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“How to Build a Planter Box”

A few months ago, as I moved into my new home in Austin, I was feeling rather bold.

I had a bit of a deck that went out into a creek and loved it. But it needed something a bit more lush and romantic to feel truly finished. I had this one spot in particular along this fence that needed plants, and I couldn’t find a planter that was the right length and height that didn’t cost a bazillion dollars.

Then one night I was having a meal at one of my favorite local spots called Contigo, and I noticed a nice long and tall planter… quite a lot of them actually, all around the restaurant.

Where did you get those?!” I exclaimed to the restaurant people.

“Oh, the restaurant owner built them himself,” the restaurant people replied.

I got up from my picnic table and walked over to the planter in the parking lot and inspected it. Then I circled around it intently. Then I circled around it some more.

I can do this!” I exclaimed again to the restaurant people.

Okay, here’s your pig brain pâté,” they said.

And so I did it. I made my own planter. And while I’m not a carpenter by any means, and I encourage all of you carpenters to add your recommendations in the comments section below so we can improve upon this version, I thought I’d show you how I did it, in case you want to take matters into your own hands too one day, and make a planter for a few dollars, rather than a few hundred. Here goes!

Full directions are at the end of this post, but in summary you will need:

  • Two, 2 x 4 x 8ft pieces of lumber, both cut so that you have a total of 4 pieces that are all 27-inches long
  • Sixteen, 1 x 4 x 96-in pieces of white pine lumber, each cut at the end so that you have 16 pieces that are 83-inches and 16 pieces that are 13-inches long (Note: they are technically only 3 1/2 inches wide even though they are called 4-inches)
  • One, 2 x 11 x 81-in piece of board (you may have to find something slightly longer and have it cut at the end)
  • Box of 2 1/2-in nails
  • Stain and polyurethane combo, or paint
  • Paint brush
  • Plastic garbage1 bags or plastic drop cloth
  • A level
  • Optional: a handsaw, if you don’t have your wood already cut for you by the store where you purchase it
  • A measuring tape
  • A pencil

I made my life a little tricky because I had this big piece of wood already leaning on the side of the house and I decided to build around it. It turned out to be very hard wood and slightly warped, so if I were to do it again I would get softer fresh wood and start new.

The home hardware supply stores will cut your wood for you in most cases if you tell them dimensions… or you can measure…

And cut the wood yourself.  It makes your muscles very, very nice. At least in one arm.

These are the posts that will rise and hold the slats… you’ll see…

This is the base pine frame… I liked pine because it was cheap and soft.

This is going to hold the base board I have lying around.

Like so. Then it is going to get hammered on all corners for security’s sake.

Then in go the posts on all four corners.

Use a big heavy hammer my friends. Those light dinky ones are no use. Some more daring people might even use a nail gun. But they scare me so I stayed old fashioned with my trusty hammer.

So this is where we are now (wave to my Big Green Egg).

I need to work on my hammering skills. But mostly you can see that having a slightly warped base made it hard to keep things in alignment. Learn from my mistakes friends!

You can see at the far end that the pieces aren’t attached yet. They’re dangling. It would help to have a second set of hands help you hold up one end while you hammer the other. You’re going to have marks on the wood to help guide you but it still helps to have a second set of hands to steady things.

When all of the slats are attached, it will look like this!

That’s when you get this out.

You could use paint too, but I liked the idea of sealing it against the elements and also giving it a little stain.

You’ll want to use a few coats until it is the color that you want. You don’t really need to do the inside because it will be covered.

Then you’ll let it dry overnight. And then you begin to line it with planters fabric.

You want to make sure you’re liberal with it and overlap the lines so that it limits leakage.

Then you should add a few large rocks to the bottom if you have them so that it helps with drainage.

Then get out your soil. Fill it 3/4 of the way up, add whatever plants you desire, top it off and water, water, water.

I planted bamboo and since taking this picture, it has turned into a giant, lush, green wall. I love it, it makes me feel like I’m in a jungle.

