Humble Corrugated Metal Brings Modern Style to the Garden

By Falon Mihalic  /  Courtesy of Houzz.com

Corrugated metal is strong, lightweight and rustproof, and can be used in many ways to add a unique touch to the garden. Though there are many standard landscape building materials, metal is increasing in popularity for homes and landscapes. Its long life, high recycled content and recyclability at the end of its use make it a sustainable building material in the landscape compared to other materials. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know about the best ways to use corrugated metal, along with some design inspiration.

The basics. Corrugated metal is sheet metal that’s been formed into ridges and valleys to give it more rigidity. The ridges and valleys are also excellent at draining water off the surface. It’s a lightweight, affordable, recyclable and long-lived material. 

Corrugated metal is galvanized, meaning it’s coated in zinc or a mix of zinc and other materials to resist weathering and rust. Most often you’ll see corrugated metal made from galvanized steel or corrugated galvanized iron, but it’s also available in other metals, like Cor-Ten, aluminum and copper, which are more expensive and harder to source locally. 

As a thin planar material, corrugated metal can be used for many flat applications: fences, privacy screens, siding, roofing and more. Corrugated metal panels are available at local hardware stores, but professional contractors have access to a wider range of corrugated sheet metal, in varying thicknesses, from wholesale suppliers.

Cost. If you are going the DIY route for a project, 8-feet by 4-feet corrugated galvanized steel panels can be purchased at a hardware store for about $10. For more advanced applications, you should hire a professional who is adept at working with corrugated metal appropriately. The cost of using a contractor or design-build firm varies.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Thin and strong, due to the corrugations
  • Long-lived (can last several decades)
  • Rust and mold resistant
  • Water drains easily from the surface
  • Available with high recycled content; easily recycled at the end of its life
  • Performs well in all climate types

Cons:

  • Panels have sharp edges that need to be framed or protected
  • Limited availability at local hardware stores
  • Wider range of types and colors usually available only through professional contractors or wholesale suppliers

Shown here is a textured tropical garden with corrugated galvanized metal as a fence. The ridges on the Bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis, zones 10 to 11; find your zone) fronds and the long leaves in the mounding grasses play nicely with the corrugated metal’s texture.

Why it’s a sustainable choice. Corrugated galvanized metal is long-lived (it doesn’t rot and doesn’t get damaged by insects) and easily recyclable. Many corrugated metal products on the market are made of recycled metal and can be recycled again at the end of their use. 

Recyclability is an important component to think about when choosing the most sustainable materials for your building and landscape projects. Think of the waste that could be diverted from the landfill by recycling your corrugated metal after 30 years or more. Expect to get several decades of use out of your corrugated metal. The thicker the panel, the longer the life span.

Installation notes. The construction detail for corrugated metal panels varies by use, but a few things should be considered to ensure smart installation:

  • Use galvanized screws, bolts and other metal connectors so that rust does not accumulate where the corrugated metal is attached to other materials. 
  • Frame the edges or design your project so that the sharp edges are out of reach of kids and pets. 
  • Think about how the material can be installed with other galvanized metal components for framing and anchoring. That way your corrugated metal fence or wall will have one “shelf life” instead of having various material components that have to be replaced at different times.

How to Use Corrugated Metal in the Landscape

Raised beds or fences. Corrugated galvanized metal can come into contact with the ground without rotting. For this reason, it’s a great material for raised beds or fencing. Notice that the raised beds seen here also have concrete components. Others have wood or metal components that frame and connect the panels. 

Metal for raised beds also helps to evenly heat the soil and reflect light so that warm-season crops have higher yields.

Rain barrels. Metal is a common material for rainwater-harvesting practices because, when galvanized, it resists mold and rust. The rain barrel shown here is tucked into a front yard and has an industrial, contemporary look among drought-tolerant plants. Metal in the garden does not have to match other materials. This home’s landscape has concrete paths and wooden porch benches, but everything still feels tied together.

Outdoor showers. Corrugated galvanized metal is great for wet areas, because the material will not rust even after years of being sprayed with water. It’s also very thin, as you can see from the bird’s-eye view of an outdoor shower here. The corrugated metal provides privacy with a small footprint.

For garden texture. Use the texture of corrugated metal to offset a colorful wall in the garden. Shown here is a corrugated metal fence at a lower height than the bright mustard-yellow wall behind it. The neutral gray offsets the yellow, and the vertical orientation of the ridges and valleys in the metal also creates texture and a rhythm. When planning your space, think about how corrugated metal can offset other textures and colors.

For color. Corrugated metal also comes in various colors, with a painted layer on top of the bonded galvanized layer. There are also methods of painting corrugated panels yourself, but consult your local hardware store for information on primers and sealers and how to use them safely. This sweet little patio is framed by sky-blue corrugated metal panels and a wooden pergola.