Jun 24th, 2014

DIY Pallet Garden

Photos & text by Jay Austin, Horticulturist, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Editor’s Note: Jay Austin is Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Rose Garden Horticulturist. He also moonlights as the owner of RVAScapes LLC a Richmond-based landscaping business. This blog post first appeared on his RVAScapes blog. Jay is also a Virginia Certified Horticulturist  and ISA Certified Arborist.

Pallet Garden step by step

As you can see, the top and bottom boards are doubled up.  We removed those boards, and also removed every other board after that, making larger spaces for the plants and making the stapling easier.

The other day, a client of mine called me up and asked if I could make her a pallet garden.  I was hesitant at first, as I had never made one before.  I decided we should form a partnership instead of hiring me to make it for her, so in case the project was not successful, there would be no foul. I did some internet research, and spoke to a few friends who had attempted this type of project before.

Close up of Pallet

As you can see, rather than simply packing the entire pallet with soil, we made individual pockets at each level.  This way, the soil is contained nicely.  I think if you had one unit, the water and soil would be apt to migrate down to the bottom, possibly collapsing the whole thing.

I figured it would be a fun project to try, so we went for it. The first step is acquiring a pallet.  This should not be too hard to accomplish.  I happened to have a few lying around from various stone and sod jobs that I have done.  You can probably find one at any big box store or nursery.  I am not sure exactly what they do with them when they are unloaded and stacked up, but I would be certain that they just dispose of them in some way.  They may even have to pay for the disposal, so they may be happy for you to take a few.  The better condition the pallet is in, the better of you will be.

Another progress shot.  As we packed the plants in, we also packed potting soil all around.  I think this is the critical step.  If there are gaps and voids all around the plant’s root balls, then they will not be able to put roots out, and more importantly will dry out very quick.  So make sure the pockets are pretty stuffed with soil.

The second step would be to buy some plants.  I was advised that the bigger the plant is, the better off the garden will be.  So I had 4″ pots in mind.  I used primarily annual plants for this one, but next one I may use more perennials.  Succulents would probably work quite well.  In fact, that is the next project in the works.  So I went to the nursery, and picked out a bunch of plants that looked good together.  I ended up with a selection of coleus, begonias, a few hostas, and other annuals that would do well in the shade that this pallet would be in. Now it is time for the hardware of the project.  First you will need a roll of landscape fabric to hold the soil in place.  Also known as weed barrier, this fabric will hold the soil, while allowing water to drain through.  You will also need a staple gun and many, many staples.  I used 3/8″ staples that seemed to work.  The bigger the better in my opinion. Just do not go shorter than 3/8″, or you risk them pulling out. We then began assembly.

We used many staples to hold the fabric to the wood.  It was a little tricky, but my wonderful client did a tremendous job of getting the pockets sealed so no soil leaked out.  We actually got it right (I think, long term results will be the subject of a later post) the first time.

 final product.  

Here is the final product.

The Garden setting

This pallet and another one to be made will be the final touch to this yard project.  This yard was in fairly rough shape when I first saw it (sorry LK!).  Nothing but weeds throughout.  I added a gravel patio, raised vegetable beds, and pollinator friendly perennials throughout.  The pallets will hang on either side of the window on the blank white walls.  This will be the final touch to a wonderful transformation!

I was pretty surprised with how easy this actually was to make.  In the future, the plants should all fill in and really look like a garden.  Depending on the plants you select, the cost will come in anywhere from $100-$150 or so.  A few notes:  we wrapped the back of the pallet in a double layer of fabric to keep it neat and tidy.  This step should also help slow down evaporation.  If the pallet will be on a wall, I recommend a layer of heavy plastic also, to keep the wall from getting funky.  Water will make or break the success of this project.  I would be sure that the soil will want to dry out about every day.  I would plan on watering this once a day at least, more so if yours will be in direct sun.  Use a very light spray.  The mist setting on a selectable hose end sprayer is the best, as it will not wash out the soil.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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