garden will be stacked tires.


    1. Hi Ken,

      thanks for that voice of confidence. We really do need to find good uses for the waste products (tires) of our culture.

  • Bill says:

    Tires are so slow to break down that I doubt there would be any problem with anything toxic being released in harmful amounts during the time that the potatoes are growing.
    I have not tried it myself, but I have seen many videos of what other people have tried and put on you-tube. Old tires and plastic barrels are the ones that appeared to be the most practical, but there were several others. Try doing a search for “grow potatoes in tires” at you-tube or with an internet search engine, and I’m sure you will find something interesting.

  • Tom Stewart says:

    I have used this system to grow potatoes for years! And the main reason I do is because the land I moved onto 6 years ago is nothing but sand and WEEDS!
    By using stacked tires I can mix my own growing medium (Potting soil, Compost and Worm Casts) and have had great results!. The first tire is placed on a large sheet of cardboard to control WEEDS from coming up from the bottom and I plant 3 seed potatoes in each tire, cover them with about 2 inches of the growing medium and water well. When the plants get about 2 – 3 inches above ground, I add more soil, leaving the top set of leaves showing. I continue to do this until the first tire is full to the top and then add another tire.
    I also grow Sweet Potatoes in a stack of 3 tires, 3 slips per tire stack. This works great too!

  • Andrea Beckett says:

    We went to a seminar once regarding growing potatoes in a metal 35 gal trash cans and in some fiber potting bags. Neither one was sucessful. The can might have worked, but I think it got too hot, and when the potato plant was very small it was way down near the bottom of the can. so it didn’t get a lot of light, as it got bigger we added more compost-it also took a lot of dirt and compost, but then we had problems getting enough water to the bottom of the can, where the roots were.
    The fiber pot dried out too much, too often, and so that didn’t work either.
    We did potatoes in raised beds and had very good sucess.
    Andrea B

    1. Thanks Andrea,

      those are the kind of results I would expect from a metal can or bag…

  • Paula says:

    We own a tire and car care center and have owned it for 30 years. We have this come up from time to time with people wanting to use the tires they have removed when they buy new ones.

    Several years ago my husband did an extensive research on this subject…NO TOXINS that can leech into your soil or plants. He loves to give away old worn out tires to anyone who wants to use them for gardening. We have them all over in our garden. I think if people contact a tire store in your area, the tire people are happy to give them to you, it saves disposal fees.

    We built a tire mountain in our back yard for grandkids – wish I could post a picture on here and I would do it. We had a painting party with them and painted about 30 tires then stacked them like a pyramid – it is a favorite summer outdoor toy among all ages.

    Believe me if there were toxins they wouldn’t be around our grandchildren. Also I would think after 30 years my husband would have absorbed a few too.

    HOpe that helps someone,
    Paula in Idaho

    1. Hi Paula,

      I’ll have to try and see if we can get it so you can post photos. I would love to see that!

  • StoneyB says:

    I’m not anal over the risk of “dangerous” compounds in my garden and I will never be able to be classified as an organic gardener. I will use a garden approved ant poison (gasp!!) in my beds because we have a granddaddy crop of the stingers in the area. A brick and a hammer just takes way to long. I have used tires for a good number of years and only have a few fingers and toes grown together;) I don’t believe there is any liability in using them. I prefer the large truck recaps that get thrown off and then smaller sizes to pyramid up. Much cheaper than the professional products that you can buy to accomplish the same thing. I need to grow many of my root crops above the general soil level because of voles and field mice that enjoy the crop if I don’t. I really don’t have much problem with treated wood products either as the more recent (last 10 -15 years) products are salt treated and not arsenic based. I do repurpose old wood that has weathered. My folks have a nasty habit of living well into their 90s and practice the same techniques. I’ll take my chances if it provides a good yield.

    1. Hi Stony, (gotta love that name…)

      So which fingers grew together?

      1. StoneyB says:

        Unfortunately the thumb on each hand grew together 🙂

  • Richard says:

    I don’t know, we are surrounded by toxic stuff, but I use huge truck tires (just the tread section, a big short cylinder when sitting on the ground)for my raised beds.

  • d'13 says:

    Ah your thoughts on painting the inside of tires is not a bad idea at all. In fact it does the same for treated wood.
    I use treated lumber but I paint the heck out of it. Usually with a coat of primer and then 3 to 4 coats of either forest or hunter green paint.
    The tires are made of the same material as the roadways it is all the stuff they pump out of the ground [oil wells].
    There was a place up in Springfield Mo when I was living up there that ground them up into little bitty pellets and we could go get some for our walk ways in the archery field and for the fill in the bags as target back stops so the arrows wouldn’t go through or get lost. Good stuff. But I wouldn’t recomend burning it or cooking with it.
    anyway the 4’x4’x 18″ deep planter boxes I made last year were of the treated lumber type with the same cross-braced 3/4″ plywood bottoms that were painted the same way. They hold up well and should last around 10 to 12 years. The last ones I made lasted that long anyway.