The planter is not 100% perfect but that’s why I like it… it’s 100% mine.

 

You can make one to fit your space and customize the size accordingly using the same technique. To make one just like mine…

You will need:

  • Two, 2 x 4 x 8ft pieces of lumber, both cut so that you have a total of 4 pieces that are all 27-inches long
  • Sixteen, 1 x 4 x 96-in pieces of white pine lumber, each cut at the end so that you have 16 pieces that are 83-inches and 16 pieces that are 13-inches long (Note: they are technically only 3 1/2 inches wide even though they are called 4-inches)
  • One, 2 x 11 x 81-in piece of board (you may have to find something slightly longer and have it cut at the end)
  • Box of 2 1/2-in nails
  • Stain and polyurethane combo, or paint
  • Paint brush
  • Plastic garbage bags or plastic drop cloth
  • A level
  • Optional: a handsaw, if you don’t have your wood already cut for you by the store where you purchase it
  • A measuring tape
  • A pencil

To plant:

  • 1 roll of planters fabric
  • 6-8 bags of planting soil

Directions:

  1. Create a frame for the base by hammering together two 83-inch  pine pieces with two 13-inch pine pieces so that you have a narrow rectangle.
  2. Drop the bottom 2 x 11 x 81 piece of lumber inside the frame. Hammer the frame into the base piece on all corners.
  3. Add the four 2 x 4 x 27 pieces of lumber, one at a time to each corner so that they stand upright. Hammer them in on all corners so that they stay secure.
  4. With a measuring tape and pencil, mark the posts where you will add additional slats. Start at 1/2-inch above the frame pine board and mark 1/2-inch, 3 1/2-inches, 1/2-inch, 3 1/2-inches, etc until you reach the top of the posts. This will tell you where to nail the pine slats and ensure that they are even. You will be left with a slat that is 1/2-inch above the posts which looks nice.
  5. Begin nailing in the slats on all sides, making sure the pine boards go in the spaces that have been marked for them. It will help to have a second set of hands to help you hold up the one end while you hammer the other. Or a good clamp will work as well. Keep going until you’ve hammered in all slats. It may take a while if you’re hammering by hand rather than with a nail gun. Take some ice tea breaks and know that you’re getting some good arm muscle.
  6. Once it is fulling hammered together, lay some plastic garbage bags or drop cloths around the base. Stain the wood with a sealant so that it doesn’t get water damage. I combo stain and polyurethane is an efficient way to make it look finished and protect it at once. You really just need to focus on the outside, since the inside will have planter fabric and plants. Let it dry.
  7. Once dry, line it with planters fabric, drop rocks at the base for drainage and fill with dirt. Plant away!

Tips:

  1. Make a sketch of your planter and the dimensions first so you have a clear picture of how it will look and where all of the pieces will go.
  2. If you buy your wood from a large home repair store like Home Depot, they will cut your wood for you to your desired dimensions so you don’t have to do it at home with a hand saw.
  3. Use a soft wood if you plan to hammer by hand and use a heavy hammer to give you some weight when you bang the nails in. A dinky hammer won’t take you far and you’ll have a tired arm.

Enjoy my friends!

 

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Comments

  1. I LOVE this Georgia!!! I’ve been looking for some planters to put along my back fence. I’m a Pennsylvania mountain girl living in the city in TX and my neighborhood is woefully lacking in greenery! I love the width of the planter as it will not take up much of the yard. I also love the bamboo as it shoots up so quickly – I’m stealing this whole idea!!!! Thanks again Georgia!

  2. Well Georgia, I think you need to add a Girl Carpenter book/category into the mix!

  3. First of all, your finished product looks amazing. I am planning on making a modified version of your planter, and I have a few questions about your directions.

    Can you confirm that you used one by four boards for your slats? In the photo with the paint brush, it almost looks like the slats are closer to the size of the brush, which is three inches.

    Also, when you describe marking the upright posts, it seems that you are indicating that there should be a two inch space between each four inch board; however, the math doesn’t work out. Eight slats at four inches each and seven spaces at two inches each would need a forty-six inch upright post. In addition, the spacing between the slats appears to be much smaller than two inches.

