DIY Wooden Planter Boxes
After living in our house for over 20 years, we finally decided to do a complete landscape makeover. We transformed the front yard into a cottage garden, the side yard into a kitchen garden, and the back yard will eventually become a Japanese-style garden. It's a work in progress, but every improvement brings us closer to our ultimate goal of creating an inviting retreat for entertaining and relaxing in our small, suburban yard.
Our plan included adding planter boxes, garden furniture, raised beds, cold frames, storage boxes, trellises and arbors to the front yard, back yard and deck. Then the sticker shock hit! It would cost thousands of dollars and many years to purchase all of these pieces that we needed to bring our vision to reality. How could we build our dream garden on a budget?
In my younger years, I had learned some basic home improvement skills, but over the years, my tools went quiet. Then, as I was planning my garden, I discovered a community of gardeners, woodworkers and crafters on social media who reminded me that I could make these things myself. So, I dusted off my old power tools, purchased a few new ones, watched dozens of videos, and searched online for plans.
The first project I had in mind was to build two large planter boxes to mask the unattractive carport poles in front of my house. It was then I stumbled onto Ana White, whose free plans and how-to videos launched me on a DIY woodworking adventure. Her simple, affordable, functional designs using off-the-shelf lumber were exactly what I needed. She made it look so easy!
Where I Found Plans
I started with her Cedar Planters for less than $20 plan. These boxes were the perfect project for an inexperienced woodworker like me! They would be outside and covered with plants where my beginner's mistakes would be hidden! Though I needed two, I purchased only enough materials for one box so that I could get some practice first.
My New Pocket-Hole Jig
Some of her plans, including this one, use a Kreg Pocket-Hole jig to join the pieces of wood. I had no idea what it was! After doing some research, I determined that this was exactly what I needed for almost all of my projects. I invested in the some Kreg clamps, outdoor pocket-hole screws, and the K5 pocket-hole jig. I could have purchased a less expensive model, but I knew I would put its features to use with all the many projects I had planned.
Though the big box hardware stores carry some Kreg products, I found that the Woodcraft chain carries by far the largest selection from their line, and the store clerks have a more specialized knowledge of woodworking to address the many questions that I had. Learning how to use the pocket-hole jig took a little time, but I found a lot of helpful videos on their website and YouTube channel to guide me through the process. Once I got the hang of it, making pocket-holes was quick and easy!
Break Out the Miter Saw!
With the pocket-hole system figured out, it was time to start cutting. I already had an old compound miter saw with a 10-inch blade to cut all the wood pieces to size. However, the 5 1/2-inch wide fence pickets which make up the four panels were too wide to be cut with one pass, and had to be flipped over and cut a second time to make it all the way through the wood. I could have used a circular saw to cut all of the pieces, but I'm more accustomed to the miter saw. I think I will put a sliding compound miter saw that can handle larger widths on my Christmas list! In my area, the big box stores do not carry the fence pickets made of cedar in the store. Instead, I mostly found pressure treated pine.
Framed Top Modification
I opted to do the framed top modification from Ana White's plan, though it was a little harder and required a few more materials. For the first box, I built the top frame by attaching each of the four pieces individually to the box using good old-fashioned hammer and nails. I found it cumbersome to line the pieces up and hold them steady, and ended up with some slight gaps at the corners. For the second box, I attached the four pieces together first using pocket-holes - just like a picture frame with mitered corners - and then attached the frame to the box. That worked much better!
Cordless Brad Nailer to the Rescue
I also invested in the cordless Craftsman brad nailer to attach the frame the second time around instead of using hammer and nails. From my earlier home improvement days, I already had a bulky brad nailer with the huge air compressor tank that I had used to attach crown and base molding for our indoor projects. The tank is so heavy! And I'd have to carry it up a flight of steps and out onto the carport every time I wanted to use it since I don't have an indoor workshop. So….I splurged…again…and purchased the cordless brad nailer. Wow, what a difference! I love this thing! It's lightweight, very portable and so easy to use.
I did make some minor changes to the plan. To hold in the soil, the plan suggests attaching interior cleats on which to lay 1x2 and 1x3 wood slats with gaps in between to allow for drainage. The cleats are positioned 6 inches from the top in the plan, but I went 12 inches from the top in case I decide to plant something that required a deeper root system. I used a combination of extra pieces of fence pickets, as well as 1x2 and 1x3 slats, to make the gaps between the slats more narrow than the plan but still allow for drainage.
Time for Stain
To protect the wood, I applied leftover deck stain using a paintbrush. I might add a whitewash paint layer next year. If I had to do it over, I would have sanded and stained the wood before assembling the cut pieces. It would have made the brush strokes more even and avoided the struggle of getting the stain into the grooves.
Insert the Landscape Fabric
Once the stain dried, I attached landscape fabric to the inside of the box to hold the soil in place using a cordless, pneumatic staple gun. This was another new tool purchase, but one I will put to use. I was surprised to find that there were only a couple reasonably priced pneumatic, as opposed to manual, staplers on the market. I went with the Ryobi, but Milwaukee brand makes one, too. Like the brad nailer, it made the job quick and easy.
Ready to Fill
At last the planters were ready! I set them in place where I wanted them to go because once filled with soil, they would be too heavy to move. As I stated above, I positioned the cleats 12 inches from the top so that I had the flexibility to plant something with a deeper root system, like a small tree or shrub. Since I went with mums for this season, which don't require much soil depth, I filled the bottom six inches with rotting bark, wood chips and branches. This is an experiment to see how well the organic material will hold moisture, and to reduce the amount of soil needed to fill the planter. On top I placed a combination of top soil, organic garden soil and potting soil. And then came the mums, just in time for fall!
That's a Wrap!
I am so happy at how well these turned out. Ana White's simple plan gave me the confidence I needed to build these boxes and then graduate to more complicated projects. I can't wait to start another one!