Friday, May 8, 2015

DIY Vertical Pallet Garden

I recently did a presentation on vertical gardens as part of a series of gardening classes offered by my local Master Gardener chapter. While preparing for this class, I researched the history of vertical gardening from grapevines and espalier trees to modern day hydroponic and bio walls... In current day gardening - sustainability, self sufficiency and growing your own food are the top trends. However, there has also been a decreasing size of yards and garden plots. Growing up instead of out - just seems to make sense...

Advantages to vertical gardening:
  • Saves space - A traditional horizontal garden has boundaries and limitations. In a vertical garden - the sky's the limit to potential gardening space! 
  • Easier harvest - Usually at eye level instead of kneeling, bending, etc...
  • Healthier plants / Bigger harvest - Many plants are susceptible to soil borne diseases. Bringing the vines or plants up off the ground, decreases the risk of disease and improves the air circulation which contributes to a healthier plant and a larger bounty.
There are a lot of new vertical systems on the market - walls, stackable containers, hydroponic planters, etc... but I am more interested in the DIY versions. If your search this topic on the internet, you're bound to come across a wooden pallet upcycled into a vertical planter. Prior to the class, I constructed a couple of these "pallet gardens" and thought I'd share the steps and my thoughts on this DIY project...

Choosing a Pallet:

If you're using the pallet for edibles, make sure the letters "HT" are included on the pallet's stamp. This stands for "heat treated" instead of using chemicals to preserve the wood. Also pallets come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Make sure the slats are positioned evenly with enough space between to allow for a planting area. The pallets are usually pine or oak. - The oak pallets are extremely heavy after the soil and plants are added. I would opt for a pine pallet for a edible garden, maybe oak for an decorative garden...

Craigslist:  Wooden pallets pine, oak and plywood
Graded prices: $2 - $3 - $($7 to $10 for larger ones) 
Supply List:
  • Landscape cloth - I used Preen Landscape Fabric
  • Staple gun and a lot of staples!
  • High quality potting soil
In the larger pallet, I stapled a double thickness of landscape cloth to the inside of the pallet. I saw this demonstrated on Growing a Greener World. - This step makes it easier to add the soil to the pallet.

Next staple a double thickness of the landscape cloth to the outside back and bottom of the pallet - leaving the top open. 

Stand the pallet upright and position it where you want it to be as a finished garden. - It'll be very difficult to relocate it once the soil and plants are added.

Add moistened potting through the top opening of the pallet. I used a broom to help pack the soil down into all the areas of the pallet.

Lay the pallet down horizontal and cut rectangular slits in the openings between the slats. I planted a variety of cool crop seeds: lettuce, spinach, kale. My intention was to leave the pallet horizontal until I wanted to plant summer crops: tomatoes, peppers, etc... Then I could still harvest salad greens, but free up garden space for additional plants.

Leave the pallet horizontal for 2-4 weeks to allow the roots to become established.

After 3 weeks my seeds had formed plants and roots capable of keeping the soil in place when I brought the pallet into the upright position.

I also made a vertical pallet garden to display the variety of sedums and succulents that I use in the living roofs and vertical planters I sell at our local farmers' market. For this garden I used an oak pallet, but cut in down in size - because of the weight...  I prepared it in the same fashion as my edible pallet, but instead of adding landscape cloth to the inside of the pallet, I screwed a scrape piece of wood to the front of the pallet. - This allowed me to fill the pallet with soil from the top while it was in a vertical position. I also added a board to the bottom of the pallet to make it more of a solid structure. A temporary board screwed to the top of the pallet helped to keep the soil in place until the planter was upright.

After I planted the sedums, I kept the pallet horizontal for 2 weeks to allow the roots to become established. Once the pallet was vertical, I removed the temporary board from the top and added more sedums to this open portion.

I was surprisingly pleased at how well this project turned out. - It's a fast, easy and inexpensive way to make a unique and functional wall garden. I have found that it's somewhat difficult to water. The planter is too heavy and awkward in handling to lay it horizontal and a lot of the water runs off the pallet when watering it in the vertical position. Even with it's downfalls, I'm still in favor of this vertical garden and I'll probably be making more in the future...


  1. This is great. thanks for sharing!

  2. Perhaps you could run a perforated pipe, like PVC or some other material, for watering down the inside center of the pallet (or two pipes, depending on how wide the pallet is) and then pack the soil in for planting. Kinda like the way some DIY vertical strawberry planters are designed for watering. The pallet planter could be awesome with strawberries. Just a thought. I like this idea and have it on the waaaaay-too-long to-do list. Cheers!

    1. That is a great idea! I was thinking about incorporating a soaker hose into the pallet then packing the soil around that, but the PVC pipe would be a better option.

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