Building Raised Planters for Succulents, Cacti and Other Exotics

(Editor’s Observe: This text was initially printed on September 26, 2008. Your feedback are welcome, however please remember that authors of beforehand printed articles might not be capable to reply to your questions.)

I’ve created quite a few planter bins. About 80% of all my crops are rising in them now, and I’ve found a couple of issues that work effectively, together with many pitfalls. I hope to move alongside a few of these painful experiences to anybody planning on making some planter bins of their very own. Although I develop all kinds of issues in planter bins, most of my crops are succulents and so they have some particular concerns you could not have to be involved about if rising different crops. Since my price range was pretty restricted, I made a decision upon wooden, for price and ease of creation. This text is what I did, whether or not proper or flawed.

Once I first moved to this property, I used to be involved about our pets (Eight canines, 2 cats and a hen) and the way they’d ‘get alongside’ with our crops (and the 1000’s of crops but to be added to the gathering.) Most crops I develop are both poisonous or fairly hazardous for different causes, corresponding to spines. As a veterinarian, it simply would not look good to maintain dashing my very own animals to the clinic to deal with them for environmental sicknesses. Probably the greatest methods to maintain the crops and pets separate was to place a lot of the crops in raised beds.


(Left) A number of of my crops awaiting reassignment . (Proper) Canine that have to be stored from the crops

Another excuse for raised beds is my soil. It’s practically pure clay, which isn’t a pleasant soil for a lot of the succulents and cacti (in addition to the tropicals) I needed to develop. Raised planters appeared the most suitable choice. That is the place good planning comes into play. Too dangerous I’m a horrible planner, however fortunately, it labored out okay.

ImageThe NON-succulents additionally awaiting a house.

My yard was as soon as a big garden, a clean canvas upon which I might create my ‘artwork’. At instances I reminisce concerning the misplaced open house, the garden and the simplicity of all of it, however it certain is much more attention-grabbing now. I first staked out the areas the place I needed planter bins, and tried to plan the entire thing all the way down to the inch. Finally I simply started to dig holes and put in posts, abandoning the inflexible plans; issues bought much more attention-grabbing that manner. I do NOT suggest doing issues my manner, although. It’s best to stay to a plan. And earlier than you refill your total yard with planter bins, bear in mind you may want a spot for a barbeque, a shady place to sit down or lie down, a spot to play, a spot for a shed or greenhouse, and so on. My yard was principally too tiny for many of these luxuries if the primary purpose was to have all of the attainable planting house attainable. Work out priorities beforehand.

ImageImageClean slate (yard)

By the way in which, if you’re planning on sticking planter bins on a garden of Bermuda grass, it could be greatest to not skip the half about eliminating the garden first. I figured that two ft of soil on prime of grass was sufficient to kill it off, and that may be the top of that. Bermuda grass laughs at two ft of soil, and for 2 or three years I battled the grass popping up all over. Ten bottles of Roundup focus later and the grass is not a problem. Nonetheless, ONE bottle of Roundup beforehand would have made issues rather a lot simpler. It’s not simple spraying bits of Bermuda grass amongst delicate crops, attempting to not kill them off on the similar time. That is notably true of crops rising in spiny, vicious plant collections far far-off from attain. I could have misplaced a number of liters of blood in my Roundup efforts over time.

For supplies I used 2-by 6-inch handled pine. I’ve used redwood previously and it appears to be like nice initially, it’s lighter and simpler to work with: fewer splinters and accepts screws with a lot much less effort. However after a couple of months all the nice shade fades until it is handled with a water sealer (although it nonetheless fades ultimately.) Redwood prices considerably extra and rots a lot sooner if untreated. I suppose if you wish to undergo the trouble of coating every board in a wooden sealer, redwood can be an excellent choice. THAT would have been far an excessive amount of work for me, nonetheless.

Image ImageImage

(Left) A board and instruments to measure and lower. (Center) Early on I staked out planters with posts (quickly gave that up.) (Proper) Measuring is NOT my robust swimsuit so generally issues simply did not line up and additional items of wooden must be slipped in to make issues sq..

Plastic boards are additionally accessible, however require extra help (they bend simply below numerous weight) and value much more; however they by no means rot. In the event you can help them and afford them, plastic is de facto the way in which to go. I’ve additionally used 4-by 6-inch pine however it’s practically not possible to seek out screws lengthy sufficient to undergo the boards; hooking them collectively requires way more work and {hardware} than I’m prepared to place forth.

