When you’re planning to install or upgrade your garden fence, choosing the right material is paramount for ensuring longevity, aesthetic appeal, and less maintenance. Cedar, known for its durability and resistance to decay, is a popular choice among homeowners for garden fencing. However, one common concern when selecting wood for outdoor projects is its tendency to shrink or expand due to weather conditions. In this blog post, we’ll explore whether cedar fence boards shrink, how it affects your garden fence, and how to mitigate these effects to maintain a beautiful and functional boundary for years to come.

The Nature of Cedar Wood

Cedar is renowned for its beautiful colour, natural aroma, and its ability to withstand the elements better than most other types of timber. This resilience is a result of its natural oils, which resist rot and deter pests. Despite these advantages, cedar, like all wood, is hygroscopic. This means it has the tendency to absorb moisture from its environment and subsequently, release moisture back into the air as conditions become drier. This process can lead to shrinking and swelling of cedar fence boards.

Does Cedar Shrink?

Yes, cedar can shrink. The degree of shrinkage (or swelling) largely depends on the fluctuating levels of moisture it is exposed to. When cedar fence boards are installed, they may initially contain a higher moisture content, especially if they are not adequately seasoned (dried). As the wood dries, it can shrink. Similarly, in regions with distinctive wet and dry seasons, cedar wood may shrink during dry spells and swell during rainy periods.

Shrinkage mostly impacts the width and thickness of the wood, rather than its length. This can lead to gaps between fence boards, which might affect not only the visual appeal of the fence but also its privacy and structural integrity.

How Shrinkage Affects Your Garden Fence

Garden fences serve numerous purposes—from enhancing aesthetic appeal and providing privacy to marking boundaries and offering security. Here's how cedar wood shrinkage might affect these aspects:

  • Aesthetic Appeal: Gaps can create an uneven look that detracts from the uniformity and neatness of your fence.
  • Privacy: Increased spacing between boards reduces the level of privacy the fence offers.
  • Structural Integrity: Extreme shrinkage could affect the tightness of fasteners (nails or screws), loosening them and potentially compromising the fence’s stability.

Mitigating the Effects of Shrinkage

While it’s impossible to prevent the natural processes of wood, there are several steps you can take to reduce the impact of cedar shrinkage on your garden fence:

  1. Choose Seasoned Cedar: Opt for kiln-dried or air-dried cedar timber, which has had time to shed much of its initial moisture content.
  2. Proper Installation: Allow for slight spacing between boards during installation to accommodate some expansion and shrinkage. This prevents too much pressure on the boards when they expand, and limits noticeable gaps when they shrink.
  3. Regular Maintenance: Apply a water-repellent sealant to your cedar fence every few years to minimise moisture absorption and slow down the aging process. This can help maintain the appearance and integrity of your fence.
  4. Consider Pre-Treated Wood: Some cedar fence boards come pre-treated with a stabiliser that reduces moisture exchange. This can be more expensive but might be worth the investment for long-term stability and reduced maintenance.


Cedar is an excellent choice for garden fencing due to its beauty, durability, and resistance to decay. While cedar fence boards may shrink, understanding this natural characteristic allows you to take preventative measures during installation and maintenance to mitigate its impacts. By choosing the right materials and employing proper care, you can enjoy the rich appearance and practical benefits of a cedar fence for many years.

Remember, a well-maintained cedar fence not only enhances the beauty of your garden but also increases the value of your property. Therefore, consider the above tips to ensure your garden fence remains a stunning and sturdy feature of your home.