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I have an existing fence which goes some way into the soil and we are cleaning and painting it then we plan on further raising the garden and lawn.

What are the best ways to protect the partially buried wooden fence from rotting?

There is already some rot but the posts are stable. Good ground clearance is not an option and most of my searching only reveals advice for fence posts although the are some threads about what is best for a garden bed. I am thinking garden edging could be retrofitted

Update: i think effective ground clearance is very unlikely (comment below). Even the neighbour's garden (lower) is against the base rail (also on their side). It isn't designed with proper clearance.

Update 2: the concensus is ground clearance, so after much hard work... images below

the spade is level

dug 200+ and cut off 100mm

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  • why is ground clearance not an option? how do you expect edging to help? – Jasen Jan 3 at 1:55
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    Very strongly related. Perhaps even duplicate. – FreeMan Jan 3 at 2:07
  • If you can not remove the soil from around the wood then cut the bottom of the pickets so they are not in the soil. – Alaska Man Jan 3 at 3:41
  • I should clarify. Our section is higher than the neighbours and so the fence is about 150mm lower than the lawn, in places the garden bed has built up to double that. We plan to raise the lawn further making a prospect effective ground clearance very unlikely. I am open to options like mini retaining walls but might prove simpler to rebuild the fence higher... hence asking how to save the existing fence – KCD Jan 3 at 5:47
  • Also thanks for the linked question. Good advice for designing a new fence but not what I am asking unless I convince the neighbour to rebuild it – KCD Jan 3 at 6:01
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As noted in this answer the only way to slow the rot is to avoid ground contact entirely (Note: Nothing will prevent rot - wood is a natural product and will, when exposed to the elements, eventually turn to dust no matter what protection is applied without continued maintenance, which will be difficult on the portions against dirt.)

You need to minimize/avoid contact between wood and dirt to slow the rot, and that leaves you with a few options:

  • Build up the dirt, but slope it down before it gets to the wooden fence
  • Build up the dirt within a retaining wall that keeps most of it from the fence
  • Cut the bottom of the fence to be ~1" above the dirt
  • Take down the fence, build up the dirt, rebuild the fence on top of the new elevation

There is no magic solution to having wood buried in dirt that will prevent/minimize rot. You could have tried some of the old creosote based wood preservatives, but those are highly toxic and have been banned in the US (and probably elsewhere). It was reasonably effective, but no longer available.

You could try a spar/marine varnish on the to-be-burried portion of the fence, but that will be rather expensive and who knows how long it will actually last.

You could just mound the dirt up against the fence, wait for it to rot out, then cut the pickets 1" above the ground once they've rotted out. (Effectively the 3rd option I present, but waiting for rot first instead of cutting first.)

Beyond that, expect accelerated rotting.

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