DIY Wooden Planter: Elevated Patio Garden

Finished planter box with plants

This simple DIY elevated garden planter is designed for minimal waste and cost, and is easily customizable. The recipe can be tailored to create a larger or smaller box, a taller or shorter stand. Add drain ports in the bottom or a trellis on the back. The method of construction here is probably a little more organic than what you are used to, at least where measurements are concerned. One reason is that I used cedar, which tends to be slightly cupped and the board thicknesses/widths are rarely consistent. Plus the box is designed with minimal bracing — only enough to hold itself together — so cutting it to fit made the most sense to me.

The real structure of this wooden planter is provided by the base. If you plan on using only the box and not the stand, you’ll need to add some extra support into the bottom of the box. The project as a whole is designed to hold upward of 400 lbs, enough for the wet soil and plants. One last note: This elevated garden planter was designed so that the two pieces could be transported individually through the office and onto our third floor patio. Learn more about our staff garden.

Cut list: This list is variable based on the size of the box and the fluctuation of the board dimensions. The cut list is achieved in an organic fashion through the process described below, i.e. the measurements are determined by the process in a measure-as-you-go method. You can pre-cut all of the pieces to the cut list, however, because of the materials, you may need to trim a board or two to make it all fit together nicely.

1x6x6’ (4)
1×6 x22 (6)
1x6x73 1/2” (6)

2x2x 22” (2)
2x2x 13” (4)
2x2x14 1/2 (2)

4x4x 23 3/4 (4)

2x4x6’ (2)
2x4x 19 3/8” (4)

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Step 1

Rip one of the 2×4’s into 2×2’s. You can get (2) 8’ lengths plus a little sliver from the middle. Doing this first can save you a little time later. The 2×2 will be used as structure for the box.

Step 2

 Open GalleryLay the boards out so you can get a good look

Lay ‘em all down and select the worst looking ones for the box bottom.

The box bottom: Lay out all the 1×6’s on the ground. Pick out the worst 4. Look for splits, knots, warping, etc. These are going to be the bottom of the box. Now cut them to 6’ in length. While you’re at it, cut 2 of the 2×4’s to 6’ and set them aside. These will be used later for the stand.

Step 3

 Open GalleryMeasure the width of 4 boards together.

Measure the width of 4 boards together. Mark the width on a fifth piece.

Measure the width of the bottom: Lay the 4 bottom boards next to each other and measure the width of them. Together they should be around 22”. This measurement will be end boards and the end brace.

Step 4

 Open GalleryCutting the boards to length on the mitre saw.

Cut 22″ off the remaining 6 boards. These pieces will be the box ends.

The box ends: Take the measurement from step 2 (in my case 22”) and cut that much from each of the remaining 6 boards. These will be the box ends. While you’re at it, cut 2 pieces of the 2×2 (from step 1) at the same length.

Step 5

 Open GalleryStarting the end panels

The box ends are made up of 3 pieces of 1x and 3 pieces of 2×2

Start the end panels: You’ll need 2 of the end pieces and the 2 braces for this step to start the end panels. The braces will be attached 2 1/4” from the edge of the 1x6s (we’ll call this the bottom). Using clamps to hold them together, pre-drill 2 holes 6” from the end and attach with 1 5/8″ screws.

Step 6

 Open GalleryAttach the ends

I used a clamp to hold the 3 end boards together while screwing them to the corner braces.

Corner braces: Lay each of the assembled pieces on the flat side alone with 2 more of the end pieces. Measure the distance from the top of the brace to the end of the three boards. It should be in the 13 1/8 neighborhood. Cut 4 pieces of the 2×2 to this length. these will be the corner braces. Attach them along the edges of the 1x6s by pre-drilling and screwing the 1×6 to the bracing.

Step 7

Finish the ends: Strengthen the joint between the bottom brace and the corner braces by drilling up through the bottom and driving a 3” screw into each corner. You now have the 2 box ends.

Step 8

 Open GalleryScrew the bottom 4 boards to the box ends.

Clamp the ends to a workbench or sawhorses if you can. It makes the assembly a bit easier.

Join the bottom and the ends: Attach the 4 bottom boards to the ends by pre-drilling and 1 5/8” screws. I used clamps to hold the end panels to my bench for this part.

Step 9

 Open GalleryAttach the sides to the braces and to the end boards at the corner.

See that board hanging over the end? I thought it would be a good idea to leave them all long and then cut them flush. It didn’t work out so well.

Box sides: Measure the outside length of the box. It should be around 73 1/2”. Those 6 remaining long pieces of 1×6? Cut those to this length. Attach the sides to the corner braces. See that overhang in the picture? DON’T do this. I actually left sides long and cut them flush after assembly. What ended up happening for me is I ended up with some sloppy ends.

Step 10

Attach the sides to the bottom boards using 1 5/8” deck screws. My method: locate the center and pre-drill holes every 12” outward from center. Pop an extra screw in each of the corners to attach the sides to the ends.

Step 11

 Open GalleryAttach the center braces

The braces in the center of the box provide some rigidity to the planter box.

Side braces: Set the assembled box on its bottom. On the inside of the box, measure from the bottom to the top. You should get a measurement of around 14 1/2. Cut 2 pieces of 2×2 to this length. Attach these vertically inside the box in the middle. Flip the box over and drive a 3” screw through the bottom into the side brace.