  • Janice says:

    I’ve had more success with yield from a potato tower made with scrap wire fencing ( like chicken wire with bigger holes) and using straw around the edges and soil and compost in the center than I did with the tire stacks. But it sounds like I live in a wetter (and COLDER) climate than you do here in AK.

  • Leslie Parsons says:

    When I was a girl, my brother and I played catch with the the heatproof pads, in the kitchen, while we waited for dinner. It was like Frisbee, before that was invented. We loved it. Our mother didn’t worry, because ASBESTOS was indestructible. It was used in schools to keep children “safe”. Yeah, it was used a lot. We covered our homes with asbestos shingles and the dull gray stuff coated all kinds of things.

    I’ve been around too long to be trusting of anything in or near my food. Please err on the side of caution. I would listen carefully to the chemist’s post. Even if you only consider the years of road filth that covers the surface of the tires…….that alone is enough to turn my stomach! And, just because it is used in play lots, does NOT indicate to me that it is safe. These play spaces were built with toxic wood, for soooo many years. If we had followed the Native American tradition of considering the effect on seven generations, we would not have done any of these things.

    Consider the storage factor, as well. Old tires are notorious for collecting rain and turning it into the ideal environment for mosquitoes. There is a reason you have to pay to get rid of them.

  • Vicki Vestre says:

    Hi Marjory! This was an interesting discussion on potatoes.I have been using tires for 5 years here in windy WY. I have discovered that they grow potatoes well IF one can get the ratio of water right.
    We live at 6500′ elevation in very alkaline soil. I filled the tires with compost, garden soil and a bit of peat moss.This must be refreshed every couple of years. I tried squashes in tires last year; what a failure..but I think it was lack of bees for polination. The rest of my garden is redwood raised beds, which do fantastic. I harvested 30 ears of corn in our short growing season last summer; but sure wish I had Bob’s 29 cans of green beans..I only managed 18:)For tomatoes we bought a couple of cattle panels and attached them to a raised bed. I trained the vines up tying where necessary with panty hose strips. Worked great and much easier to harvest.There’s an interesting video called the Homestead Blessings: The Art of Gardening
    which I purchased from Solutions from Science.com.They grow their potatoes on the ground in newspaper, but that won’t work well here:) I don’t think that they have my wind problem! Enjoy your website. Try the tires..life’s an experiment! Vicki

    1. Hi Vicki,

      thanks for your comments. I have a lot of wind here too and that protection by tires would help a lot (I think).

      The Homestead blessings videos are quite good. I saw their potato planting part and it would have problems here too.

  • Al Bastinelli says:

    Most of my beds are above ground made with cinder blocks. I use old signs ( billboards) as bottom liners to keep out unwanted weeds or trees. These same signs could be folded over treated lumber as a thick rubberized liner… You would need some drain holes and maybe some hardware cloth on the bottom to keep out gophers.
    I got some of my bed ideas from Lin Pense of gardeningrevolution.com. My beds are kept damp by misters above them at about six feet. I have no dirt in these beds just organic matter.
    In Texas, there is a lot of heat that can cause the roots to die using tires.

    1. Hi Al,

      I am not so sure about heat problem in Texas. Maybe. But you know we plant in mid February and expect to harvest in mid to late May. Depends ont he year, but cooling will probably only be an issue in May.

  • Irving Weiss says:

    Practally everything in this world seems to have toxic elements in it. However, we should not be discouraged from finding alternative methods of gardening for food with some assuredness of purity. I read about using metal trash cans, the galvanized kind, and cutting them in half so you
    have two open ends to each half. Then use compost and soil, add potatoes eyes/seeds and cover. Repeat process and when it is time for the potatoes to be harvest turn the half barrel over and pick them. You can build up many layers of barrels this way and they will be clean and reusable.
    There is also a way to cover the old tires so they don’t touch the food.
    Try using an old rain coat, cut a hole in center and wrap the tire in it. The open hole can be filled with the compost mix qithout touching the tire itself.
    Hope this helps others to find other methods.

  • judy says:

    Just trying to use common sense i say look around and see how many tires you see in the state of decomposition! I have tires on my old travel trailer that are weather checked but show no sign of decomposing and they have been on there for 15 years! They make houses out of tires and there has been no problem as far as I have heard; but I can tell you this it is not good to use garbage bages for storing food in or for using them as liners in your growing beds. They are treated with chemicals to prevent odors and to aid in decomposeing . Not any kind of chemical I want in my garden. Better to use gardening materials ment for such thing. I see no problem with tires.

  • Sherri says:

    My husband has a severe latex (rubber) allergy. I would not try to grow anything in tires.