Railroad ties are wonderful for planter bins, however the creosote may be very poisonous, arduous to noticed via (wears down electrical noticed blades in a rush, and WAY an excessive amount of work to noticed via by hand, which is how I often have accomplished it) and they’re REALLY heavy. And in my dinky yard, the thickness of those large logs would have lowered my planting space considerably.

For help, I used 4-by 4-inch nook posts, sinking them into the bottom about 2 to three ft, and securing them with posthole concrete. I do NOT suggest doing this if you’re renting the property, as digging out concrete posts is a LOT of labor. Additionally be certain you haven’t any utility traces in the way in which (the utility firms will often come out to your property and find the traces totally free) I’ve had my share of experiences digging into pipes however fortunately nothing ever got here of it (whew!). You should definitely put these posts in precisely the place they’re needed as they’re not possible to maneuver as soon as the concrete units up. I additionally ensure I plant them straight up and down (nothing ruins a planter greater than sloppy angles, and nothing makes a planter tougher to place collectively than un-square corners and improperly measured dimensions.

Image Nook posts and boards.

Posthole concrete is reasonable and could be acquired in baggage sufficiently small to hold. Finest to dig deeper than crucial after which fill the opening with a little bit of gravel or rocks (wooden posts rot extra slowly if not setting in mud.) Set the publish then fill the opening roughly one-third with water, dump in half the concrete, tamp down and repeat till concrete is just under soil stage. Most instructions on concreting posts say to fill the concrete simply ABOVE soil stage, however then it’s a must to take care of a concrete mound whereas placing within the help boards, so ignore that suggestion.


Posts being put in (and one ready); taller posts used for an overhead shade construction AND nook posts for planter bins.

I deliberate forward and left the posts taller than crucial, figuring I might lower them all the way down to measurement later. This further top allowed me to position poles throughout (railings) the perimeters of the planter field (for appears to be like or to maintain canines out), and gave me ready-made posts ought to I wish to make a plant stand on the corners of the planters (seems I just about made each nook publish within the yard right into a plant stand since I’ve so little room within the yard for free-standing plant stands). This was one of many few issues I did proper and deliberate upfront.


Just about each nook publish within the yard has been used as a plant stand. I used to be glad I made these posts tall!

Brick or stackable concrete blocks are additionally nice to make use of, however brick wants reinforcement and footings which are manner an excessive amount of work (and/or cash) for me. I’ve brick planters out entrance that got here with the home and the brick is well knocked down by aggressive root techniques; growing older concrete can provide manner by itself. The stackable concrete items are too simple to climb for the canines, too thick (take up an excessive amount of house and reduce my valuable planting space) and a bit too heavy for my again. Stackable massive bricks are nice, look good, however price an excessive amount of cash. However had I to do it over again, I most likely would do it that manner (extra everlasting, appears to be like good longer, and might help numerous dust with out reinforcement.) NEXT time…

ImageA mini planter of stackable bricks used as an accent for a prized plant.

Since I used 2-inch thick wooden (actually 1.5-inches thick–I am unsure why that’s; it is a development factor, however appears a little bit of a mislead me), 2.5-inch or 3-inch screws work effectively. I used deck screws, although drywall screws appear to work effectively, too. Drywall screws rust, however they do not appear to deteriorate any sooner than the wooden does; they’re sharp and straightforward to screw. Additionally drywall screws do not are likely to strip out. I don’t use nails: an excessive amount of bodily exertion and I can not hit a nail straight anyway. Screws are simpler to take away if it turns into essential to disassemble the planter. Additionally I discover hammering nails extra more likely to shift issues about and never have them line up as effectively, and the wooden is extra more likely to break up aside. However these are actually simply excuses. I’m a foul nailer.

Wooden protectants improve the lifetime of the planter wall. It’s endorsed so as to add extra wooden remedy/preservative (particularly since there are lower ends on practically each piece that expose the untreated wooden inside.) Observe: wooden protectants are fairly poisonous, so watch out when you’ve got pets about. And a few wooden preservatives have poisonous substances that may be absorbed via the pores and skin (particularly copper) so use gloves! Moreover, if you’re attempting to guard the wooden, tarpaper works effectively as an inside liner for the planter bins. I didn’t use this on most bins (tarpaper is roofed with tar and is messy to work with, to not point out irritating and numerous extra work.) However a single layer of tarpaper between wooden and soil can considerably improve the lifetime of a planter field.