    Of course, it is completely possible (read: likely) that I am totally missing something. I really like the way your planter turned out, and I am hopeful that mine can look as nice. If possible, can you confirm the size of the slats and spaces in your finished planter?

    • Georgia says:

      Hi Mary! I’m so glad you’re going to make one of your own.
      It is a bit confusing, I agree… basically Home Depot and other lumber places refer to the pine slats as 4 inches wide but they are really only 3 1/2 inches. They told me that at the time but it definitely confused things a bit. Also, since the posts are sitting on top of a 2-inch baseboard, it raises them all by 2-inches. Also, the first pine slat is going to be starting at the bottom of the 2-inch base as well so you’ll lose 2-inches there. One way I gave myself wiggle room this is that I allowed the pine slats to come above the posts at the top, meaning they didn’t have to be perfectly flush.

      As for the spacing in between the slats, you’re right, it’s only 1/2 an inch, I fixed that in the directions, thanks for pointing it out! So with that starting at the ground, you’ll get 31 1/2 inches in slat height by measuring 3 1/2 inches and then 1/2-inch, which means you’ll need a post that is 27-inches to compensate for the 2-inches you lose in slat height and 2-inches you gain in post height. This will leave you a 1/2-inch of slat overlap at the top which I think looks nice. If I were you, I would decide what kind of wood you want to use at the lumber store after seeing what they have, take true measurements and then draw it out. I’m not very good at math so a drawing really helped me. Let us know how it turns out!!!

      • I just finished my planter, which is based solely on your directions, and I am quite pleased!

        I made some slight adjustments in terms of dimensions and materials used; however, it is pretty true to your original plans. My finished product is six feet wide, thirty-two inches high, and thirteen inches deep. I used pressure treated wood, as the planter will be exposed to all the elements of a Northern state. In addition, I used a drill and exterior/decking screws to put it together, which made things a bit easier on my arm. I also used spacers when clamping my boards down for drilling, which resulted in less measuring and fretting about lining things up.

        While it isn’t perfect, I am really proud of the finished product. I wanted to thank you for your inspiration and help. The thing that I loved best about your approach is that it is simple. I found so many plans that were overly technical and required thousands of dollars worth of insanely dangerous power tools.

        I purchased the landscape fabric, but I still have to install it and fill it up with some soil and plants. I bought a high quality fabric, which is designed to let air and water in. Therefore, I am afraid that it will let the water out and leak all over, kind of like an unlined coco basket. Have you had any problems with watering? Would you recommend a more plasticy lining, or will I be okay?

        I do have to wait six months to a year to stain it, as pressure treated wood need to be allowed to totally dry out from the chemical process it underwent before applying stain. I guess I just have something to look forward to!

        Since I had such great success with the first one, I am going to build a second planter to completely line my twelve foot patio. My hope is that with the additon of running bamboo, I will be able to grow a dense privacy screen.

        Thanks again!!!!

        • Georgia says:

          Hi Mary! I’m so happy it has worked out for you. I used the planter fabric they sell at Home Depot and it is very much a fabric, not plastic at all. I water constantly and haven’t had any problem with leakage. The bamboo screen is pretty awesome now, I should show a more current picture here :) Send us more updates here!

  4. I had been planning to build 3 large plant boxes for my balcony and when I came across your plan it totally made sense to me. We just finished the 1st of the 3 boxes today (still needs stain/sealer) and I’m so excited about it… I just had to let you know. :)
    Thank you so much for posting this super informative and easy-to-build planter post! Can’t wait to start planting my trees soon!

  5. Hi Georgia,
    I have been looking for a planter and came across your site and saw your planter. It is EXACTLY what I imagined how I want mine! I can’t find this anywhere so I am going to build it this holiday weekend. Your instructions are very detail and I admire the pictures and captions.
    One question: How do you keep the lining inside the planter? Did you glue it? Nailed it? If you nailed it I don’t see signs of nail near top of your planter ?!
    On step 7, you only have one sentence for this step: “line it with planters fabric”.
    Could you please clarify how you keep the liner inside? This will be my first carpentry project so I will be following your instructions to the T!
    Thanks in advance.

