13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (2022)

The addition of garden sleepers often gives a rustic vibe to your garden, don’t you think? What’s more, from making garden beds to making garden planters and edging your garden, garden sleepers can be used for many purposes when it comes to garden renovation.

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (1)

But where do you start? Well, in this post, we shall answer all your questions. Read on to find out how you can lay garden sleepers in your garden.

Tools and materials

There are plenty of things you can do in the garden using garden sleepers. And the supplies list varies accordingly. Nevertheless, here’s a small general list of tools and materials that you might need to gather beforehand if you’re working with garden sleepers.

  1. Garden sleepers
  2. Spirit level
  3. Work gloves
  4. Safety goggles
  5. Saws
  6. Hammer
  7. Concrete
  8. Sawhorse
  9. An array of fasteners
  10. Concrete

Step-by-step Guide on how to Lay Garden Sleepers

In this section, we shall provide you with a detailed step-by-step guide on how to lay garden sleepers for various garden projects.

Making garden planters or raised beds

Step 1. Clearing the area

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (2)

First and foremost, decide on the location for planters or raised beds and clear the area.

Step 2. Setting the foundation

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (3)

(Video) TIMBER SLEEPERS - 3 Ways to Build Walls and Raised Beds

You don’t want your garden beds and planters to move, do you? Well, then you’d have to set a solid foundation first.

Dig a trench three to four courses in height and fill it with the semi-dry concrete mixture, and lay the sleepers on top. To further strengthen the structure, you can attach screws or hooks to the sleepers and then lay them on the concrete.

Step 3. Build the layers

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (4)

A little fun fact – the more corners your garden beds have, the stronger the structure is. So, if you’re building the beds too high, make sure you add enough 90-degree angles in the structure.

There are various ways to connect the garden sleepers along the length. Long landscaping screws and steel rod pins provide you with enough strength.

However, if you want to take extra precautions, consider making a hole and hammering a dowel through the bed. You can do so once you reach the top layer. This way, you don’t have to use steel screws or nails on the top layer and won’t have to deal with rusting and black marks as well.

When it comes to connecting the corners, you can use angle brackets. Or, if you don’t have such brackets, you can consider cutting the ends of the sleepers such that they form nice L-shaped ends. Finally, you can overlap the sleepers perpendicularly and nail them in place.

However, this method is more time-consuming and challenging and is only practical if you’re building beds using the sleepers’ flatter side. Alternatively, you can also use corner posts to strengthen the structure.

Step 4. Finish the beds/planters

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Sand the structure and give specific attention to corners as they tend to be quite sharp. Finally, finish the project by applying beautiful stain or paint to the garden bed.

Step 5. Fill the beds

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (6)

Once your beds are complete, fill them with good quality soil, and you’re ready to grow some flowers, herbs, vegetables, and more!

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Making garden sleeper edging

Step 6. Plan on the type of edging you want

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (7)

If you simply want to border the garden, there is more than one way to do so. If you plan on making a sturdy border, you might need a concrete foundation. Or, if you want to make vertical edging, the process is entirely different. So, first, decide on which type of garden edging you want to build.

Step 7. Simple garden edging

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (8)

You can use the flatter side of garden sleepers to build a short yet sturdy edging. However, if you want to make tall edgings, layering sleepers on their side might be a better idea.

The way you make the foundation and stack and connect the sleepers is almost the same as in the case of retaining walls.

Nevertheless, if you’re making a short edging and don’t have to go such overboard, fill the entire trench with concrete mix.

You can dig small holes in a few places along the border and fill them with some concrete mix. Then, attach screws to the slipper and lay them in such a way that the screws are embedded in the concrete.

Step 8. Vertical edging

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (9)

Vertical edging gives a rustic look to your garden. If you have some dull-looking area in your garden, fencing it using garden sleepers might glow your garden up.

First and foremost, measure and cut the sleepers. The sleepers don’t necessarily have to be of equal sizes. The randomness in the sleeper’s size might add some more aesthetic value to the edging.

Now, dig a small trench and add a concrete bed. Fix the sleepers on the ground and secure them in place by adding a layer of concrete on both sides.

Building retaining walls

Step 9. Set the foundation

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (10)

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If you want to build a garden sleeper retaining wall, it is apparent that you need a strong base, isn’t it? Dig a shallow trench and fill them with 6:1 mortar as a concrete base. The concrete bed must be at least 50mm such that the sleepers on top are adequately secured.