Step 12

 Open GalleryCut the 4x4 post into 4 pieces.

By cutting the post just shy of 2′, we can get all of the legs from one 8′ board.

Cut the 4×4 post into (4) 23 3/4″ lengths. Why? So you can get 4 legs out of a single 4×4.

Step 13

 Open GalleryOrient and mark the legs

The triangle marking helps you keep the legs oriented correctly, without having to remember.

Put the legs in a nice little stack like this, simulating their placement on the base. I like to rotate them so that the best sides are outwards. Mark a triangle on the bottom to indicate their position in the group. Note which faces will be the outside edges.

Step 14

 Open GalleryMark the waste areas with pencil so there's no mistaking where to cut.

Marking the wood to remove with pencil makes it clear what goes and what stays.

Mark the locations some notches. The notches will mate up with the 2×4’s, so they will be the height and depth of a 2×4 (which is not actually 2”x4”).

Step 15

 Open GallerySet the saw depth just a little shy.

No matter what kind of saw you are using, cut a bit conservatively. It’s easier to remove a little wood with a chisel than to add wood back.

Set your saw to the depth of a 2×4 and make a series of cuts on the outside edges (outside in relationship to the stack in step 2).

Step 16

 Open GalleryMake a series of consecutive cuts

This may take a bit of time, but it is the safest approach when using a circular or table saw. The technique is different for a band saw or a hand saw.

Make a series of cross cuts to get the party started. A table saw is more efficient than a circular saw. A band saw might be even better. The first planter I built, I used a Japanese hand saw, but that is going to be the next post.

Step 17

 Open GalleryRemove the waste wood with a chisel

This is probably the most intimidating step. Don’t sweat it, it doesn’t have to be perfect to look at. The important part is that it’s square.

Use a chisel to remove what is left. It doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect, so don’t sweat a little grove here or there. The point is that the weight of the box and soil will pass through the 2×4’s into the leg at this point. It will also serve as the foundation for the structure.

Step 18

 Open GalleryMark and cut the stand bracing.

Measure twice, cut once, or don’t measure at all. Hold the 2×4 in position, mark it with a pencil. Cut off the the extra. If that sets off your OCD, it should.

Stand braces: Take the box and flip it upside down. Remember the 6’ 2×4’s? Place them in the bottom of the box. If they are a little too long, trim a little off. If they’re a tad short, don’t sweat it, not a biggie. What we’re doing here is measuring the space in-between the 2x4s. It should be in the neighborhood of 19 1×4”. Be sure to make the this measurement at the ends of the box as well as in the middle. I found that my middle was slightly narrower than the ends. Cut 4 pieces to fit a little loosely in between the 2×4’s. Really the easiest way to do this is to put a 2×4 in place, mark it and cut it, custom fitting each to its position.

Step 19

 Open GalleryAttach the middle support beams.

The two center supports provide stiffness for the 1×6′s on the box. Without these supports, the box will break under the weight of the soil.

Add additional supports: Add the additional supports 2’ from each end and attach with 3” screws.

Step 20

 Open GalleryClamp the legs in place. Pre-drill and screw the 2x4s to the legs.

Clamp the legs in place. Pre-drill and screw the 2x4s to the legs.

Attach the legs: Lay the sides and end 2×4’s on out in a loose rectangle. Take a leg and turn it upside-down and clamp it into place in a corner of the 2×4’s (the notches you cut out should mate nicely to the 2×4’s).  Check for square. Pre-drill and screw into place using 3” screws. Do the same on the end pieces (clamp, drill, screw).

Step 21

 Open GalleryLast but not least: landscape fabric

Drill some drain holes and staple in some landscape fabric.

The finish: Place the box on top of the stand. Drill 3/4 inch drain holes 12” from each end. Staple landscape fabric into the box and fill it with soil mix.

Project Resources

If you’re into Sketchup, download the full-scale model.

Materials

  • 4x4x8 (1) cedar
  • 1x6x8 (10) cedar
  • 2x4x8 (4) cedar
  • 1 5/8” deck screws (1 box)
  • 3” deck screws (1 box)
  • landscape fabric
  • staples

Tools

  • Saw (mitre, table, jig, circular or hand saw)
  • Chisel
  • Drill & drill bit
  • Screw driver
  • Staple gun
  • Clamps
About Dan Lipe 

12Posts

I’m a Senior Interaction Designer, focused on creating compelling and intuitive user experiences. During my 15+ years in the design field, I’ve worked in print, corporate identity and digital media ...

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4 Responses

  1. Dan says:

    @ Mel: What a great question. There is a lot of discussion across the internet about whether you can or can't. Some people say you can if you let it sit for a while before constructing your beds. Some people say that it is OK until the wood starts to break down. So, to avoid any issues all the way around, we used western red cedar. I'd also like to add that the cedar is lighter in weight, easier to work and smells better than treated lumber. I purchased mine from a local lumber yard, as the box stores didn't carry the 4×4 post.

  2. Mel Hill says:

    Is it okay to eat any veggies grown in the treated wood or will the chemicals get into the roots?

    • Adele says:

      You cannot use pressure treated wood. They use chemicals to weather proof the wood which leach out and are poisonous.

  3. Lisa Tipton says:

    I love this. I need at least 3 of these, so I can keep gardening. It has become extremely difficult since my RA diagnosis, but I am still doing a little. I have to have my hands in the dirt. Thanks for the plans.

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