How We Made An 8-Foot Planter Box

October 03, 2017   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  one response

Elaborate landscaping and flowering gardens exist in our dreams; not so much in reality. Container gardens are my domain for now, and between herbs and potatoes and flowering front porch planters, we kind of rocked it this season. I always knew I’d get around to adding great, large planter on the treehouse, and early in the summer, it came to life (and of course it was completely assembled and installed in, like, an hour… just a reminder to stop putting stuff off, E.)

We couldn’t be happier with how it blossomed this growing season.

A DIY 8-foot long large planter box mounted to our kid's treehouse.

Things I used:

  • Two 5/4×6″ 8-foot deck boards
  • Four pieces of 2×6, cut to 6″ in length
  • Steel mesh fencing
  • Drill with assorted bits
  • 20+ 3-1/2″ exterior screws (this thing will never fall apart, nor fall down)
  • air compressor and a nail gun fitted with 1/2″ staples
  • my favorite natural stain made of vinegar and steel wool
  • a very tool-savvy tween who enjoys herself some DIY

If you’re looking for a fast project, this is it. The full 8-foot deck boards extend as the front and back of the planter–selected because deck boards are lighter than 2x lumber–and the cut 2×6 pieces form the ends of the planter, and act a few cross-braces for added durability. Sandwiched in there, the 2x offers bigger target to hit when you’re drilling through a deck board and trying to hit something on-center. And they’re undeniably more solid. If you’re considering your own DIY window box, after 4 months hanging filled with dirt and plants on our treehouse, this is a construct that I would do again 1,000,000x over. It’s solid as can be.

Step 1: Make your big rectangle

Dry fit the 8-foot boards, with the 2x pieces sandwiched perpendicularly in between. Do a rough layout, clamp it in position, and predrill everywhere you need to attach. Don’t scrimp on screws, use enough to feel confident that it won’t warp (3 at each joint should do the trick). Use the long screws to assemble the outer rectangle that will become your planter.

Step 2: Install your base

Drainage is a big issue with planter boxes made completely of wood. If it doesn’t have good drainage, your plants might suffer and the wood will deteriorate faster, and maybe troubleshooting this aspect of the build is why it took me 3 years to get this made. I eliminated my concerns about rotting by installing a heavy-duty steel mesh across the bottom of the planter, like a little planter hammock, if you will. I draped it along the inside of the assembled rectangle, trimmed it to size, and then we used a staple gun to pin the metal in place around the inside bottom edge of the planter.

Building a DIY planter box with a steel mesh bottom, to allow for drainage and root health.

Step 3: Add cross braces for reinforcement

How many cross pieces you install depends on your confidence with the construction to this point. I added two–evenly spaced at 1/3 and 2/3 marks along the 8-foot length, knowing that it would really help to keep the planter square and distribute the weight of the soil against the front of the planter. You’ll get the visual in the next photo.

Step 4: Install that planter!

I guess it’s worth noting that I also stained it prior to installing, using what is typically my favorite natural stain. It usually takes a few months to fully transform the color of the wood, but I think the solution I applied hadn’t brewed long enough; even today, the color is much lighter than I expected it would be. Shoulda been more like the color of this garden box accessory. Another coat of stain to come in the future.

Every single time I’ve considered adding large planter boxes beneath a window, I’ve felt conflicted because of the commitment factor – either you’re putting them there for life and committing to maintaining them, or you’re putting holes into your siding or trim and opening up the chances of rainwater seeping through those openings. I’m really sorry I don’t have the right answers for those of you doing that type of planter box, because my planter is outdoors, in an unfinished space that already gets wet, attaching to a railing that is already a solid, sturdy natural hardwood. All I can say is that I used 12 giant exterior screws to mount this to the railing, which averages a screw every 8″, and some might say that’s overkill but there’s no such thing as overkill when you’re securing a heavy wooden box that’s going to be filled with heavy soil and growing plants directly above where your children hopscotch all day long.

Attaching an 8-foot window box to a treehouse railing for a raised planter area.

Step 5: Fill it up

Whoa there. First things first. Along the bottom, before adding dirt, we shaved pieces of moss from the yard and laid it soil-side up in the planter. With the moss facing down, we formed a living base that continue to thrive beneath the plants, and would also prevent muddy run-through without affecting proper drainage. I’m happy to say that it worked well and continued on with its green, mossy self.

Using moss as the bottom layer in a window box.

Our assortment of small market-bought herbs, flowers, and cascading greens filled in nicely, too. I trimmed the herbs like it was my job (photographed them too, for this piece on why/how to prune and grow herbs for DIY Network), and just this week began to transplant them indoors to see if I can get them through the winter to re-plant next spring.

Bonus Points:

I attached a row of Pon Pushpins (my fave of all the pushpins) on the railing, so that the kids could ID the plants and remember which was which as they grew. It was pretty brilliant, if I do say so myself, since the plant markers are covered by soil, or moved around and hidden within a few weeks of planting. This not only helped us remember which plant was which (apparently we aren’t people who can tell the difference between parsley and cilantro nor stevia and lemon basil, when under pressure <shrugs>) but it also taught the kids to be mindful of what the plant likes, what it looks like when blossoming, etc.

