Give a Weathered Wooden Planter a Pretty Facelift

Although it sounds like my neighborhood is about to get a very chilly dousing of heavy rain this weekend (thanks to Tropical Storm Andrea), the weather over the past couple weeks in New England has been downright summery. Which prompted me to go into a frenzy of giving the gardens, lawn and outdoor entry a solid sprucing up. After such long, cold winters, I feel like the happiest way to come home in the summer is to flowers and plants welcoming me at my door.

Last summer, we happened upon some sweet little wooden planters that fit perfectly on either side of the columns at our front door. We filled them with some heirloom cherry tomato plants and called it done — it was just the right dose of leafy greenness with gorgeous pops of red to greet us. The best part was that every time we arrived home with our daughter, she thought it was such a special treat to be able to grab a few tomatoes as we walked in the door.

After a full year of being exposed to the elements, those wooden planters had definitely WEATHERED. I actually love the way wood looks when it’s faded to that silvery gray patina after a few years left to its own devices, but the planters weren’t standing out crisply like I wanted them to against the brick walkway and white columns. I decided it was time for a makeover before I put them out with this year’s fruit plant of choice — container blueberry bushes!

I’m not going to lie, Elsa is going to have to fight me for that handful of  blueberries once they ripen. I grew up picking blueberries in Maine and I’ve never walked away from a sun-warmed blueberry in my life. Maybe my maternal instincts will squash my instinctive “MUST. EAT. BLUEBERRY.” mentality, but I wouldn’t bet on it. There might not be the gratifying kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk of blueberries in a pail like you get at a pick-your-own berry farm, but those little blue gems are as good as gone, between me and Elsa.


Step 1

 Open GalleryThe planters were in pretty rough shape from being out all winter (we strung up Christmas lights on tomato cages in the planters for a festive winter scene, so the planters never went into storage), so I gave them a good brushing off to get rid of any debris before I got started. Nothing like a leaf or cobweb stuck in your paintbrush to gum up the process. Once they were clean, I was ready to get started.

Step 2

 Open GalleryI knew I wanted to have some rich darkness in contrast with some crisp white, so I decided to use some stain (dark walnut) I had on hand from another project to darken the framing boards. With wood so rough, there was going to be no wiping off excess stain with a rag like you’d normally do to freshly sanded wood, but I liked the rich darkness I got from just brushing on one coat of the stain. One fewer step? Fine by me!

Step 3

 Open GalleryIt was at this point in the process that it started to rain and I had to move the whole project into the garage, so forgive the darkish light in these pictures. I grabbed a quart of water-based exterior paint from my local hardware store — no tint, just the plain white right off the shelf.

Step 4

 Open GalleryBecause the wood was rough and the stain wasn’t 100% dry, I used the most advanced of all painting tools to keep my white paint inside the lines — a piece of plastic from some packaging I had on hand. Ha! You could also use a wide putty knife, but the plastic was within arm’s reach and worked just fine. I just held it up to protect the stained surfaces, painted up to the edge of the plastic piece and moved on to the next section when that was done. Not going to lie, I might give that technique a go next time I’m edging. Taping is my most despised step in painting.

Step 5

 Open GalleryOnce the paint and stain were dry, I gave the whole thing a light and even coat of spar urethane. What’s that? It was new to me, too. When I was at the hardware store to grab my exterior paint, I mentioned that I was staining some areas, but that I couldn’t recall if the stain I had was interior/exterior stain. It was recommended to me that I give it a coat of spar urethane to seal the stain and protect the finish. You can see from my little materials and tools table that I also had gloves to prevent giving myself a “dark walnut” manicure, as well as my respirator mask. And, though I normally shy away from chemicals, you can’t save a brush you’ve used to stain without paint thinner. Up until now, I’ve always used those cheapo foam brushes and thrown them away afterwards to avoid the need for paint thinner, but the rough wood of my planter would have shredded a foam brush, so paint thinner was on the docket for clean up. Happily, my water-based exterior paint just required a good washing for the brush and it was like new.

Step 6

 Open Gallerya wooden planter painted in black and whiteThe finished product is perfect against the brick and white columns. I really wish I had a great shot of the planters outside with their happy blueberry bushes cheerfully welcoming you, but unfortunately, rain and a good camera are not a good mix and it was starting to look ominous, so I snapped a quickie of the finished product for you and ran like the wind to dodge the raindrops. From the sound of it, I won’t have another chance to do any outdoor picture-taking until at least next week (3-5 inches of rain forecast for us between now and Sunday night, yikes!), but at least the blueberries will get a good watering. More water means more berries, right? If that’s true, these might end up being the most well-watered blueberry bushes in New England this summer.


  • exterior paint
  • spar urethane
  • wood stain
  • paint thinner


About Ellen Foord 


A tight budget has never stopped Ellen Foord from creating a beautiful, modern, creative home and treating every day as one of life's smaller celebrations. A freelance writer and ...

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