Building a Raised Planter

Choose or design a planter that harmonizes with your deck, patio, or house. If you want it to blend in so that only the flowers will be noticed, use the same materials and finish as your house or deck surfaces. Create visual interest by adding simple bands of 1x2 or other molding. On outdoor structures like planters, simple butt-jointed moldings usually look better than mitered joints, especially after a few years of wear and tear.

Develop a planting strategy. If you live in an area with mild winters, you may be able to plant perennials in a box—check with local nurseries. If you want to be able to move things around, build light planters, or use planters as holders for flower pots. Protect your deck or patio surface from the water that seeps out the bottom of a planter—it can cause ugly stains. Provide a pathway for the water to seep through the patio or deck, or place a water-holding trivet under the planter.

Tools: Circular saw, drill, tape measure.

1. Build the frames, add plywood. Use pressure-treated lumber and plywood that has a CCA rating of .40 or more or the label says “ground contact.” Construct two simple frames out of 2x4s, both the same size. Check for square, and drive two 3-inch deck screws into each joint. Cut a piece of pressure-treated plywood to fit, and fasten it to the bottom frame with 1 5/8 inch deck screws. Drill a series of 3/8 inch holes in the plywood, so that water will be able to seep through easily.

2. Cut and add side pieces. Cut 12 legs with 45-degree cuts on one corner. The top of the miter cut will meet the bottom of the six straight-cut shorter pieces. Cut one piece, and use it as a template for the others. Cut shorter pieces to fill in. The dimensions shown will give you a planter that is 24 inches high. Attach legs and fillers to the frames with 1 5/8-inch decking screws at each joint.

3. Add the top pieces. Use 1x4s that are straight, dry, and have few knots. Hold in place, with the boards overhanging the front by an inch, and mark for mitered cuts, as shown, or cut the ends square and simply butt them together. These top pieces come under a good deal of stress, so fasten them securely. Drill pilot holes and drive 2-inch deck screws, most of them into the frame and some into the side pieces. Shovel in 4 to 6 inches of gravel, then fill with light soil that has plenty of organic matter.

Making a Bench Planter

Benches and planters often sit side by side on a deck or patio, so why not build them together? This design uses stacked 2x4s for a solid, building-block sort of look. Here is a simple arrangement with two planters and one bench. You can easily modify this design to turn a corner and have three planters with two benches; the center planter will have both benches tied into it at 90-degree angles. Use rot-resistant lumber and choose smooth sides for the top of the bench.

Tools: Circular saw, drill, square.

1. Make the bench. Laminate eight or more 2x4s, each no more than 8 feet long. Cut them all to the same length (the ends do not have to match exactly because they will not show). Stack them, apply a squiggle of polyurethane glue, and drive 3-inch deck screws every 6 inches in an alternating pattern to avoid splitting the wood. Use 2 1/2 inch screws for the first piece, then use 3-inch screws. Glue and clamp the last piece rather than driving screws, so there will be no visible screw heads.

2. Start building the boxes. For a box 24 inches square and 21 inches tall, cut nineteen 2x4s to 22 1/2 inches, four 2x2s to 24 inches, and four 2x2 nailers to 19 1/2 inches. Set the bottom 2x2s on a flat surface, evenly spaced to form a 24-inch square. With a helper or two, stack the first two courses of 2x4s in the pattern shown. Hold the pieces flush at their ends and tie them together by driving screws from the inside, through the nailers and into the 2x4s. To make the work easier, you can drive screws from the outside. Stack and attach three courses of 2x4s.

3. Fasten them together. After you have built the boxes three courses tall, set them in place and set the bench on top. Continue stacking and attaching the 2x4 planter pieces. Install filler pieces next to the bench. Build the box five courses tall. Cut a piece of pressure-treated plywood to fit inside each planter, drill a series of 3/8-inch holes in it, and screw it to the bottom pieces. If you like, protect the sides of your 2x4s by stapling thick plastic sheeting to the inside of the planters. Fill with 4 to 6 inches of gravel, a sheet of weed blocking fabric, and then light soil rich in organic material.

Constructing a Semicircular Planter

With its unusual shape, this planter will be a focal point in your backyard or patio. It’s not difficult to build, though you will spend some time marking and cutting the curved pieces. There are no 2x framing pieces in this design; the 1x4s and plywood cutouts carry all the stress. It will be strong enough for a structure that is 3 feet by 3 feet, but no larger. Choose highly rot-resistant wood, and apply plenty of sealer-preservative to the inside, bottom, and the 1x4 pieces because they will get wet.

Tools: Circular saw, sabersaw, square, drill.

1. Cut plywood, side pieces. Use a notched-wood or string-and-pencil compass to mark the planter’s contours on a sheet of 3/4-inch pressure-treated plywood. Cut the plywood bottom piece and drill a series of 3/8-inch drainage holes. Use it as a template for the top and bottom D-shaped pieces. Cut the top piece carefully using a piece of plywood free of large knots or other weak spots. Cut all the 1x4 side pieces to the same length; 18 inches is the recommended height.

2. Cut the top trim pieces. Depending on the size of your planter, use 2x10 or 2x12 to make the curve with two pieces. Use the top plywood piece and a scrap piece of 2x2 to mark for trim pieces that will overhang the sides by at least 1/2 inch. Cut with a saber saw and sand smooth. Cut the straight trim piece as well.

3. Assemble the box. Attach the top plywood piece to the underside of the trim pieces, using 2-inch deck screws. Set the bottom piece on 2x scraps, to hold it off the ground while you work. With a helper, attach side pieces to it with 2-inch deck screws. Once you have most of them attached, carefully slip the top piece over the structure, so the trim overhangs the side pieces. Fasten the tops of the side pieces to the plywood and the top trim by drilling pilot holes and driving 3-inch screws at an upward angle. Sand and finish. Place 6 inches of gravel in the bottom of the planter, then fill with light soil that is rich in organic material.

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