Since I used the home as a again wall for this planter, I positioned tarpaper towards the home for added safety towards rot and put on

When you’ve got pets, and the price range, it could be greatest to make the planter bins 4 boards excessive. I want typically I had accomplished this myself. Two boards are ineffective for protecting pets out, although a major financial savings. 4 boards are tall sufficient to maintain most canines out, however expensive and the upper the field, the weaker the highest boards develop into. I compromised at three boards and watched with frustration as a number of the canines hopped proper into the brand new bins. So I ended up making rebar boundaries above the planter bins that made hopping in a bit tougher… and truly regarded considerably decorative.


Two completely different planters displaying the railing added to maintain canines out.

For many succulents, potting soil works nice for planter bins, although I like to recommend amending it with numerous pumice (or perlite) if that’s accessible. Giant silica sand (measurement 12 is an efficient one) can be nice, however would not go far (MANY baggage might be wanted to fill any quantity of house). High-quality sand can really make drainage worse so watch out to keep away from the tremendous positive sands bought at most backyard outlet facilities. For a lot of of my planter bins I simply purchased a lot of baggage of cactus soil and amended it with wooden chips and pumice. However had I to do it over again, I may need stuffed ALL of them with soil purchased in bulk. And I might strongly suggest for succulent gardening a backside layer of low cost however non-compressible materials (rock, gravel, and so on.) It helps promote drainage and fills the underside half of the planters with cheaper materials that doesn’t break down considerably over time. Potting soils develop into packed in only one 12 months of watering and soil ranges can drop as much as 8″ (making the planter bins seem like pits fairly than planting surfaces). For lots of the bins I ‘redid’, I put in numerous massive, gentle, comparatively low cost feather (a.ok.a. ‘razor’) rocks. These allowed me to save lots of on soil, put in one thing that didn’t pack over time, and likewise made for a way more attention-grabbing planting floor. Nonetheless, an excessive amount of rock stacked up excessive additionally decreases planting space. And razor rock is SHARP (principally tough volcanic glass) so CAREFUL! However it’s simple to cut holes in and use as in-built pots as effectively. Due to the packing phenomenon, plan forward and actually mound the dust up excessive, or you’ll finish up–just as I’ve–taking lots of the crops out later and replanting them after including in much more dust. That is OK when you’re coping with succulents as most transfer simply and tolerate this type of abuse. However I additionally planted palms and enormous cacti in numerous the planter bins and these make such replanting operations sophisticated (many palms simply do not transfer effectively, and large cacti are actually a ache to maneuver.)


(Left) Trucked in soil was used within the bigger planter bins. (Proper) Bagged soil used on this later planter field.

Had I to do it once more, I most likely would truck in decomposed granite. It would not compact practically as a lot and drains nice and it is cheaper. Then I might have added amendments as wanted. I might nonetheless use rocks for dimension and panorama variation. However I’ve to say, my crops have been extremely pleased with the potting soil and I get some more healthy trying crops than I’ve seen anyplace else in my local weather so maybe the richer soils haven’t been such a foul thought, regardless of their tendency to ‘disappear’ (see article on the metaphysics of dust.)

One factor it is best to NOT do is add leaf litter or mulch to potting soil. This may occasionally enhance drainage and maybe make the soil richer and extra nutritious (neither drainage or nutritive worth are widespread issues with most potting soils although)… however it REALLY compacts down over time. I’ve this actually annoying magnolia tree that dumps tons of leaves each spring… what an incredible thought to fill the bottoms of the planter bins with this ready-made mulch AND an effective way to get rid of all these leaves! The planters I’ve stuffed with magnolia leaves have needed to have dust added at the least two instances, and doubtless must be replanted a 3rd. At this level, replanting shouldn’t be actually sensible. In one other planter I added a number of baggage of low cost mulch which additionally compressed dramatically over time. In lower than two years the soil stage in that planter field has dropped by one 6-inch board.


The entrance is consistently bombarded with Magnolia leaves, so I made a decision to make use of them in a single planter field; this shot of my first planter field on the suitable reveals how a lot the soil has sunk. That is after eradicating crops and including soil 2x already to above the extent of the highest board.

