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Oak sleepers rotting -- what to do?

Just saw today (it wasn't there yesterday) that a couple of the oak sleepers set up as a retaining wall against a low border in my garden had broken apart. It might have been the recent cold snap and water freezing/thawing within cracks in the wood. Probably doesn't help that the area gets full sun in summer but is in complete shade for 4 months or so in autumn/winter, hence a lot of fungi growing on the wood as well.

The sleepers were put up in 2017 surrounding a circular sunken seating area, and there was no plastic lining installed. I don't believe the sleepers were pressure treated -- specs don't mention it. This was from when we had a garden designer do everything, and I had zero gardening experience then.

Is there anything that can be done at this point? Grateful for any advice.


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  • K67K67 Leicestershire Posts: 2,475
    edited 11 April
    Yes is does look like a crack from weather conditions. If it's possible to push It back together you could stick itI together with some waterproof exterior silicone or wood glue.
    Not much else you can do really.
    Then treat the tops with a preservative, have a look on Screwfix or wood treatment websites.
  • AthelasAthelas Posts: 204
    Thanks @K67 will get on it
  • KT53KT53 Posts: 5,012
    Is there any form of waterproof lining between the sleepers and the soil?  If not it may well be too late to save them.  We had a similar situation although the 'professional' who installed ours actually claimed he had lined them but left it just below the surface.  As it turned out that was a lie but he obviously didn't want to remove the soil and put a lining in.  In my stupidity I believed him.  I am now in the situation of having to completely replace all the timber.
  • TheVanguardTheVanguard Posts: 60
    edited 11 April
    Oak is moderately rot resistant and TBF that looks to be a big chunk of oak so even if it did start to rot it would take some years to lose it’s integrity.

    If the problem is mainly limited to that sleeper I wouldn’t lose to much sleep and as someone else suggested glue it, (something like D4) wait until it’s dry, fill with a good coating of glue, clamp it tight and wipe of the excess and wait 24 hours.

    if all the sleepers are starting to go the same why than it may be a bigger problem.

    edit..I should have said if it’s rot the wood will likely feel soft and spongy...and you will be able to break bits of easily by hand..yours looks more like a split or crack..but it’s hard to tell from a photo 
  • KeenOnGreenKeenOnGreen Posts: 1,338
    We have exactly the same problem, but worse, and we have a lot of sleepers.  Even when they are lined to stop contact with the soil, they still crack and rot like this eventually.  

    We mostly find this happens when the top of the sleepers has been covered/shaded by plants.  This creates a damp environment, where rot can take hold.  Where our sleepers have been kept open to the air and sun, they are generally fine.

    We decided to cover the top of our most rotten sleepers with a plank of wood, which is screwed to the sleepers.  It's not ideal, but it hides the worst of the rot, and gives some protection from the worst of the wet, which will make it worse.  

    I wouldn't bother gluing your sleepers back together, there is probably some rot further down into the sleeper.  Remove any plants which are covering the tops of your sleepers.



  • FfoxgloveFfoxglove UkPosts: 440
    I too am in a similar position but worse. Our sleepers were installed by the previous owners to sell the house and definitely not lined at all. As @KeenOnGreen says, plants growing over them has caused rot and they are irreparable now. I’m facing lifting all the plants I can and building a low brick wall to replace them. 

  • KeenOnGreenKeenOnGreen Posts: 1,338
    @Ffoxglove If the wooden planks that we have put on top of our sleepers don't work (and they are already buckling a bit), then we might try covering the top bit of our sleepers with zinc.  We'll fold it in a U shape, so that it also cover some of the front and back of each sleeper, but only about 5-6 inches or so.

    It might we worth you considering something like that, rather than replacing the whole sleepers.

  • AthelasAthelas Posts: 204
    KT53 said:
    Is there any form of waterproof lining between the sleepers and the soil?
    Afraid there is no lining. Three sleepers are similarly affected. Something for the Don't Do It thread...

    Thanks all for your comments. It's a lot of sleepers going all the way round the seating area, so not looking foward to the possibility of replacing in the future.


  • FfoxgloveFfoxglove UkPosts: 440
    Thanks for the suggestion @KeenOnGreen we will definitely consider all options because I’m going to lose some cherished plants rebuilding the sleepers. 
  • scooty883scooty883 Posts: 18
    @Ffoxglove could you not build the low brick wall as a facing in front of the sleepers ?Negating the upheaval of removing plants,soil etc and let the sleepers naturally decompose? Just throwing out another option
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