Vertical Pallet Garden Project

I haven't been writing over here as often as I used to. I have been writing a lot for my Deep Roots Dance blog, and also developed and am writing for, aall while working on the re-design of (coming soon), and filming and editing a video project Shit Tribal Bellydancers Say and a Kickstarter campaign for Helene Eriksen. Whew! It's been a good kind of busy. Add to that the not-so-good stuff keeping me busy, including my brother being hospitalized in Oklahoma for nearly 6 weeks and succumbing to his illness last week, and hubby being diagnosed with cancer and now undergoing chemotherapy to kick its ass (which you can read about at yet ANOTHER blog of ours) is bound to not spend as much time on her "pleasure blog" (woah, that sounded really wrong, but you know what I mean!).

Over the weekend, as an attempt to get physical and busy to let my mind be at ease, I tackled a spontaneous project--a vertical pallet garden!  That is a garden made from shipping pallets which can then be propped up vertically. We had have long wanted a solution to better use the sunlight that hits the north section of our yard (southern exposure, FTW!), and increasing our snow pea plant crop this year meant we needed a better solution for climbing crops as well. This project seemed to solve both, and I happened to have a couple pallets, so bam!

I looked up many different tutorials, and as the project developed, my plan evolved (as it often does). At the end of this page, there are a list of some of the tutorials which inspired my design, none of which did I use in their entirety, but will help you on your way.

My goal was to use as much of the resources we already had on hand. Chris suggested we buy more wood and build little planting boxes into the whole thing. Not a bad idea frankly, but to me it kind of defeated the purpose of making this rustic, recycled pallet garden. With that amount of work and resources, we might as well just build a planter "bookshelf"and when we were done, a full 50-60% of the project would have had to be other wood to make that a reality. So I adapted my own version, taking into account materials we already had, and a design cobbled from other tutorials and the ever-evolving plan as I went along.

Step 1 - Procure Pallet

This was the easy step for us. We sod our front yard as part of our landscaping makeover last summer. I saved the pallets in hopes that I would find a worthy project for them. Our pallets are a "single face" (top image and right). This means there are  2X4's as the main portion, and the slats are only attached to one side. Some pallets have the slats on both the top and bottom--a "double face" (bottom image)

If you can get a double face pallet for your project, that would be ideal. For us with single face pallets, it meant we had to put some slats along the back to for our intended purpose.

Also note that different pallets will have varied spacing between the slats. Ours felt too narrow to plant in it "as is" for the plants we wanted to plant. If we were making only an herb garden, or perhaps more decorative like rows of succulents or other small interesting plants, then the above tutorials and the pallet without alteration would have worked out great for us.  But we had other plans in mind...

Our pallets were really rough. They were splintery and some of the wood pieces were clearly rejected scrap with splits and knots. You may find you get very nice pallets with smooth wood. We liked the rustic look just fine, but newer ones will look...well...newer. They will also take stain or paint better, if that is part of your plan.

IMPORTANT: Make sure your pallet is heat treated and not chemically treated. Sometimes the wood has "HT" embossed into the wood. Those are Good Pallets. Also, particularly if you are planting edibles in your garden, pallets which transported plants or other innocuous matter is more desirable. Avoid anything that looks like it has been carrying chemicals, paints, etc, as they may be contaminated and could leach into your soil. Hitting up a Home Depot or Lowes for pallets can be a good place to start. Appliance stores also often have lots of pallets they want to get rid of, and carried cardboard boxes with stoves in them--pretty safe bet they will work for your needs.

Step 2 - Adapt Pallet As Needed

We removed two slats from the top edge (this would be where our climbing peas will grow), and then every other slat after that. As you will see in the finished images, our two pallets, though from the same company and shipment date, had a different number of slats on it. We were actually pleased that they were a little different, so they look even more rustic and not so "matchy" when finished.You can see one of the pallets here on the right, with every other slat removed it had two slats left at the bottom. Its cousin by comparison was left with one slat at the bottom.

It was kind of a huge pain to get the slats off our pallets, as they were nailed together firmly, and then left all winter in the rain and snow, so they had rusted. While most of the project I did on my own, this was one area where I needed Chris' brawn to step in and save the day.  In pulling out the slats we needed to remove and attach to the back, some of the slats split. A few were still usable with a little splitting, but we had to scrounge up some scrap 1X4 wood from an old fence we took apart years ago (hoarding works!), which we cut up and used to replace those slats that were unusable. All this to say if you remove slats to make larger planting nooks, if you have room to do so, save that wood for other projects! You never know when they will come in handy!

As for our removed slats, we flipped the pallet around and attached them on the back side of the pallet with wood screws, evenly aligned with the front slats, making our own "double face" pallet from its own pieces. Voila!

For the uprights for the pea trellis portion, I bought a couple 1X4 furring strips at Lowes (about $1.50 apiece), which I cut in half and attached to the back with the wood screws. To the right you see the pallet set up ready to be painted.

See the sad little "trellis" we had for the peas on the back right? That's gone now!

Step 3 - Adorn If Desired

I kind of liked the look of the raw pallets as they were. But by adding the furring strip uprights for the pea trellis in a different wood, it didn't please my eye. Besides, I had wanted to bring some more vibrant color into the garden, so I decided I wanted to paint them some contemporary colors. There are lots of inspiration out there for painting. them. lovely. colors. or staining. them. I had a rough idea when I went to the store what colors I was seeking, and Lowes just happened to have a central stack of Valspar Exterior spray paint in some of the colors I had in mind. Good work, Lowes.