  • Richard says:

    I never tried using tires for growing potatoes but did hear some local people tried it with good results up here in Ohio. You have to remember the earthship homes people are building are made from tires rammed with earth as walls to live in so if there was a danger of something from the tirescausing health problems it should have showed up long ago as the earth ships have been around a good while now and if you are an earthship dweller you are basicly living in a pile of tires.

  • Andrea says:

    We tried the tire method once. But where I live the weather is hot and the sun is scorching. Even painted you can smell burning rubber, we abandoned that method as I just couldn’t get past the smell. It might work if your weather doesn’t get up to 105 degrees F in the summer.

    1. Hi Andrea, where do you live approximately?

  • Laura says:

    I think I will just bypass the tire issue all together and just use wood.


  • Guy Twombly says:

    How about filling inside of tires with rock or gravel to prevent contact between growing medium and tires?

  • Brandi Blaisdell says:

    I personally would not use tire either. They definitely continue to off gas for many, many years. I used to play on play grounds as a kid made of old tires. I remember that smell and the way I smelled when I came home.

    I have made potato towers out of cedar planks. I just made a box and added boards and soil as the potatoes grew. The problem that I have had is that it is very difficult to keep up with them as they grow, the top most potatoes, if you get any, are tiny. They don’t have enough time before the heat (and insects) kills the plants to mature. Watering is a challenge, too. The bottom can become very water logged if you don’t use a very well draining soil at the bottom. while the top remains too dry.

    I did double my input of potatoes, but this year I am trying a more traditional growing method and to compare.

  • tom says:

    Dear Marjory,

    I enjoyed your piece on potatoes and tires as I had tried that with limited success. Klondike Gold potatoes yielding about 4 pounds for the stack.
    On a cousin tour to the South last year I saw this in my cousin’s garden in Greenville,SC.
    I think it beats tires by many miles (pun intended).
    Warm regards.
    Tom Haynes
    Lake Stevens, WA

    Upon request, John graciously shared his experience and knowledge. He used hog wire fencing to make the towers.

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve attached the original potato tower document that was given me by a friend. I’ve made only one change which I think is for the better, and that is, I dropped the height down to 2ft. I found with the first ones that the the bottom was bone dry and no potatoes, whereas the 2ft towers had moist soil to the bottom and good supply of potatoes.

    I made my towers about 2’6″ diameter x 2′ high. I used plastic zip-ties to hold the mesh together, makes it easier and safer to open up the tower come harvest time.

    The other things I learned were:

    – a base of 3″ – 4″ of straw in the tower – shaped kind of like a bird’s nest
    – don’t place too many seed potatoes around the tower at each level – 4 or 5 is plenty
    – you only need about 1″ – 1.5″ of straw around the sides – this allows water to get through when spraying the tower
    – water the soil at each level as you place the seed potatoes – gives them a good moist start – then water as required by spraying the sides of the tower
    – harvest when the potato foliage has died off.

    Once you’ve harvested you have a good supply of good soil and straw for other parts of your garden.

    I hope this helps, let me know how you do. My son back in Australia, a keen veggie gardener has had some good results with his towers, and like me, has made some modifications as he has seen fit. He lives in an apartment and therefore has no space to garden, so he rents 350 sq ft near his work and has it in veggies.

    Well, I hope all is well with you. Please stay in touch and please come back to visit with us again, you’re a part of our family here.

    Take care, sent with love,


    1. Justin Arman says:

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. Marjory will be getting back to your here shortly. She’s on a wilderness trip.

  • Eula Batson says:

    Could you not build a box out of scavenged 2 by 6 boards about 20 inches square attached with screws without a bottom adding boards as the potatoes grow? To harvest the potatoes, remove the boards one or 2 layers at a time. Eula

  • Dawn says:

    While researching the leaching of tires into garden soils I ran across this article, nothing definitive, but it does bring up a few more detailed points to consider: https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/permaculture/articles/218-growtyres

  • Dawn says:

    This might be an even better article, seems a more complete inventory of research: http://tennzen.blogspot.com/2009/05/ask-tennzen-is-it-safe-to-grow-veggies.html

  • Kev Man says:

    Do you do any research before you type or is it just a stream of uninformed consciousness?

    What are tires made of?
    Seriously? You just leave that question out there and hope some reader will fill in the blanks that you couldnt be bothered with?


    That took a whole 10 minutes to find and read.

  • javi says:

    I have no way to prove it, but my common sense tells me not to use tires for planting beds. I do think they don’t belong in our gardens. I have been following new information regarding crumbled rubber for artificial turf used in many schools. The test shows a lot of chemicals in the crumb rubber that are known to be carcinogenic.
    There are so many things that can be used in the garden, but I think rubber tires are not one of them.

  • Theresa McGee says:

    We have used car tires and tractor tires for 21 years and have had to problems. There is no burning rubber smell at all. This year and as years in the padt we have had a bumper crop of both tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Summers are hot here in Kansas.

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