As green thumbs and do-it-yourself enthusiasts know, garden sleepers are a versatile and functional addition to any outdoor space. However, there is often the common issue of cracking that may cause concern for homeowners. In this article, we explore the reasons behind these cracks and provide helpful tips for alleviating the problem.

What are Garden Sleepers?

Garden sleepers are large, solid pieces of timber that are commonly used to create various landscaping structures, such as raised flower beds, garden walling, and seating areas. They can be made from a range of materials, but the most popular ones are hardwoods like oak and softwoods like treated pine. These durable materials offer excellent support and longevity for garden projects.

The Problem: Cracking in Sleepers

Cracking in garden sleepers can be both an aesthetic and structural concern. These cracks, or 'checks,' typically appear as the wood dries and naturally adjusts to its environment. Understanding the factors that contribute to this common issue will help you address and prevent it in the future.

1. Moisture Content and Wood Expansion

Wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning it absorbs and releases moisture from the surrounding environment. As the wood's moisture content changes, it also undergoes expansion and contraction, which can result in cracking. When outside, sleepers are exposed to fluctuating moisture levels due to rainfall and humidity.

2. Temperature Changes

Extreme temperature changes can also contribute to the formation of cracks in garden sleepers. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight may cause the wood to expand, while cold temperatures can cause it to contract. These fluctuations put stress on the wood fibres, leading to cracking over time.

3. General Ageing and Wear

As garden sleepers age, they become more susceptible to damage and wear. Wood's natural protective oils diminish over time, giving way to drying and cracking. Moreover, the constant weight and pressure on sleepers from soil, plants, and foot traffic may accelerate the ageing process.

Tips for Addressing Cracks in Garden Sleepers

While some cracking is inevitable due to the nature of wood, there are a few proactive steps you can take to minimise the risk and extend the life of your garden sleepers.

1. Seal the Wood

Applying a high-quality wood sealant can help protect your garden sleepers from moisture and fluctuating temperatures. Sealants preserve wood's natural oils and offer additional protection against cracking and splitting. Be sure to choose a sealant that is appropriate for your specific sleeper material and follow the manufacturer's instructions for best results.

2. Consider Wood Species

Different wood species have varying properties that affect their susceptibility to cracking. For example, oak is naturally more resistant to cracking than pine due to its denser structure. When selecting garden sleepers, consider the wood's natural properties and intended use to make an informed decision.

3. Regular Maintenance

Regular cleaning and inspection of your garden sleepers can help you catch potential issues early and take remedial action. Keep an eye out for signs of cracking, and try to address them promptly before they become larger and harder to fix.

4. Provide Shade

If possible, position your garden sleepers in a shaded area or use strategic plantings to protect them from constant direct sunlight. This can help reduce the temperature fluctuations that contribute to cracking.