At the end of last year I saw some vertical gardens on Pinterest made from old pallets. The idea appealed to me, and I decided to try making my own. Fortunately there was a spare pallet on the job site where my brother was working, so he brought it home for me to use.
This post has become quite lengthy, so I’ve divided it into four key sections:
- Prepare your pallet
- Fill the pallet with dirt
- Plant your garden
- Make it vertical
At the end you’ll also find some handy tips I’ve learnt after maintaining the garden for a year. Post a comment if you build one of your own or have any feedback!
- A shipping pallet
- Some fence palings to fill the back of the pallet
- A drill and screws
- Weed mat
- A staple gun
- Potting mix
- Avoid plants which only last for a season
- Try for a variety of leaf types
- Plants less than 30cm tall are best suited for a vertical garden
- Soaker hose
- Gardening gloves
Prepare your pallet
In the Bunnings guide, they cover the back of the pallet with weed mat to hold the dirt in. As you can see in the photo below, the pieces of wood on the back of my pallet were quite far apart, so I bought some fence palings (less than $1 at Bunnings) to reduce the gap and support the weed mat. My plan was to put one paling in the middle of each gap then cover it with the weed mat.
Once I lined up the palings on the pallet, I realised that two palings fit perfectly in the gap on the pallet, so I ended up getting three more palings and completely covering the back of the pallet. Once the pallet is filled with dirt it becomes very heavy, so this should be stronger than weed mat. I’m also hoping it will last longer in the weather.
Suggested improvement – I have found the garden difficult to water, and in summer it often needs daily water. If I were to do this again, I would attach a soaker hose inside the pallet so it could be connected to the tap and water from the inside out. If you try this I’d love to hear how it goes, so post your feedback in the comments.
Since I had bought weed mat and a staple gun, I decided to put it to use to close the bottom edge of the pallet. This could probably be done with another fence paling, but I think the weed mat might provide better drainage. Hopefully it will be tough enough to last – only time will tell!
When stapling on the weed mat, attach the staples 3-5 cm apart. The closer they are the less strain there will be on the mat, and the smaller the gaps for dirt to escape. I made sure it lined up neatly on the front, and was less concerned on the back because it can’t be seen anyway. After I started planting, I found dirt was spilling from the top edge of the pallet, so I’d recommend loosely attaching some weed mat to the top edge as well, then pulling it off once the garden is complete (use less staples for this edge since you don’t want it to be permanent).
I had expected this part of the project to be quite time consuming, so I hadn’t bought any plants. It was actually quite straight forward, and only took about an hour. The weekend after I went back to Bunnings and bought potting mix and plants.
Fill the pallet with dirt
To work out how much potting mix you’ll need, measure the pallet in centimetres (mine was 120cm wide, 100cm tall and 10cm deep). Multiply the dimensions, then divide by 1000 to get litres. I needed 120 litres (it doesn’t hurt to get some extra, because once you pack it in you’ll fit some more).
volume of potting mix (litres) = (width x height x depth) / 1000
For plants, I bought a mixture of mondo grass and various seedlings, trying to get a range of colours and leaf type. I was aiming for plants that aren’t seasonal to avoid having to replant later, but accidentally had two that died six months later (see the end of this post for tips on replanting). I was also looking for plants that don’t grow too tall, concerned they might become too droopy once the garden is vertical. I planted some daisies which have grown really well, and found they’re easy enough to prune so they don’t take over.
To fill the pallet, lie it flat. I had mine on the ground, but if you can I’d recommend having it on a table or some tressels because it will be more accessible for planting. It’s also best to do this close to the wall where it will be standing because a pallet filled with 120 litres of potting mix is very heavy! I poured the potting mix through the gaps, then spread it with my hands. As you can see above, dirt also landed on the front. Just push it through the gaps with your hands, and make sure it’s spread evenly through the whole pallet. You’ll need to slide the dirt away from the gaps so it fills underneath the wood as well. Make sure it’s packed firmly to avoid everything shifting when the pallet is vertical.
Once it’s almost full, stand it up just over half way to help the dirt settle. You might need to add some more soil after this to completely fill it. Give it a sweep when you’re done to clear the wood.
Plant your garden
Once the pallet is filled, it’s time for the fun part! Plan out where you’re going to put the plants by sitting them on the pallet to ensure you have enough. Compared with the labels, I ended up leaving half the recommended space between each of my plants because the garden should be dense to hold the dirt in place.
Use a small shovel or spoon to dig out the dirt and plant your plants. Make sure they’re pressed in firmly (you might need some extra potting mix as you go). Notice in the photo how the top of the pallet (left of the photo) isn’t very full. This was when I realised the open top was a problem for keeping the dirt in during planting. I tacked on some weed mat at this point, but recommend you do this when preparing your pallet. It isn’t very hard to pull off again once the garden is planted and standing vertical.
Once all your plants are in, give them a generous water and leave the pallet to rest for a few days. This allows the dirt to settle and the plant roots to establish. You don’t want the plants and dirt to fall out when you stand up the garden!
Make it vertical
Once the garden has settled, it’s time to make it vertical! Best to get someone to help you, because it gets very heavy. Mark and I carefully lifted it up, then leant it on the fence for support. It’s been sitting there for 9 months now and is doing really well!
If, like me, you make the mistake of planting a plant which is only seasonal and dies off after it flowers, you’ll need to replant part of your garden. To do this:
- Lie your garden flat
- Remove the dead plants, and replace potting mix if necessary
- Plant the new selection, and ensure they’re packed in firmly
- Leave the garden flat for a few days so these plants can settle (not too long, or your other plants will start growing in the wrong direction)
- Stand the garden vertical again
To avoid having to replant, it’s important to keep the garden well watered. Plants at the bottom tend to dry out the quickest, because rainwater is less likely to reach them. Watering from the top will overwater the first few rows and leave the bottom dry. I’d recommend watering from the front with a spray bottle, and use a general purpose water soluble fertiliser once a month to keep the plants healthy and flowering.
- Try to use plants which are perennial (live longer than a season)
- Plant your plants close together – the more you cover the dirt the better it will be retained and the nicer your garden will look
- Water (and fertilise) the garden regularly from the front using a spray bottle
- Prune your plants if they start to take over other rows