Why Poplar doesn’t work outdoors


Poplar Wood – Not for Outdoors!

Very little information exists to help you decide what type of wood works well outdoors. You are really better off using the old standards like red cedar, mahogany, pressure treated pine then gambling on a new species that nobody can tell you what will happen. I was called in to estimate replacing the fence shown here and I photographed it because it was such a good illustration of what happens to woods like poplar when it is used outdoors, even if you stain it.
Early on we built a large fence and used poplar trim because after asking 15 carpenters, 10 lumber yards and going to the library to find out what lasts and what doesn’t, the information just wasn’t there. I heard that they had to change quite a bit of that trim later on, and I felt terrible. This is why I am sharing this information today.

These guys mixed their trim– the one on the left used poplar for the base–and the one on the right had pine baseboard. Pine will last fairly well if it is sealed, but poplar just turns to dust in a few years. The caps, even though they were pressure treated were not sealed. You can see the curve from it soaking up water in both images. Sealing anything that might see standing water (like caps) is always a good idea. Epoxy will always work best.

designers fence failure 3
Poplar outdoors Failure Photo

Poplar exposed to the elements just turns to dust


The wrong wood will turn to dust!

I can remember a business in Barrie making old fashioned screen doors out of poplar…2 years and the warranty work started—they were out of business shortly after. After the job was done and I was talking to a 90 year old builder on the site that he pointed it out. With white stain on it he picked out the profile we had to use poplar for.

designers fence poplar outdoors
What happens to Poplar Trim Outdoors? It Disappears in no time!

Poplar is a species of tree that grows along the outside of the forest and grows about 3 times as fast as Maple or Oak. It has no thick sap like pine so it draws water in like a sponge. Since it grows faster–it rots faster. Its purpose in the forest is to break up the ground to allow the more long lasting species to grow stronger. Rotting poplars supply nutrients to help the other trees grow.

So… No POPLAR Outdoors please!


Ps: The trouble with doing this kind of decorative work outside is that the stock trim you buy from the big box stores is mostly poplar–and rookie builders just don’t know. It is a hard lesson to learn and there is very little information even on line. I learned it early on after using it on a tennis court fence and pergola (25 years ago).