Decking is a great way to provide a structural framework in your garden, but when researching the type of decking you want, you may feel overwhelmed by the range of options available. Here we’ll work through the pros and cons of the different types of decking to help you decide which is the right choice for your garden. We've included a refernce table at the end of the blog, where you can compare decking types and their pros and cons.
Image: Cultivate Gardens
We’ll be focusing on five main types of decking all of which have been used in our recent Cambridge garden projects. So how do the different decking types compare?
The most widely used decking in UK gardens is softwood decking. The boards are made from coniferous, evergreen trees such as pine or spruce. These trees mature quickly making softwood a renewable resource that is readily available and often the cheapest option.
To use the wood outside as decking it needs to be pressure-treated with chemicals to protect it from rot and decay. However, even with this treatment, the wood will need regular cleaning and oiling to keep the mould at bay, and typically won’t last longer than 6-8 years, so bear this in mind when thinking of the overall sustainability of the product as well as the price. It may be cheaper in the short term but won’t perform as well as other types of decking.
For some top tips on maintaining wood decking, read our blog post here: https://www.cultivategardens.co.uk/post/maintaining-your-deck
Hardwood decking is made from a number of different broadleaved trees like Ipe, Balau, Cumaru, Garapa and even European oak. The wood in these trees has grown at a slower rate to softwood which produces a more durable timber that will stand up better to wear and tear.
The strength of the wood combined with its natural beauty, means that hardwood decking is significantly more expensive than softwood decking. However, hardwood decking is naturally weather and rot resistant so doesn’t need to be treated with chemicals, and with an annual oiling will see you through 25 years of use making it good value for money in the long run.
At the end of its long lifecycle, hardwood will biodegrade making it an eco-friendly option. Some hardwood can come from endangered tree species which is why it’s important to look out for the FSC certificate on any wood that you buy. All decking supplied by Cultivate Gardens is FSC certified which ensures it has been logged sustainably.
Larch wood is one of the most widely used materials for decking and cladding across Europe. The natural growth rate of Larch is five times more than the rate at which it is harvested making it a sustainable, renewable resource in plentiful supply which will biodegrade at the end of its lifecycle.
Although it is technically a softwood species, Larch decking offers the same qualities as hardwood decking in that it is durable, rot-resistant, naturally beautiful and provides excellent long-term performance even through harsh winters. It is the hardest of all commercially available softwoods. Priced between a softwood and a hardwood decking, Larch decking is great value for money in terms of overall performance.
Larch decking isn’t pressure-treated with chemicals like softwood decking because as with hardwood, its natural resins provide a high level of resistance against decay and rot, making Larch decking a very low-maintenance option. With an annual scrub down and oiling Larch decking will last for 20+ years.
Have a look at our Cambridge rooftop garden design using Larch decking here: https://www.cultivategardens.co.uk/gallery?lightbox=dataItem-jyacz5q91
Image: Cultivate Gardens
Composite decking is made from a combination of reclaimed wood fibres and recycled plastic. It is a popular choice because it has the strength and look of wood; is completely weather and rot resistant and very low maintenance. It also comes in a wide range of colours and textures to suit every taste.
Composite decking has good environmental credentials too, in the sense that it uses waste products to make something new and because it has a 25 year lifespan; but bear in mind that at the end of its lifecycle it is destined for landfill - the plastic and wood blended to make the composite decking can’t currently be separated and recycled individually.
Pricewise, composite decking is as expensive, and sometimes more expensive than hardwood decking, but you won’t have to maintain it like wood decking, and it will look great for years and years. Be careful not to scrape heavy furniture across it though as you can’t sand out scratches like you can with wooden decking.
Bamboo is a member of the grass family and as such grows very fast and is ready to harvest within 3-5 years, making it a renewable and sustainable resource. Bamboo decking boards are made from solid lengths of bamboo laminated together with glue under high-pressure, making a board that is as strong as any hardwood decking board, but priced much cheaper. They can be stained in a variety of colours to suit your chosen garden style.
In the manufacturing process the bamboo is boiled in boric acid making it rot-resistant so it doesn’t have to be pressure-treated with chemicals like standard softwood decking, and it won’t need more than an annual scrub and oiling to remain in great condition, making it a great low-maintenance option for your garden.
Bamboo decking should perform as well as hardwood decking, but as the product is relatively new, there isn’t a known history to base this on. However, most bamboo decking will come with a 20-year warranty, so this combined with its durability, natural beauty and exceptional sustainability credentials make bamboo decking a great option for the future.
Below you'll find a useful table comparing different types of decking, their pros, cons lifecycle and price
Hopefully this guide has been of some use when planning which decking to choose for your garden. We have lots of experience with various decking types in our garden design projects in Cambridge so please get in touch today if you would like to discuss plans for your garden.