Step 10. Add more layers

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Just as in the case of raised garden beds, keep on stacking and connecting the sleepers until you’re happy with the height. To make the structure more rigid, secure the wall to short fence posts driven into the ground, ideally embedded into a concrete hole.

Step 11. Finish the wall

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Finally, sand the wall and add a stain or paint to it and you’re done!

Making garden sleeper steps or pathway

Step 12. Making garden sleeper pathway

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (13)

You can use garden sleepers in case you want to make a beautiful garden pathway. For this, you can concrete the sleepers in place. Alternatively, you can just dig a shallow rectangle hole on the ground and place the sleepers.

However, following the latter way might result in the rotting of the sleepers too fast. So, surrounding the sleepers with gravel might be an ideal way to move forward. Also, remember that it might take some time for the sleepers to set in the soil.

Step 13. Make retaining walls or frames for steps

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (14)

You can either make frames or retaining walls for the garden steps and fill the boxes with gravel, cement, or paving slabs.

You can simply connect the garden slippers using angled brackets to make frames for the steps. Make sure that you dig a trench and add some sort of foundation for the first step.

Once your first step is in place, connect the next frame to the first one, and so on. Sand and gravel have a tendency to settle down, so you might find yourself refilling every now and then.

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Also, wet sand makes the steps slippery. If you want to avoid such problems, you might as well concrete or pave the steps.

Extended Tips

There are many ways in which you can use garden sleepers for garden landscaping. We’ve discussed in brief about many such possibilities. However, here are a few tips for you to keep in mind while working with garden sleepers.

Choose the right wood type

Though the way you treat garden sleeper matter to some extent, its lifespan, however, primarily depends upon the type of wood you choose. Treated softwood, reclaimed, and oak sleepers are a few popular types of garden sleepers.

Reclaimed sleepers are creosote treated, which tends to leech out under certain circumstances. This makes reclaimed sleepers ideal for making retaining walls and steps as these structures are not likely to be in direct contact with people.

Treated softwood sleepers are pressure treated and thus, resists rot to some extent. Oak sleepers, on the other hand, though not treated, are naturally long-lasting. However, they can be quite heavy to handle as they are hardwood sleepers.

Apply wood preserver

Applying a coat or two of wood preservative to the garden sleepers is a brilliant idea. Doing so prevents rot as well as fungal growth in the sleepers. You can also treat the sleepers with wood oil twice a year.

Afraid your sleepers will rot? Gravel the surrounding!

A drainage system is essential if you want to increase your garden sleepers’ lifespan. When the sleepers are in direct contact with soil, a small pool of water tends to surround them, accelerating their rotting process.

To prevent this, add a layer of gravel in the trench before you set a foundation. Also, make sure to add gravels at both sides of the retaining walls such that the slippers don’t come in direct contact with soil.


As much as garden works are painstaking, the satisfaction afterward is equally rewarding. Now that you know how to lay the garden sleepers and various landscaping ideas that use garden sleepers, you might as well start greasing your elbows.

If you have any questions regarding garden sleepers, we’re just a comment away!

13 Easy Steps to Lay Garden Sleepers (15)


How do you make a garden sleeper step by step? ›

So i'll measure that back from the back edge of the first sleeper which will be roughly. There

How do you put a sleeper in easy? ›

And then a heavy sledgehammer for Alabama best way to just tap things in position make them flush

How do you put garden sleepers together? ›

The strength comes from how everything's fixed together so you can do away with that bit and just

How do you lay a sleeper edging? ›

Creating a boundary between your lawn and garden beds can really improve the look of your garden.

How do you build outdoor steps? ›

How To Build Outdoor Steps - D.I.Y. At Bunnings - YouTube

How do you make sleeper steps Non Slip? ›

To avoid slipping, it is recommended to either sprinkle coarse grit over the surface of the sleepers, or staple chicken wire to the top face of the sleeper.

How do you place a sleeper? ›

Cut your sleepers to your required length, which could be random for a rustic look. Then mix up some lean mortar, such as 6:1, to be used as a concrete base and haunching. Place at least a 50mm bed of concrete in the bottom of the trench and start inserting the sleepers, haunching them up as you go.

How long will sleepers last in the ground? ›

As a rule, hardwood oak sleepers tend to last the longest naturally with an expected lifespan of around 100 years. An untreated softwood will last for between three and five years if it sits on the ground, whilst treated softwoods can last between 20 and 30 years if they are maintained correctly.

Do you need to concrete sleepers? ›

Sleepers can be laid directly onto firm ground, however it's recommended that at the very least a bed of sand or aggregate is used to assist drainage and provide a firm footing. Purists will always insist on a concrete bed, however if the wall is additionally supported by posts then this is not always necessary.

