How to Turn a Pallet Into a Garden

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An old wooden pallet makes a great base for all kinds of DIY projects, including turning it into a garden. There are several different ways to do this – some of which are more complicated than others. Using a pallet to make a garden is a great option for people who have very limited space in their yard.

Planting a Vertical Garden

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    Treat the pallet and line it with landscape fabric. Pallets can be used to make a basic vertical garden. Get a pallet and sand it down before treating with wood preservative or wood paint suitable for outdoors. Using a stable gun, cover the back, bottom and sides of the pallet with a double thickness of landscape fabric.[1]

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    Pack the pallet tightly with soil and plant up. The best way to do this is to start planting up from the bottom row and do a row at a time going up the pallet.[2]

    • The soil should be very firmly pushed into the available space and the plants should be fairly tightly packed together. It’s a good idea to leave the pallet flat for a few weeks.
    • This allows the plant roots to grow, enabling them to hold the soil in place better when you eventually lift the pallet to display on the vertical.
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    Keep your vertical garden well-watered. Remember to water your vertical garden as they dry out quite quickly, especially at the bottom.

    • It may be easiest to lay it flat to water it. Be prepared for some soil to trickle out of the vertical planter after watering.
    • Also remember to use a water-soluble fertilizer regularly.
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    Alternatively, make individual planting pockets with the landscape fabric. Another way to plant inside a planter is to create individual pockets of landscape fabric in each row, behind each slat of your pallet. This is a bit fiddly to achieve but the soil is less likely to run out.

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    • Measure up lengths of landscape fabric and put your hand inside the pallet to staple the fabric to the back wall behind the top slat.[3]

    • Next bring the fabric through to the front and staple to the front of the next pallet slat down, so about a half inch of fabric is visible on the front slat of the pallet.

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    Use pallets to make a trellis for climbing plants. Take 2 pallets and stand them against each other in a V-shape. They’ll need to be about 1.5 feet (0.5 m) apart.

    • Hammer two strips of wood to hold them in place in a tent shape. Put a grow bag at the base of each pallet and plant climbing plants such as trailing cucumber, beans or pumpkin.
    • Train these up the pallet trellis.

Using Tin Cans

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    Fix up and paint the pallet. Get your pallet, check it over for rotting wood or any joins that are giving way. Do any necessary repairs to make it safe. Paint it in a bright color.[4]

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    Wash a number of tin cans and make drainage holes in them. Take some empty tin cans (enough to fill the base of the pallet). Give them a very good wash and rub with steel wool to roughen up the surface and help the paint to stick.[5]

    • Using a hammer and nail, put several drainage holes into the bottom. Apply a metal primer such as Rust-oleum, then paint with several layers of acrylic paint.

    • Finish with a coat of clear acrylic sealer.

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    Nail the cans to the pallet then plant inside them. When nailing the cans to the pallet, be very careful of any sharp edges (you may like to file these down). Then put 2 inches (5.1 cm) of crocks or gravel in the bottom of the cans before filling them with soil and planting up.[6]

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    Decide how you want to display your pallet garden. These pallet gardens look best when propped against a fence or wall, rather than lying flat on the ground.

    • Alternatively you could hang up your pallet garden with chains to raise it vertically above the ground.

    • You could even attach plants to both sides and hang the pallet from a tree branch for visual interest on both sides.

Making a Raised Bed

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    Decide what kind of raised bed you want to achieve. You can use new, clean, heat-treated pallets to make simple, neat raised beds. You can take the pallet apart to make a deep raised bed from the timber, or just lay one on the ground to make a shallow raised bed.[7]

    • Keep in mind that you won’t be able to raise the bed too high with just one pallet, but it’s a good start.
    • Raised bed gardening means you don’t need to bend down as much to tend plants, need to dig less and it really helps improve drainage.
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    Eliminate any weeds and close up the edges of the pallet. Ideally, you should start by eliminating weeds underneath where your raised bed will go. Try chemical controls, or lay down some newspaper or cardboard.[8]

    • You’ll want to close up the edges of the pallet all round the narrow sides, to prevent weeds from poking through.
    • To do this, you can nail thin planks around the 4 edges, or use strips of weed control fabric.
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    Lay the pallet on the ground and fill with compost. Plant it up through the slats and water well. Because you are raising the bed very little, this method will work best for shallow-rooted plants such as lettuce and strawberry.

Using Pallets Safely

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    Protect yourself from splinters. Old wooden pallets tend to be very rough and splintery. It’s important to use heavy work gloves when handling them. You may like to sand them down before using them. If you do this, use a face mask and eye protection.

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    Look for pallets stamped with ‘HT”. These are a bit harder to find. This means the wood was heat treated, not chemically treated, in order to preserve the wood when it was made. It’s important to use a new, unused HT pallet if growing edible plants.[9]

    • This is important, as wood can absorb chemicals after manufacture, for example if the pallet came into contact with chemicals such as bitumen or petrol when in use. That’s why you want to use a new pallet for growing edible plants.
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    Avoid using older pallets, as they may be contaminated. When the wood gets wet it’s also a good breeding ground for bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.

    • For any kind of use, it may be best to avoid old pallets that you suspect may be contaminated with chemicals. Avoid bringing old pallets into the house.
    • You can mitigate the bacterial risk by scrubbing your pallet clean with soapy water and weakened bleach, or soaking in a disinfectant solution. Over time the bacteria may build up again though.
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    Check pallets carefully for signs of damage to the wood. Beware of protruding nails and the wood shattering into sharp pieces when you work with it. If you notice any obvious signs of damage, you should work with a different pallet instead.

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