    • Georgia says:

      Hi Pretz, I held the fabric up on either side while I dropped in the soil and the pressure of the soil kept it in place. BUT, you could certainly use a staple gun or some other “tacking” measure to keep it all in place when you drop in the soil. It would certainly be easier. Let us know how it turns out!! Go you for trying it!

  6. Planter boxes are a great way to add garden elements where you might not have the best of soil conditions. Wooden boxes are attractive, but you’re limited to square or rectangular boxes, and they take some time to put together. You can build a concrete planter box, like the ones shown on Yard Crashers, and make different sizes. The blocks come in a lot of different colors, too and they are easy to move around. There are instructions and a video here: http://info.basalite.com/build-your-own-stone-planter-box. Happy Gardening!

  7. Welcome to Austin! You are a lucky, lucky woman to have chosen this summer instead of last to move here. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Austinites seem to take a strange pride in their ability to withstand the heat, much the same way Wisconsinites pride themselves on withstanding the cold. Your planter box looks professionally made. Good job.

  8. This is awesome! I was looking for some encouragement and you gave a massive dose of it :) Thanks much!!!

  9. I’m so happy I ran into this great project! Great job and thank you! Have you had any problems with the mid section warping due to weight of soil or growth of bamboo? It looks like you didnt reinforce the middle with another 2×4 and wondered if this will cause any problems. Again, looks great and I’m glad you posted this beautiful planter. Jorge

  10. Looks great! My husband and I are inspired, but putting together plans for our own space we ran into some confusion. Why is the base board (79 inches) four inches shorter than the long side slats (83 inches)? Looking at the close up picture, it seems that the long side is the same length as the baseboard, with the short side wood extending an inch longer on either side, to be flush with the outer side of the long board. Where does that extra 4 inches go?
    Thanks,
    Stephanie

  11. This is a perfect looking planter that I’d like to make for my deck. Before filling the planter, did you make any holes in the planter fabric for drainage or is the fabric designed to allow some drainage?

  12. That planter looks awesome! How much did this project end up costing?

  13. What brand is your planter fabric? I’m looking for some online but I’m not seeing anything that looks like yours.

    • If you ask at Home Depot or another gardening store for planters fabric they will lead you in the right direction, mine was just what they had at Home Depot.

  14. You inspired me to build my own planters. I didn’t follow all of your directions, I used deck screws instead of nails and I made my planters 5 feet long instead of the 6 1/2 feet you did.

    Check them out at My DIY Planters

  15. Eric Okerberg says:

    Thanks for the post Georgia, I am going to make a planter with my two girls. If you are in the holiday spirit, you have to check out 35th street for the funky Christmas lights. Please tell me they still keep that tradition alive.

  16. Thank you for sharing. I had an idiot neighbor that built a dog house and put it by my living space on her side and I need something to plant and hide the darn thing. I love dog houses but not when you place it by someone else’s living space.

  17. angie garcia says:

    I love your planter box. The size is ideal for my back yard. IYou just gave me a great idea! My back yard is small
    but and I have the perfect spot for a planter box. I am very creative. May I use your idea?. If so, I think i will build me one. Thank You!

  18. Lane in Charlotte NC says:

    This is wonderful! Way to go! It is very stylish yet simple and effective. I want to create a bamboo privacy screen and this might be the ticket. Thanks for the inspiration and the detailed pictures and process.

  19. This is exactly what I’m planning on doing to make a natural fence that won’t take over my yard! How much did it cost you? Just trying to see if DIY really is the way to go or if I should use a trough. What kind of bamboo did you use? I’m looking into some of the fargesia’s. Thanks

    • I believe my bamboo was golden goddess or golden dragon, something like that. And the cost for the planter materials was somewhere in the range of $50, it’s been a while!

  20. Duane Davis says:

    Hi Georgia,
    First, can we talk about the pig brain pate ??

    Your planter is awesome and I applaud you for figuring it out and doing it yourself !!! (Standing applause here).

    Since the wood will absorb moisture on all four sides and the ends (especially pine), it wouldn’t hurt to seal the entire structure. Warping would be the most obvious fault.

    I can’t stand the noise of hammering so I use screws whenever possible. I would use exterior screws or nails in any case. Again, it’s the moisture issue. It may take a while for the nails to fail, but you may get rust stains on your beautiful project.

    The last thing I will mention is sanding the end grain. It will make your project look nicer by smoothing the ends of the planks and by bringing out the ring structure. The stain you apply will further enhance that.

    Thank you for sharing your project and all the best !!

  21. Mindy P says:

    Hi! I love this idea, and the results!
    I have a suggestion to add… with the cost of things these days & everyone trying to do the “green” thing.
    A person on a budget could also do this with used pallet wood. A lot of places are giving them away now,
    and a could do this and just have to buy a few things. The boxes would be smaller in length of course, and the stain would just cover the imperfections or add to it, creating a barnwood effect. What a great idea. Thank you fo the simplicity of this idea. I also like the idea of the screws instead of nails as over time, the nails could back out, and the screws also make it easier for a person doing this alone. could even predrill the holes a little to keep the wood from splitting s close to the end of the boards.

  22. I have a 15 x 22 foot deck as my back yard, which like ypur self borders a river. Yesterday I ws away and saw these grat wooden flower boxes someone made as a border. I looked at them and thought, I can build that as a solution to me wanting 1- a border for my deck and 2- flower boxe to plant more bushes and flowers..

    This morning I googled “Building a 5 foot flower box” and ypu beautiful flower box with description of how to build as well as a list of supplies showed up.

    Your description is great, your list of supplies is great, your photos were great and most of all your flower ones came out beautiful.

    Thanks for posting and sharing.

    Dan

  23. kegan norgard says:

    i was wondering how to make the same style but make it 8 feet long and three feet wide and 1 1/2 feet deep

  24. Is it possable to put ply wood instead of that fabric stuff? If you paint the ply wood do you think it would still rot?

    • Georgia says:

      You need drainage for the soil, and the fabric is breathable which is important for healthy roots and plants.

  25. Georgia – you are officially my hero! I need several planters and knew I would have to build them due to the cost of premade ones. I came across your instructions today and they blew me away because this is exactly what I need. I have limited carpentry skills but intend to learn so much more and there is no time like the present.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Ghee in Indiana

  26. Annette and Julie says:

    We are doing this project tomorrow. Planting cucumbers against a ten foot trellis. Fingers crossed. We’ll let you know.

  27. Stumbled acrosstgis while searching for ‘diy planters’. At first I thought a guy had made it so was even more imprssed a woman had (that was meant as a compliment:). Great job from UK!

  28. Hello, thanks for posting this, it looks awesome! :)
    Couple questions…first, I know this might be a stupid question, but what about the drainage in the bottom of the box cause the water can’t just collect there on the bottom, right?
    2nd, I really don’t have any dirt or space in my back yard unfortunately and I want to build this box so I can plant a few chinese elm trees that I’m growing for bonsai from seeds. There are about 1-2 high now, but I was told they need to be in the “ground” for a couple years for the trunks to get width.
    My main concern as I mentioned is just for the water that will collect at the bottom of the box…
    thank you :)

    • There are so many holes in between the slats on the sides that drainage has never been a problem. The wood is also porous.

  29. Might try this…Love the look!

    I’m going to use empty, capped, plastic water bottle in the bottom. It will be lighter weight and will still provide great drainage.

  30. really too bad when You want to print this you receive 10 pages of comments first REALLY

  31. I used a variety that I think was called Golden Dragon or maybe it was Golden Goddess… and it is the bush kind that goes wide as well as tall… very tall.

  32. Rachel Penticuff says:

    Thanks!