How do you lay railway sleepers vertically? ›

Simply dig a trench, lower the railway sleepers in vertically side by side, and then backfill with a dry concrete mix, that you can ram down around the railway sleepers untill the wall is rigid.

What screws to use for sleepers? ›

Index Screws & Timberlok Screws

One of the most popular uses for Timberlok screws is fixing timber sleepers together.

What do you put behind a sleeper retaining wall? ›

You can use DPM on the rear of the timber, and pea gravel backfill directly behind sleepers. The pea gravel will allow a free draining area behind the wall. You could also add a length of land drain wrapped in geotextile membrane, to keep fine particles of soil out of pipe.

What are the best sleepers to use in the garden? ›

Although “railway sleepers” come in a variety of woods, we prefer to use oak timber sleepers in our projects. This is because hardwoods such as oak are slower to grow, giving them a denser structure, which is highly durable and more resistant to decay without treatment.

How do you connect two sleepers together? ›

Joining Timber Sleepers with Oak Dowels | TRC Garden - YouTube

What can I cover sleepers with? ›

However, if you're working with untreated garden sleepers, you can give them a protective coating at home. There are lots of outdoor wood preservatives available on the market, as well as a modern and safer version of Creosote called Barrettine Creosolve (opens in new tab). You can also use an exterior wood oil.

What is the formula for building steps? ›

You divide the height by 7 inches; if, say, the floor-to-floor distance is 8 feet, 10 inches (or 106 inches), then you'll need 15 treads (106 divided by 7 equals 15.14). Next, you divide the height by the number of treads (15 into 106), producing the exact tread height (7.06 inches).

How deep should outdoor steps be? ›

The standard acceptable range of dimensions for exterior Treads is 11 to 18 inches. In order to provide the most ergonomic flow, Tread length should be determined based on the following formula whenever possible: (2x Riser Height) + Tread Length = 24 to 26”

How do you make timber garden steps? ›

How to Build Steps With Landscape Timbers | This Old House - YouTube

What to put on outdoor stairs to prevent slipping? ›

No-Slip Strips

Adhesive anti-slip tape is an excellent solution for slippery steps. It's inexpensive, can be applied in minutes, works instantly, and is designed to resist rain and inclement weather. Even better, this works for any surface. Use this no-slip tape to add traction to your outside steps.

How do you make wooden steps not slippery? ›

You can install a No-Slip strip.

There are a variety of adhesive strips that you can apply to your staircase to make it less slippery. The No-Slip Strip is a great option that's easy to install. They're comfortable on your feet and durable so that they can last for years to come.

Are wooden sleepers slippery when wet? ›

New Timber Sleepers and Reclaimed Railway Sleepers are used for many exterior applications. You will find many used around Golf Courses, Open Spaces, Nature Trails, Footbridges and in Gardens. One of the main problems with these, however, is the potential to slip when wet.

How long do softwood sleepers last? ›

Softwood sleepers comes from pine and it is known that they a less resistant to decay and have to be treated to ensure they last a long time, when treated and maintained after purchase you can expect softwoods sleepers to give you up to 20 years of use.

How do you use railway sleepers in your garden? ›

Railway sleepers are an ideal material for constructing simple garden steps and stairways. Use sleepers to create the riser, then fill in behind with soil, slate or gravel to create each step. Short pieces of fence post can be hammered in at the front edges of the step for added stability.

How do you use sleeper pegs? ›

Simply lay out your sleepers, drive the stake into the ground, and nail or screw through pre-drilled holes to secure your timber sleeper border.

How do you stop sleepers from rotting in the ground? ›

Wood Preserver

Wood preservative treatments provide garden sleepers with protective properties that help prevent rot, mould and fungal growth, as well as help to form a defence against the elements. It is best to apply a wood preservative before installation of your sleeper, so that you can paint all sides.

Should you line sleepers? ›

You should line a raised garden bed, since the pros outweigh the cons. A liner for your raised garden bed insulates the soil against extreme temperatures, keeps moles & gophers out, and prevents weeds from growing. A raised bed liner also allows water to drain away without taking soil with it.

Do garden sleepers need to be treated? ›

Oak reproduction sleepers will naturally last longer than their softwood alternative. Both types should be treated with an exterior wood preservative on all sides prior to installation and paying special attention to any sawn ends.

Can I lay sleepers straight on the ground? ›

Can you lay railway sleepers on soil? Yes you can. If you're only creating a structure that's one or two sleepers in height you don't necessarily need foundations, which means you can lay your railway sleepers onto the soil.