I’ve determined to take away a board in some planters, making them solely two boards tall (they’re so filled with sharp crops now that the canines have misplaced all curiosity in invading them and top is not crucial.) Nonetheless, this makes the planters look much less decorative. I’ll most likely need to tear these utterly down and begin over ultimately.


(Left) Planter field with board lower off. (Proper) The highest board was eliminated utterly to keep away from digging out all of the crops and replanting them (a couple of are fairly delicate and do not like being dug up.)

Let me say it once more: potting or ready soils settle! At all times add extra soil than appears crucial. Or plant understanding the crops will have to be eliminated in a 12 months or two and extra soil added. Or, maybe water the soil very effectively to compact it and THEN add it to the planter bins (nonetheless mounding it up as excessive as is sensible.) If native soils or decomposed granite are used there might be much less of a settling downside, however maybe extra of a weed downside. Now that I’ve accomplished this sufficient I might select native soil if I had any first rate stuff to make use of. However I’ve clay and that isn’t an incredible soil for many cacti and succulents. And clay is infamously filled with all kinds of hidden weed seeds as effectively of a large number of organisms you may not need in your planter bins.

A observe about watering: it’s in fact greatest to plan forward and put in a watering system NOW, not after the planter bins are all accomplished, stuffed with soil and crops. Ideally every planter field ought to have at the least one sprinkler line to it for subsequent set up of drips or mini sprinklers for watering effectivity and effectiveness. Nonetheless, this does take numerous considering forward and is NOT my fashion, so I didn’t put in any type of sprinkler system. I simply have numerous hose bibs across the yard so I haven’t got to pull a hose too far round too many corners. Since I didn’t put in a watering system, there may be little or no extra I can say. However after redoing a number of planter bins (eradicating crops and changing them) I actually am not sorry I haven’t got to take care of sprinkler traces, drips and different pointless hassles. I hope somebody will observe this up sometime with some recommendations on what works greatest for them.


(Left) Considered one of seven hose bibs within the yard. (Proper) Plumbing all of the planter bins would have been a bit an excessive amount of for me.

The essential planter form is a field, or variations on the essential rectangle. My unique plan was to make all of them easy rectangles, however instantly I noticed this was going to be pretty uninteresting. I discover that corners, ‘Ls’, and ranging the configurations and dimensions makes for a extra pleasing look. Nonetheless, particular designs are past the scope of this text and much too particular person for me to make any critical suggestions. Simply know, the extra sophisticated the form of the bins, the extra issues that may go flawed and probably the weaker the general field turns into.


(Left) Two of the easier rectangular bins. (Proper) The extra attention-grabbing multi-cornered bins.

I screwed the boards onto the skin of the posts for 2 reasons- it was a LOT simpler to screw planter bins from the skin than the within, and MUCH simpler to exchange a board with out digging out the soil. This creates a easy planter field wall, not one with posts alongside the sides each 4 to 6 ft. Nonetheless, screwing the boards onto the skin of the posts has the draw back of all of the soil (and crops) being supported solely by the screws and never the boards towards the posts. In the event you do one thing as foolish as planting massive bushes in your planter field, notably close to the sides, this can undoubtedly result in the partitions of the planter field falling off (sure, I’ve made that error, too, on a number of events). Nonetheless, I vote for boards on OUTSIDE of posts.


(Left) Draw back to screwing boards to outdoors of posts: over time warping lifts boards away from posts. (Center) In the event you plant a giant-trunked tree close to a nook of a planter field, as I did with this Brachychiton rupestris, you may see how securely screws preserve the boards in place… oh effectively. (Proper) In some areas I’ve nailed copper flashing on to make the corners look higher.

As soon as the bins are constructed and stuffed it is time to plant. It might appear apparent to most, however it’s most likely greatest to plan forward at this stage, too. For instance, you may wish to plant the biggest/tallest crops close to the again of the bins (or the center for bins you may stroll all the way in which round), and plant the smaller and extra lovely/delicate crops had been they are often seen and appreciated extra. Regardless of this apparent suggestion, I didn’t observe it carefully, and naturally with predictable outcomes.


Right here I planted a big cycad on left close to entrance nook of planter, however the smaller, sluggish cactus close to the again. Two years later you may start to see the issue although it regarded good at first… and two extra years, the larger cycad covers up all the things else.