Pon Pins used in our treehouse as an alternative to sharp pushpins on a cork board.

If you’re not familiar with Pon Pins yet, welcome to your next happy thing. An alternative to push pins, they press in like you would expect, but rest flush against the surface and host a tight coil in which you can slide artwork and photos through without devastatingly having to puncture holes into your stuff. To get them secured in wood, I simply drilled a small hole, poked the end of the Pon into some strong adhesive, and then tapped it into the predrilled hole. Have not had an issue with them popping loose yet, though the labels for our plants have been the only things occupied this year.

View from inside the treehouse, with peeks of our large railing-mounted planter box and Pon Pins holding our plant ID cards.

Our gardens were time-sucks this summer, and I loved every minute of it. There are a few other things I want to get around to sharing this fall that might help you plan for next spring, but you can also see peeks of these things on Instagram if you scroll around the feed @merrypad.

A Tiny + Modern Garden Storage System

September 05, 2017   //  Posted in: DIY, Gardening, Organized   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

Alt title: The Thing the Woodpecker Nibbled Before it Could Be Photographed

Alt-Alt title: The Thing that Wasps Found Before I Could Finish This Post

Dry storage space in the garden wasn’t really an issue until this house, where most of our hand tools are stored nowhere near our garden and either forgotten and left in the rain, or unused; for years, I’ve wanted a small container that would keep my hand tools and assorted necessities out of the rain–or just a shelter, that would have worked too–so once the fence itself was built, I whipped this up one weekend, a simple cabinet with hinged door, to satisfy what we were missing. As the above alt-titles suggest, I’m not sure how long it’ll last before the woodpeckers smash it to bits, and the wasps definitely made a nest in one of my gardening glove fingertips, but those details aside, this tiny storage unit fits right into our space.

DIY garden storage to keep tools and accessories dry.

I installed it on the inside of one of the posts of our garden fence. No, there’s no plan to follow (it’s in my head), and no, definitely not a work of art, but simple and effective and I love what it does, and does so well.

It’s size is 10″w x 8″d x 24″h, and it’s mostly constructed out of some remaining cedar from when I built shelves inside my closet. Another scrap board for the roof, too. Design-wise, I kept it super simple, and assembled it only with wood glue and some small nails because it wouldn’t be holding anything too hefty. Inside, I added in a small shelf to vertically divide the space (and also to mildly prevent those long side boards from warping after rain and snow show their stuff).

Building storage for the garden using cedar boards.

The hinged door was a straight-forward design–the width of the door and the back panel are the same, so it made sense to have the door fit right into the cabinet. It was the fewer-cut route too, always a popular one for the DIYer embracing convenience, and I figured it would also be less inclined to flop around in the wind. Speaking of lazy, I briefly planned on it having a plexi window on the door, but decided plexi wasn’t worth an extra trip to the store and more time/money. Simple narrow hinges were the only item I purchased.

Narrow hinges for our garden storage door.

I used a router in two ways for this project: with a straight bit to etch out spaces for the hinges;

Our DIY garden storage shed made of cedar boards.

And a rounded bit to ease off the inside edge of the door so that the door would open more easily without a “square” inside left edge.

How to make a small cedar garden storage shed.

The roofline needed to be nothing more than a piece of wood to protect the interior from excessive moisture, and before attaching it with 4 finishing nails, I cut the top of the roofline to be flush with the vertical board on the backside (you’ll see what I mean in a photo lower down the post).

Anyone else remember the beetle knobs that I picked up from Anthropologie in 2012? Throwback. They lived on bifold doors in the old house, and I reused one of them here. (Also, Potatoes in containers. We harvested them already.)

Hardware attached to the garden storage container.

I used the same natural vinegar + steel wool stain that I use for all of the things, and obviously it worked perfectly, that’s why I love it so much. Upon application this is what it looked like, but remember at the top of the post (and in the next few photos) you’ll see that it darkens with time.

Using DIY vinegar stain on our garden storage cabinet.

I installed it on the post in the garden not long after the previous photo was taken, and added a few nails to the inside back wall to serve as hooks, too.

In addition to a pair of gloves and a few simple hand tools, it was nice to have spare seeds stored out there for extra plantings (except that the aforementioned wasps knocked the cukes into a spinach container garden sitting beneath the cabinet, and now we have a bunch of rogue plants doing their thing).

DIY garden storage to keep tools and accessories dry.

Garden 2017 is killing it. If you want to see how we built that fence, check out this post. And just for fun, here’s a tutorial showing how I made my favorite-ever raised beds. And because the evolution of the garden has been fun to see, check out 2013 (crushed by a tree), 20142015, and 2016.

Modern garden storage idea to keep tools and extra seeds and gardening gloves dry.


How to Make Easy Raised Planter Boxes

August 05, 2017   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

Ready to make some raised planters that’ll hold up really, really well? No bolts, no screws, simple design. After you make the cuts they assemble securely with pieces of rebar.

