Are you a city dweller like yours truly with an insane amount of concrete in your "garden"? Are you reliant on planter boxes and want to take it up to the next level? Do you only have one sunny area that's right against the wall in your garden? Sounds like you need a pallet garden! It's a good weekend project that looks really cool with very little effort (though a decent amount of heavy lifting).
You will need:
- a pallet (check your local grocery store for spare pallets. It should be in relatively good condition with no rotting parts.)
- potting soil for filling the pallet (one large bag should be enough)
- a staple gun with staples
- rough grit sandpaper
- gardening gloves
- landscape fabric (also known as "the stuff you put down to keep weeds from growing under the tanbark in your garden." It can easily be found at your local garden or home supply store.)
- 2 size packs of flowers per open area of your pallet (shallow-rooted plants are the best, since there is a not a lot of space in the pallet for large root structures)
- paint and paintbrushes (optional)
Step 1: Sand that sucker
Because pallets are made with low-quality wood, they are just about LOADED with splinters. Sanding it down will not only make it easier for you to handle, but it will also prevent the landscape fabric from tearing when you lay it down. Be careful how enthusiastic you are when sanding, so you don't accidentally sand through your gloves and then stab yourself with a stray splinter.
Step 2: (Optional) Paint the slats
If you have any spare paint laying around, I highly recommend painting the front-facing slats a variety of complementary colours. It adds a lot of dimension and hides any blemishes that are on the wood. It add an extra day to your project, to allow the paint to dry before continuing onwards, though, so be warned.
Step 3: Measure out your landscape fabric
Once the paint has sufficiently dried, flip the pallet over so that the fewer-slatted side is facing up. Measure the landscape fabric out and add a couple of inches beyond the length of the pallet. Depending on how thick your fabric is, you may need a double layer (as shown above).
Step 4: Staple the fabric down
Stretch the fabric so it is taut against the back of pallet, staple the landscape fabric down along three sides and along all of the back slats. The staples should be several inches apart. Depending on the width of your fabric, you may need to repeat the process twice, to fully cover the pallet.
Step 5: Cover the bottom edge of the pallet with landscape fabric
Flip the pallet on its edge, so you can tuck the extra fabric into the bottom of the pallet. This should create a mild seal, so the dirt doesn't fall straight out of your pallet garden when you stand it up right.
Using the mitered corner technique your grandmother taught you (wait, is that just me? Okay, you can use any old smooth and even corner fold), fold down the extra fabric and staple it along the bottom of the pallet, so that it drapes over your painted slats.
If there is a slat running down the middle of the pallet (as there is in most large pallets) cut a slit in the extra fabric to create two sections.
Tuck the extra fabric into the middle of the pallet. If you have a staple gun that unfolds, then staple the extra fabric to the inside of the bottom slat. If not, fold up the extra fabric and staple it to the top of the bottom slat.
Step 6: Fill the pallet with dirt and plants
Move the pallet near to the location where you want it to end up, so you don't have to move it particularly far once it is loaded down with dirt and plants. Prop up the pallet slightly, for increased easy lifting.
Now, start planting! Put the topmost layer of plants (shown here as the purple lettuce and herbs) in first, making sure that plants are packed tightly next to each other.
Add the potting soil to the pallet, so that it is mostly full with dirt.
Add the rest of the plants to the open slat areas. Again, pack the plants tightly next to each other, so they don't fall out when tilted up.
Let the pallet sit for at least three days, to let the roots take hold before tilting the pallet vertical. The longer you let it sit, the less dirt will fall out. (Admitted, I let my pallet sit for literally weeks before I was able to move it and some dirt still fell out, so it's kind of the law of diminishing returns here.)
Step 7: Move the pallet garden to the wall location of choice
Before you start this step, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AT LEAST ONE OTHER PERSON TO HELP YOU. Pallets are relatively awkward to carry to begin with, and filling them with dirt and plants only makes it worse. I was able to move my pallet with only one other person's help, but let me tell you, it was strug (as my 16 year old sister would say). If you can avoid it, try not to move the pallet more than 15 feet and preferably not uphill.
No pictures of this step, since it was a multi-person extravaganza and there was no one left to take pictures :/.
And remember, lift with your knees, not your back!
Step 8: Enjoy your vertical garden!
After all of your labour, enjoy your beautiful vertical pallet garden! It will certainly gather lots of compliments and adds a wonderful pop of colour to your otherwise grey and concrete filled garden. Pallet gardens also make great gardens for the front of your house, as they have remarkably little footprint and are pretty tamper-proof, due to how heavy they are.