Additionally it’s best to know one thing about every plant when it comes to how a lot solar or shade it wants. Mild is extraordinarily essential for many succulents and plenty of tropicals. Absence of sunshine (i.e., shade) is the downfall to many a succulent. Because the backyard matures, the taller, extra aggressive crops mature and hog extra of the accessible gentle. Crops that want gentle however are getting too little are going to develop into weakened, extra liable to pests and decay, and should skinny themselves out of the gathering; lots of my crops have accomplished this already. Put the sun-needy crops close to the sides of the field or going through south, west or east.


Early on, solar publicity was not an issue. Every part bought ample (if not an excessive amount of) solar


However 4 years later, you may see many crops are clearly not getting the solar they want

It’s also sensible to plant people who want/need numerous water nearer one another in addition to put the drought tolerant crops collectively . Since I water with a hose, it certain is good once I can direct the hose to an space fairly to a person plant whereas attempting to keep away from a rot-prone cactus proper subsequent to it.


Cacti planted close to one another are simple to water. A number of cycads and palms proper in the midst of succulents are tougher to water. Agave subsequent to a water-needy palm was probably not a sensible planting transfer.

Additionally, from a security standpoint, I like to recommend planting pointy, spiny crops away from the sides of the planter bins (duh!… but I nonetheless make the identical errors again and again.)


Exhausting to see particulars on this photograph, however tall, blue Cereus cactus is sticking into the aisle (very sharp!), and beneath it’s a tangle of Boojum tree branches (practically as sharp) that make strolling previous it a painful expertise; second photograph reveals a big cycad seedling (Encephalartos whitelockii) protruding into the walkway (very sharp spines!)… and that is only a seedling… what’s going to or not it’s like when it will get large?

Regardless of these considerably self-evident planting suggestions, I positioned the crops I favored greatest closest to the planter edges, and people I favored least behind the beds. Because the planters stuffed up, I added crops the place there was room. I planted small crops close to one another, understanding they’d ultimately get large (I are likely to plant for the ‘now’ and never for the ‘sometime down the street’.) After all now the planters appear randomly organized, and have gotten overcrowded. I knew this might occur and am slowly, sadly coping with it. However I do not completely remorse it, because the planters did look nice for some time. And as I take away crops grudgingly little by little, they proceed to look attention-grabbing and are all the time altering, protecting all the impact from getting too static and boring. Nonetheless, greatest to do as I say, not as I do.

Fortuitously succulents and cacti tolerate shifting fairly effectively (with a couple of exceptions.) And I’ve moved at the least half the crops in my assortment at one time or one other (a few of them three to 5 instances now.) Shifting additionally has the benefit of offering a chance to scrub the crops of bugs and useless leaves, test the roots for rot, and retains the backyard in a relentless state of change .


(Left) Planter being redone with all of the movable crops taken out (you may see how a lot the unique soil has sunk; it was initially stage with the highest board.) (Center) Dug-up crops setting in wheelbarrow awaiting replanting. (Proper) Rocks bought to toss into planter below and above subsequent layer of added soil.

Simply bear in mind these wood raised beds aren’t everlasting buildings. Wooden rots and there might be some attrition over time (I determine I might be fortunate if my planter bins final ten years). Plan forward about what you wish to exchange them with, or if you’re simply going to maintain changing boards as they fall off. At the least with succulent planter bins the soils aren’t moist on a regular basis and there might be much less rot than if I had water-needy crops put in them. So perhaps these will final a tad longer. Fingers crossed!

ImageImageEarlier than and after shot


Constructing a planter, early accomplished planter, and present shot of similar planter from about the identical angle

ImageImage Earlier than and after shot of one other planter

ImageImage one other earlier than and after shot


Some planters have a lot stuff in entrance of them, progress is tougher to understand

ImageImage shot a couple of years in the past and now


This planter has modified a lot; it now has solely two crops that had been in it initially, and now a lot stuff in entrance of it they can not be seen anyway

ImageImage one other earlier than and after

ImageImage then and now

ImageImage early on, and at present


A number of random pictures of the planters now.

So if you wish to erect quick, easy planter bins on your succulent assortment in a comparatively small yard, you may wish to observe a few of my easy suggestions. And if one thing has labored much better for you, please write and inform us. It is not too late for me to alter issues once more!

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