Is It Safe to Grow Vegetables in Tires?

Tire gardens are a popular new eco-friendly trend that recycles old tires instead of using traditional pots and planters. However, many home gardeners wonder: Is it safe to grow vegetables in tires?

Old tires contain harmful toxins that can leach into the dirt as they degrade, but the process can take decades. There are opposing views on whether these chemicals pose a short-term contamination risk to fruits, vegetables, and other edible plants.

Before starting a tire garden, it’s vital to know both the risks and the benefits. Here, we’re going to discuss the safety of tire gardens, including:

  • Safety and toxicity concerns
  • The best plants for tire gardens
  • Setting up a tire garden
  • Tire garden ideas

There is no real consensus regarding the safety of tire gardening. If you’re concerned about potential toxicity, read on to learn more about tire gardening so you can decide for yourself whether it’s the right choice for your yard.

Vegetables growing in tires in a garden

Growing Vegetables in Tires

While old tires can make convenient planters, many people ask: Is it safe to grow vegetables in tires?

Can I Plant in tires? 

Tires make ideal planters thanks to their round, hollow shape. They are also cheap and readily available, making them a good choice for gardeners on a budget. With just a little bit of soil, you can grow a wide variety of plants in tires of all shapes and sizes.

Are Tires Toxic for Gardening?

Tires are made of synthetic rubber, which contains several harmful compounds. New tires outgas dangerous chemicals such as toluene, xylene, and benzene. 

Tires also contain heavy metals such as zinc, cadmium, and lead due to the manufacturing process. These toxins can make their way into nearby soil, and by extension, into plants.

Most outgassing occurs in a tire’s first year on the road. By the time a tire reaches the disposal stage, it will contain fewer chemicals from manufacturing. However, tires can pick up other dangerous chemicals out on the road. 

Tires contain a wide variety of toxic contaminants that can leach their way into the soil. However, this can take years, if not decades. 

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In most cases, tires break down so slowly that only trace amounts of contaminants will make their way into plants. There is even a negligible effect on soil microbes, insects, and earthworms. 

What Can You Plant in Old Tires?

You can plant just about anything in an old tire with the right soil and plenty of sunlight. However, many people choose to plant fairly robust vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, and squash.

These plants can handle warm, damp conditions such as those in a tire planter.

Can You Grow Tomatoes in Old Tires? 

Tomatoes make an ideal crop for tire gardens. They are less likely to absorb toxic chemicals and heavy metals such as lead from the surrounding soil. What’s more, tomatoes are hardy and easy to grow, even for novice gardeners. 

Growing Tomatoes in Tires 

Tomatoes are easy to grow in a raised planter setup. With plenty of water and full sunlight, you can expect to see fruit within just a couple of months. For a bigger, healthier harvest, consider using a specialized tomato fertilizer to improve growth. 

Planting Pumpkins in Tires 

Pumpkins are another popular choice for tire gardeners. They are fairly easy to grow, and they’re full of healthy vitamins and minerals. 

It’s important to note that pumpkins are adept at absorbing toxins and chemicals from the surrounding soil. Growing pumpkins in tires can be a bit riskier than growing vegetables such as tomatoes. It’s best to use fresh soil, especially in an established tire garden. 

Planting Potatoes in Tires

Many home gardeners grow their own potatoes as a cheap and healthy pantry staple. Potatoes are easy to grow in even harsh climates. You don’t even need seeds—it’s possible to plant store-bought spuds for a healthy harvest.

Like pumpkins, root vegetables such as potatoes tend to absorb contaminants from the soil. As such, it’s a good idea to make sure your tire garden is lined and has fresh soil before planting potatoes. 

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Pros and Cons of Growing Potatoes in Tires 

There are plenty of good reasons to consider planting potatoes in a tire garden. Some of the top reasons to grow your veggies in an old tire include:

  • Tire planters are easy to set up, even with no DIY experience
  • You can easily find old tires for free or at a reduced cost
  • Recycling tires reduce your carbon footprint
  • Tires trap heat, keeping the soil at optimal temperatures
  • Raising plants above ground level protects their roots
  • A tire planter keeps out unwanted pests and bugs

While there are plenty of benefits to using a tire planter, there are also risks. Some potential drawbacks to growing potatoes in tires include:

  • Toxins may leach into the soil
  • Tires may overheat soil in warm weather, boiling roots
  • Poor drainage can lead to root rot and other issues
  • Tires can leave stains on concrete and patios
  • Planters may take up too much space in smaller gardens
  • Tires planters may not be the most aesthetically pleasing option
Herbs growing in a tire in a garden

Making Old Tires Made Into Garden Pots 

Old tires can make an ideal raised planter for your vegetable garden. They’re easy to set up, affordable, and in most cases, widely available.

It can be difficult to legally dispose of old tires, so many people are willing to give them away at a low cost. You may even be able to find large tractor tires for free. 

Unlike most planter options, you don’t need to worry about any handiwork to set up a tire bed. Simply place the tire flat on the ground and fill the center with soil. If you want to protect against pests, you may want to cover the bottom with mesh or chicken wire. 

Lining Tires for Planting 

If you’re worried about contaminants leaching into your garden, you can help protect your plants by lining your tire. Placing a barrier between the tire wall and the soil will block gasses, heavy metals, and other chemicals from reaching your plants’ roots. 

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The best liner for a tire planter is a simple garden tarp. You can find lengths of the tarp at your local gardening center or DIY store. 

If you can’t find a dedicated garden tarp, you can try using other biodegradable liners such as newspaper or cardboard. For a more solid barrier, you can try a plastic sheet or trash bag. 

Keep in mind that these are not biodegradable. They may need regular replacing as they break down to prevent unwanted plastics from contaminating your soil. 

Tractor Tire Garden Ideas 

Using tire planters allows you to get creative with your gardening space. Some popular tire tractor garden ideas include:

  • Painted planters: Paint the outside of tires in bright colors to add some excitement to your garden design.
  • Hanging planters: You can drill holes in tires and hang them using rope or chain for an easy hanging planter.
  • Terracing: You can use tires to build a retaining wall and create a terraced garden.
  • Composting: If you don’t want to use recycled tires as planters, consider using them as a compost bin instead.

Grow Food Safely FAQ

Here, we’ll answer some of the most common questions people have about growing vegetables in tires/containers. 

Is it safe to plant vegetables in tires?

Even though tires can leach toxic compounds into the soil, they usually make safe vegetable planters. Toxins work their way into the soil so slowly that most plants will not absorb dangerous amounts. 

Can you plant tomatoes in old tires?

Tomatoes make an ideal crop for tire gardens. They’re hardy, easy to grow, and less likely to absorb toxic nutrients and heavy metals than other vegetables. 

Is it safe to grow vegetables in plastic containers?

While some plastic containers are fine for growing plants, others may leach toxins into the soil. Try to stick to food-safe plastics and avoid vinyl, polystyrene, and polycarbonate materials. 

Sources:

  1. https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2018/ra/c7ra10994f
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0045653517301108
  3. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pumpkins-pull-pollutants/