One simple way to create a garden is to plant in containers and then set them on a row of pallets. Building a pallet garden on the surface of the ground creates a portable alternative to in-ground gardening.
It’s also much easier than trying to dig up, loosen and repair the soil that’s there, especially if it’s old and hard packed. If you rent your home, it’s a good idea to check with your landlord before starting a gardening project to avoid potential problems.
- a pair of scissors or an X-acto knife
- a roll of landscape fabric
- some similar sized and shaped pallets, my preference is 24″ x 48″
- for smoothing out lumpy soil, I recommend a Dutch hoe
- my favourite all purpose rake is the Pro Flex rake
- The Crack weeder is an amazingly versatile tool, it’s a must have.
- This is the hand weeder I recommend for popping out weeds that grow deep tap roots. (one long single root straight down, like dandelions)
You can find used pallets that are still in good shape in many locations. It’s important to ask the business owners before you take them from a business location, just taking pallets is not usually a good idea.
Now that you have your supplies and a few pallets to work with, decide where you want to place your garden.
It’s pretty easy if you have limited space, place them where it’s the sunniest for the longest number of hours.
If you have lots of space to work with, then consider the path of the sun and how many hours of direct sunlight the plants will get if you place the pallets in a particular way. Place your pallet row(s) in the direct line of the maximum number of hours of sun exposure and fewest hours of shade.
Shade considerations include:
- Nearby trees
- Your own tall plants shading short ones
- Large leaved plants will shade out lower ones
- Nearby walls or fences
- Nearby homes
This will make a big difference in the health of the plant, pest resistance, how well it thrives and of course how well it produces.
The sweetness of the fruit in your harvest will be much greater if each plant gets the maximum amount of sun possible.
If you have a corner or side of the yard that is more shady than sunny and it’s a situation that you have no control over such as nearby buildings, that area isn’t wasted space…it’s perfect for a “shade garden”. This is simply a garden filled with flowers and food plants that need or will at the very least tolerate less sun, some varieties even prefer only few hours of sun per day.
These include lettuce and other leafy veggies like spinach and all types of kale, included also are peas, broccoli and beans. The list goes on but that’s some of them. The Hosta prefers a cooler environment as well.
- Pull out the grass and dispose of it appropriately, if not set your pallet down where you can and level it
- Level out the remaining soil with a hard rake perfection is not necessary
- Then line the ground underneath with 1 or 2 layers of landscape fabric*
- Hold the layers of fabric down with rocks and paving stones or ground staples
- Place your pallet on top of the fabric while keeping it flat
Then make your pallets stable by using smaller flat rocks, bricks or broken paving stones.
Step up on your pallet and walk around on top of it. This is the best way to tell if it is level or not, then add support blocks or flat rocks under each corner until there is no more movement.
Check your work with a level. If it’s level, now you are good to go and it’s time to place your containers on top of your pallet.
*This is not needed if you are building your garden on gravel or cement.
Find Large Containers
If you spend some time looking around your neighbourhood, especially in the spring you can find many unwanted and discarded black nursery pots.
Many gardeners will put these out on the roadside because they know that other gardeners will be looking for them. They usually get snapped up quickly. Grab the largest ones you can find.
Also check out your local garden centers. Some of them take in and have a recycling program for those pots. Sometimes you can get very large containers free from a source like this.
Make sure to wash them out well with a light bleach and water solution so no diseases or bacteria from previous plants transfer themselves to your new garden.
If you only have space for one or two then I recommend using toy tubs, they are great and very versatile. These are the largest, cheapest new planter pots you’ll ever find.
Toy Tub Prep
If you bought new toy tubs you’ll need to drill holes in the bottom. Use a drill bit the size of a standard pencil or a bit bigger.
*If the holes are too small the container won’t drain
*If they are too large then the soil will leak out
Drill several holes in the bottom and several around the outside bottom edge. Be gentle, take your time and don’t press too hard. The plastic is brittle and will snap if you press down with too much force too fast.
After about 5 years they start to weaken and become easier to crack. If they are treated gently however, they can last several years.
- Upside down, smaller 4″ nursery pots (effective, creates air space)
- 2-3″ of stones or pea gravel (heavy but effective)
Soil is probably the most expensive thing you’ll need to invest in. Buy good quality garden soil with manure in it.
Don’t skimp or cheap out in this area, your plants will not grow as well and your harvest will be less than stellar if the soil is lacking quality.
If you have only a few containers then it’s easiest to buy some bags of good quality potting mix.
This type of soil is conveniently ready to use but more expensive, if you have only a few containers then this is fine. It’s not really that cost effective if you are filling several containers or a raised bed.
The soil should be of good quality, enriched with manure, slightly fluffy and not muddy or clumpy at all. There should be no evidence of garbage in it, such as plastic or large chunks of wood. This is a sign of low quality soil.
If you purchase commercial bulk garden soil then you’ll need to add peat moss and perlite to fluff it up a little.
The plant choices are harder because there is just so many of them. It can be challenging to find a plant that you like, that suits your climate zone and that has the characteristics you are looking for. Often those things are hard to find all in one plant.
Obviously, you’ll want to choose plants you like and ones that will appeal to your sense of beauty and existing garden surroundings, if you have any. Colour and height are big factors when considering perennial flowers as well.
One of the most (if not the most) critical factor in smart and educated plant selection is to consider the plants growth habits.
This is when you’ll want to do the most research. I recommend The New Sunset Western Garden Book.
The growth habits of a plant will determine if you’ll still love it 5 years from now or if you hate it and are pulling it from many areas you didn’t want it.
It’s way too easy to walk in to the nursery, get distracted by all the beautiful blooms and end up buying an invasive weed.
Don’t Buy a Weed
The nurseries in most neighbourhoods will sell any plant that they think a consumer will buy in that region. There is (usually) little to no consideration for the growth habits of a given plant at the retail store level.
This is why you-as the purchaser need to be diligent, do your research and know what you are buying.
Many perennial plants are of concern because they grow quickly and don’t die easily.
This can mean that they are fast growing, invasive and will take over any and all area available. In some cases, they will choke out native plants.
This is another reason why container gardening is good. The plants are always kept under control and don’t have the opportunity to become a wide spread problem.
There are many invasive plants readily available in the stores but this is a short list:
- “Creeping” plants and ground covers of any sort – they tend to never stop creeping
- Morning Glory (in warm winter regions)
- Many of the long trailing plants called “basket stuffers” are actually perennial creeping weeds
Use caution with these plants as they will spread quickly. In some cases planting them in a container first and then planting the whole container will keep them under control…as long as the new shoots don’t get a chance to root outside the container.
This is one of several ways you can safely have these type of plants in your garden and not cause a problem by unknowingly planting a weed.
The interesting thing to remember is that a plant may be considered annual in one region of the country and the same plant could be considered perennial or even an invasive variety in another region of the country.
The is all due to Mother Nature. It’s the average temperature and climate of each region that will determine if it’s annual, perennial or worst of all, invasive. Periwinkle and lamium are good examples.
On the west coast where the winters are warm, these plants can be an invasive problem. In cold regions the very same plant is considered an annual and no problem at all.
This is because the northern winters are longer and much colder so the seeds and underground roots die every winter never to return.
On the west coast the rhizomes (underground runners) never die and just keep growing and growing. If uncontrolled it can choke out the larger plants that it wraps itself around.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions!