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Building a Planter Box

Building a planter box is an excellent and popular way to have some woodworking fun and add some style to your deck, patio, walkway, or even your home’s interior. Planters are like miniature gardens, usually containing shrubs or flowers that improve the aesthetic quality of a given space and create low-impact, green boundaries. Boxes range from the wide and long to those small enough to attach to the outside of a window.

Actually building the box is one of the easier do-it-yourself projects out there, even for DIY novices. It will require some woodworking tools (hand tools, circular saw, etc.) and some attention to detail. As for material, wood is by far the most popular and the most recommended. It is relatively easy to work with and customize and has a natural and undeniable elegance that can be finished to accommodate any taste.

In truth, there are probably hundreds of different ways to build a planter box, all stemming from the basic box frame and improvising from there. Cedar planks, plywood, fir, pine, redwood; all these woods and more are possibilities. There are a plethora of planter box plans available online (examples below) which anyone can follow directly or improvise on. Yet regardless of how you build your planter box, there are some considerations that are universal.


  1. Space. Your first task is to measure the space where you want to use the planter box and thus figure on a size for the box itself. The type of plants you’ll be planting also matter in regard to size. The depth and width of the planter box should match the growing/rooting patterns of the plants involved. Secondly, don’t build a box that will overcrowd your deck or patio space.
  2. Rot, Wear, and Tear. When it comes to wooden planters, which type of wood you use is important. Cedar or redwood are naturally rot resistant and are quite popular, especially for smaller and stylish planters where the cost of the wood doesn’t get prohibitive. Pine, fir, or plywood can certainly be used, but it is best to use a Visqueen plastic lining (about 6 mil) to protect the wood from water and soil damage. Treated lumber is not recommended because of the chemicals in the wood and its relatively unsightly appearance—most treated wood is best left to raised garden beds.
  3. Drainage. It is important to allow water to drain from the planter box. This helps soil quality, protects the frame, and prevents stagnation. Sometimes this is as easy as drilling a few holes in the base or as (not very) involved as drilling a weep hole in the back side of the box and inserting a short, elbowed section of PVC pipe to give water somewhere to go. It is also a good idea, especially for larger planter boxes, to lay down a bed of gravel beneath the soil to aide water drainage.
  4. Fasteners. Always use galvanized nails or outdoor screws when building a planter box. It prevents rust and prolongs the life of the box. Glue or construction adhesive is often recommended too, as well as biscuit joints and other ancient tricks of the trade.
  5. Finish. The wood finish is up to you—paint, stain or varnish. Remember to prime wood surfaces before painting and follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying times (to touch AND to repaint).

Planter Box Plans

Some free online planter box plans and/or tutorials:

HowToMakeStuff.com - Simple plans using cedar planks, picket fence pegs and nails. Requires no power tools, complete with accompanying video.

Lowes.com - Learn to build a window box planter with these step-by-step instructions from Lowes. Plans are slightly challenging, with some bevel cuts to be made with a circular or table saw. Otherwise a very simple design.

BuildEazy.com - Links to free online plans for several different types of planter boxes, from a bucket planter to a garden wheelbarrow or wishing well planter. Plans are detailed and easy to follow.

Woodworking.About.com - About.com’s version takes on the larger, longer, plywood planter box complete with trim and built-in PVC drain. A good example of how to build with plywood, plastic, and drainage involved.

DIY Network - Not very visual plans, but very simple and accurate—a decent base to build your own plans from.

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