The interlocking design shown way back when on an episode of Desperate Landscapes on DIY Network was both pretty and a little different, appealing to me because it meant that the exposed edges would be free of bolts and screws holding the assemblage whole. By bolting downwards through the corners, the team had achieved a clean-lined look, and that, I liked. Real snapshot from the TV on my phone for future reference? Sure:

Jason Cameron does planter boxes right.

We decided that using pieces of 1/2″ x 18″ rebar straight through the wood into the ground might be a less-expensive alternative, and also help to anchor the planters into the ground a little bit. This sweet little artwork was designed on Paper.

Planning the planting boxes, thanks to Paper.

Having priced out some of these planter options at a range of places from hardware stores to places like Williams-Sonoma, I knew they could run upwards in price really quickly, especially with a name brand or specific high-quality lumber attached to it. I considered making mine out of cedar to withstand the test of time a little longer than pine, but pricing is always a consideration and for the amount of lumber I decidedly wanted, I still hoped to keep the whole construction under $50.

Here’s what I picked up:

  • Four 2x8x8′ pine boards ($2.90/each)
  • Four 2x4x8′ pine boards ($6.44/each)
  • 8 pieces of 1/2″x18″ rebar ($1.57/each)

A few notes:

  • I considered going low-rise with just one 2×8 height board, but I worried about the dog overstepping his boundaries. And a dog who oversteps boundaries will be peeing in my tomatoes.
  • Two 8″ boards felt a little tall when I stacked them as a visual in Lowe’s. And would have cost me an extra $15.
  • One 2×12 board felt thick and heavy and just too monstrous. You know how those boards just look like they’re designed with withstand 10,000 pounds of pressure and will require you to find two extra sets of hands to load them into your Jeep? That’s too much weight for something light and veggie-filled in the backyard.
  • The combination of a sturdy 2×8 combined with a lighter 2×4 for accent and a slight rise in wall height felt like the right balance in the end, less heavy than if it were a solid 12″ board.
  • And of course if you’re doing this at home, do what’s right for your situation. Change the specs, make it taller, shorter, whatever works for you.

I cut the boards in half into 48″ pieces, because to keep things simple, developing a set of 4’x4′ boxes would be easy and efficient. In sets of four (representing each box) I clamped the wood together tightly, and marked off where it would need to be cut on each end to fit in an interlocked pattern. Binding the pieces together just made my cuts happen a little more efficiently than if I were doing singular cuts on the deck with the circular saw.

Clamped together, ready for cutting.

For the 2×8 boards, I used a speed square to measure and mark the notches at 1-1/2″ x 3-1/2″. That’s exactly the board width x half of the real board height.

Notched and ready for cuts.

When it comes to making these cuts, pay attention to the depth of your circular saw blade. For the shallow cuts, I was able to set the circular saw to 1.5″ deep, but with the deeper cut I was only able to go up to 2.5″ deep.

Set the circular saw blade to only cut to a certain depth.

Which is why I was left to cut through the rest of the way by handsaw and multitool with a cutter attachment. Pete promptly reminded me this morning that we have a sawzall for jobs like this, I forgot, and my triceps are making me pay for it.

Set the circular saw blade to only cut to a certain depth, and then cut the rest of the way by hand or by using a sawzall.

My cuts were nowhere near as smooth as what I saw on TV. And that’s why I’m not on TV.

Notching out the planter boxes.

Just to note: In notching both ends of each board, both the 2×8’s and the 2×4’s, I notched on the same side of each board, so the notches when facing upward were all facing the sun, not one side facing the sun and one side facing the ground. Know what I’m trying to say? Probably not. They fit together as a puzzle easily as you’ll see, but an easy puzzle. An ages 3+ puzzle.

Assembling the puzzle was easy enough too. I started by predrilling the holes for the rebar to extend through in each corner, using some cinder blocks as convenient anchors. Using the electric drill gave me a lot of power consistently through all of the boards, and a 5/8″ paddle bit widened a path for the 1/2″ rebar to glide through with not-too-much-and-just-enough friction.

Cinderblocks. Always handy for anchoring lumber in place.

Cinderblocks. Always handy for anchoring lumber in place.By then hauling them out into the lawn, the 4 sides came together quite easily; once one piece of rebar was in, the structure stayed upright and made configuring the other three corners a snap.

Pinning rebar into the corner of the box planter.

When the planters are positioned, each piece of rebar will receive some clean thwaps to hammer them into the soft ground. When they’re level with the top piece of wood, there’ll be no chance of dog and kid injuries while we play and romp in the backyard.

Stepping back and looking at the set wholly, they’re pretty cool. And bigger than I expected 16-sq.ft. pieces to be. Not as nice as the ones I saw crafted on TV, mostly because I’m no first-rate craftsman, but they’ll be great to house tomatoes and flowers in the backyard this summer.

 New set of planter boxes.

There’s still more work to be done – you can read more here about how I dug a bed for them to sit over, brought in potting soil and fertilizer, and created a nice garden environment in the backyard.