I chose spray paint intentionally, as I wanted the wood grain to still show through. Kind of more like a milk paint effect. If you want a more saturated, slick finish, then I recommend painting with a brush or roller instead. It took one whole can to get just the exposed faces of one pallet to the point I wanted it. So if you were trying to get a more opaque finish, or paint every surface, you will need more than one can.



Step 4 - Make Dirt Hammocks

We had big wide gaps between our slats, so we weren't doing the project as most people seem to--simply wrapping the back with landscape fabric and pressing the soil firmly into the pallet, blocking the gaps with plants.  So I made a modification that suited our needs.

On the first pallet, I wrapped the back with landscaping fabric and stapled it in place generously.  Having a good strong high-grade staple gun will help with this. Not craft staple guns with itty bitty staples, friends, but a decent stapling tool with 3/8" staples. This image is not mine, but shows how one person did it. I didn't want my landscape fabric to show anywhere on the front, so I made a point to staple it as best I could while keeping it on the back of the project. Lots of staples and grumbling as I tried to keep the fabric taut and staple firmly. We had a couple rolls of really really strong landscaping fabric we had used to line our doggie bathroom area of the yard, so we didn't have to double it up as some projects call for. YMMV.  We skipped this step on the second pallet because we weren't "stuffing" the pallet as some tutorials call for. Since we had little dirt pockets, it wasn't necessary.

Then I took rectangles of the landscaping fabric and stapled them so they made a little hammock for dirt to sit in--a U-shape which attaches between the front and back slats. Staples can be hidden in various ways, but once your plants grow out you won't see them anyway, so decide for yourself if this is important to you.

Here is how I did mine.

Cut your landscaping fabric so it is twice the depth of the hammock/pocket you want, with at least an inch extra for folding over your fabric. For width, note how much wider the rectangles are than the gap they are filling? That is so they will overlap inside preventing soil from slipping out. A couple inches wider than the gap width is a safe bet.

I laid the landscaping fabric along the front slat with the side I wanted to show on the outside facing out. I stapled along the top edge, attaching it to the slat.This is so that the fabric will overlap in their little sling, helping prevent soil from running out when you water it.
I then flipped the landscape fabric over toward the back, tucking the little hammock down into the gap. This will cover your staples on the front edge of your soil pocket.  Turn the back edge under a half inch and staple all along it, anchoring it to the back slat. Those staples will show for now, but not that much and once the plants are put in they won't show at all. (Aside: isn't it neat how the wood grain shows through the paint, like milk paint? I like the effect.)

Along either side your fabric overlaps to form the sides of the pocket. When you tuck it together, it should be kind of like when you're making the bed (hospital corners). Fold the top edge down and staple it in place. You can also reach down into the pocket and staple it in a few more places to really secured the fabric and keep any soil from slipping out, but I wasn't worried about this. Once the full weight of the soil is pressed up against it, I feel it will hold it well shut.

When you're done, Fill the pocket with potting soil, and you will have a series of little plant hammocks just waiting to be planted!

Step 4.5 - Chicken Wire For the Pea Trellis

I wrapped the uprights with chicken wire (which we also had on hand from another project) and stapled in place on the back, for the snap peas to climb. If you don't have uprights or trellis plans, this step is not needed.

Step 5 - Plant Stuff!

I had already picked out some strawberry and spinach starts to plant, in addition to the snap peas we already had, which you can kind of see in the green garden on the right.  Since the one pallet had the extra slat, I pressed some sweet alyssum into the space for color and to block the gap, since we didn't do a little hammock in that bottom space.  We are deciding what to put in the other spaces, PLUS we have a whole second one to finish up which has more peas and beans just waiting to go in.  Chris loves the results so much, he was already asking if we could run out and get a couple more pallets and make two more, paint them in two more colors, and line them up along the back hedge there to grow even more in them!

I look forward to them growing in a bit more and seeing how they flesh out overall. BTW, this image was taken today, during a bit of a windstorm. The white all over the deck and lawn is apple blossoms from the huge apple tree which hangs over our yard from the east. I can't go out and finish the second pallet garden until things warm up and stop blowing around.

I also wanted to note that right now, those are just leaning up against the back hedge. Our plan is to make legs by running a bolt through the 2X4's and attaching legs which allow it to be adjusted to stand more upright or lean back more as we like.

Here is a complete slideshow of the work we have done so far.

References and Inspiration
Great photo walkthrough--lots of other tutorials refer back to this one, in fact.
More good pictures and walkthrough.
This has a practical suggestion to back the entire piece with plywood, then plant through landscape fabric to avoid soil loss
This one is made to attach to a wall, which is not necessary, but is an option
These colorful ones inspired me to use vibrant colors on our gardens.
A RIDICULOUS number of awesome ideas for reclaimed pallets. Indoors, outdoors, furniture, art, you name it! 70+ Additional reclaimed pallet project ideas!

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On this blog I share my personal posts about cooking and knitting, travel and other musings; while I will blog about dance-specific topics over on the Deep Roots Dance blog:

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