Can you lay sleepers on mortar? ›

No. Using them on edge, use screws, (sleeper, holes can be counterbored for safety) to join them together.

Can you use Postcrete for sleepers? ›

There are three main methods for securely attaching sleepers to the ground. Pre-drill the sleeper and insert a metal rod to (at least) the depth of the sleeper. Screw-fix a metal log roll pin or wooden stake – one to each end of the sleeper. Dig a 75mm deep trench and use postcrete to provide a base 25 – 30mm deep.

How do I build a cheap raised garden bed? ›

How to Build Cheap, DIY Raised Garden Beds In Under 30 Minutes

Can you put sleepers on soil? ›

Sleepers are best constructed on a firm and level surface such as soil, grass, decking or concrete, however, you should still use a spirit level to ensure the surface is as level as possible. Depending on your project, you may wish to use sand, cement or offcuts to level things out.

What do you fill sleeper planters with? ›

Before you fill your raised bed with compost, topsoil or manure, it is worth considering placing cobbles or hardcore at the bottom of the bed to improve drainage. One of the many benefits in using raised beds is that you can fill them with the soil that best matches your planting.

Do you need to line a sleeper raised bed? ›

Although raised beds are usually constructed on free-draining soil, we recommend lining the bottom of your bed with a generous drainage layer of hardcore, stones or coarse gravel.

How deep should raised beds be? ›

They should have at least 8 inches of soil depth to accommodate the root systems of plants, because the majority of plant roots require 6 – 8 inches of soil for healthy root growth. A depth of 8 – 12 inches will suffice for most gardening situations.

How do you start a garden for beginners? ›

Browse our 10 beginner gardening tips, below.
  1. Get to know your garden.
  2. Plan your garden.
  3. Learn how to plant.
  4. Feed and water plants regularly.
  5. Start small.
  6. Keep an eye on pests.
  7. Make use of compost.
  8. Don't be afraid to prune.
15 Apr 2020

What is the best material to use for raised garden beds? ›

Cedar or Redwood

Cedar and redwood are the two best choices of wood to build raised garden beds with. They're both very durable, beautiful, and naturally resistant to moisture, rot, and even termites. The cost of each can vary significantly depending on where you live.

How long will sleepers last in the ground? ›

As a rule, hardwood oak sleepers tend to last the longest naturally with an expected lifespan of around 100 years. An untreated softwood will last for between three and five years if it sits on the ground, whilst treated softwoods can last between 20 and 30 years if they are maintained correctly.

Do sleepers need foundations? ›

Yes you can. If you're only creating a structure that's one or two sleepers in height you don't necessarily need foundations, which means you can lay your railway sleepers onto the soil. Though you'll want to make sure you use some kind of waterproof membrane so that sleepers don't soak up water from the soil.

What screws to use for sleepers? ›

Index Screws & Timberlok Screws

One of the most popular uses for Timberlok screws is fixing timber sleepers together.

Should I put rocks in the bottom of my raised garden bed? ›

There is no need to put rocks at the bottom of a raised garden bed. It is actually a myth that has been around for several years. The belief for many years was that it would improve the drainage and also prevent any soil from spilling outside the beds.

Can you fill a raised bed with just compost? ›

Can You Fill A Raised Bed With Just Compost? Using compost alone in your raised beds can work for certain plants if the compost is well matured, but it may also be detrimental to other plants. Using topsoil alone in your raised beds is not a good choice. Likewise, using compost alone is also not the best option.

How many bags of soil do I need for a 4x8 raised bed? ›

For a 4×8 raised garden bed that is 8 inches high, you will need 21.44 cubic feet of soil or 15 bags of soil. 15 bags of soil is needed if each bag of soil contains 1.5 cubic feet of soil. This figure is for the total soil needed to fill your raised garden bed.

Should I put landscape fabric under raised bed? ›

Do's for Your Raised Garden Bed

Of course, you don't have to excavate if you don't want to. You can simply remove any grass or weeds from the spot where the bed will sit, and then add layers of newspaper, cardboard or landscape fabric to smother anything that might grow back.

Do you have to remove grass under a raised garden bed? ›

No, there is no need to remove grass under a raised garden bed as long as the bed is filled with enough soil to smother out the grass. To kill the grass completely it requires a rich amount of soil which gives the grass no breathing space and no sunlight.

How do you connect two sleepers together? ›

Joining Timber Sleepers with Oak Dowels | TRC Garden - YouTube


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