What is a planter box, and why would I want one in my garden?

What is a planter box, and why would I want one in my garden?

A planter box is a container that is used for growing either edible or decorative plants in an outdoor setting. They can be made of many different materials, most commonly wood, and are used to create a small patch of “land” wherever you want to grow something. Planter boxes are often used for tiny vegetable or herb gardens, for growing flowers in specific areas, or simply for expanding upon the planting space of an area that is difficult to landscape with plants.

 In this article, we’ll discuss some of the common questions about planter boxes and go over the advantages of using them in your garden or landscaping.

What are the benefits of using planter boxes for gardening or landscaping?

Although they can be a great way to get some more color and life in your garden, planter boxes aren’t just for decoration! Using them in your gardening and landscaping has many benefits. Let’s look at a few of them:

  • Planter boxes can go anywhere. Unlike traditional garden patches, which require a dedicated spot of fertile land in your garden, planter boxes can be placed at any location with enough space for the box to fit. It doesn’t matter if they’re put on top of poor soil, gravel, or even cement—a wooden planter box can add a bit of life and energy to any part of your outdoor space. You can get a raised garden bed, in a way, that doesn't have to be set straight in the ground.
  • Planter boxes are a great option for tiny gardens. Whether you simply don’t have the space for a large garden or don’t want to deal with the hassle of one, planter boxes are a way to create smaller and more manageable gardening spaces that are quite easy to manage.
  • Planter boxes can help you grow plants in uneven yards. If your yard has a heavy slope at any point, planting can become difficult. Plants on a slope are hard to water, and even when watered appropriately, they can easily lose their soil as it’s washed downhill. With planter boxes, especially if you use a raised planter box, you don’t have to worry about soil quality or erosion, so hillside watering becomes easier. You can just install planter boxes at some relatively flat points along the slope, effectively creating a simple tiered garden.
  • Planter boxes are easy to manage. With planter boxes set up in your garden, you can more easily keep track of what plants are where and control what’s introduced to the planters. This can help you divide up watering needs more effectively, prevent some of the spreading of weeds, and give you easy-to-manage plots of land which can be switched out to different plants each new season, depending on what you need next time. 
  • Planter boxes are easier to use. When compared to most traditional gardening spaces, planter boxes are easier and more accessible to use. Because planter boxes will naturally be higher than the ground around them, the soil inside will be easier to access. This is especially helpful if you don’t want to be bending down or kneeling too much while gardening. Many people with knee or back injuries or limited mobility may find that planter boxes are a great way to continue interacting with nature without having to get up and down as much.

What are some factors to consider when choosing a planter box?

Just like any other household addition or landscaping upgrade, there are some factors to choosing the right planter box that you will want to decide on based on your personal situation and preferences.

  • Size: How much do you want to grow in your box, and how much space do you want it to require? If you’re able to answer those two questions, you should easily be able to decide on a good size for your planter box before buying or building it. There are few things in landscaping or other design more frustrating than having a new element not fit properly into the space where you want it to go, so make sure you plan ahead!
  • Appearance: Almost every planter box will be made of wood, but that leaves a lot of possibilities to choose from! You can find boxes with different colors, different wood patterns, and even different shapes, to some extent. Find a box that fits the style you want in your garden or landscape. The plant or plants you include in the wood planter box will also make a bid difference.
  • Location: When placing planter boxes, you have quite a lot of leeway to decide how they’ll be included in your landscaping or decor. There are window planter boxes, boxes that are raised off the ground, and boxes that sit flat on the ground, just to name a few–and all these options mean that you can choose basically anywhere to put in a planter box! You can even pick a planter box bench to include built-in seating with your boxes and make them part of your outdoor furniture. However, you’ll want to decide beforehand which locations you’re choosing so that you can get the right boxes for your needs.
  • Height: When you’re choosing a planter box’s height, there are a few things to consider. Perhaps more important is the question of who will be using the box. As mentioned above, planter boxes can be a great way for people with injuries or otherwise limited mobility to still be able to garden because they elevate the “ground level” to an easier height. You’ll want to consider what height will be easiest for you or whoever will be using the box; a person in a wheelchair might want the raised planter box to be right at their arm level while seated, for instance. Test to see which heights are most usable and comfortable before you commit to a box. Additionally, you may want to consider the height of the box when compared to other features in your landscape or garden. If a box is too short compared to the things nearby, it may be hard to get to or covered in shadow much of the day. Because of this, you probably don’t want a very short box next to very large bushes or trees. Before you add in a box, consider how it will work when put next to the other features in the area and make sure it’ll be accessible and have the right amount of sunlight for the plants you’re growing.

That leads us to our next question:

How can a person choose the right plants for their planter box?

The answer to this question is simple: you should go with the plants that you want. There are all kinds of planter box ideas out there, and you can choose whichever best fits your goals. 

If your goal is decoration, or to liven up a barren patch of yard, then you’ll likely want to pick out some flowers or other plants that are chosen based on their aesthetics (ferns, small bushes, and so on). Once again, your decisions here should probably tie into what the rest of the garden looks like. You can try to match the look of the plants growing around the box, or you can pick some plants that will make a point of high contrast because of their colors or shapes.

If your goal is to expand or improve your home vegetable gardening or crop-growing opportunities, then you’ll probably want to go with edible plants like tomatoes, berry bushes, zucchini, or whatever is best suited for the climate where you live. 

However, keep in mind that planter boxes have rather limited horizontal space. If you’re trying to grow lots of crops, you’ll probably want ones that have a smaller “footprint” in the soil or simply don’t need as much soil to grow in. You also might want to consider adding some trellises or similar structures to the sides of the planter boxes so that creeping plants can grow upwards and maximize your usable space. (This can also be a great way to get some decorative plants going—you could have vines set up on a faux wall or backdrop on one side of the planter box, for instance.)

You’ll also want to consider the depth of the soil inside your planter box when choosing plants to put in it. Make sure that you know how deep the box itself is, and compare that depth to the depth that the plants you’re considering will need for their roots. If the box would be too shallow for a certain type of plant to grow like it normally would, that plant probably won’t be a great choice for your box.

Finally, here’s one thing you should definitely remember when choosing plants: try to find plants that have similar care requirements. The plants you put inside a planter box will all be in it together, for better or for worse, so try to make sure that it��s for better by choosing plants that will be happy in the same situations as each other. If they all have roughly the same light requirements, for example, it’ll be easier to keep them all at the same level of health. The same goes for water and soil content, of course.

What are some tips for maintaining plants in a planter box?

While plants will need the same general maintenance no matter where they’re planted, there are some things to pay particular attention to when it comes to planter boxes. 

  • Don’t underwater or overwater. Just as with plants that are not in a garden bed, the amount of water you give your planter box plants should be carefully considered. While a lack of enough water is obviously bad for plants, too much water can also be detrimental. This is especially true for plants in a planter box, where the water may sometimes sit for a longer time in the soil before draining (we’ll talk more in a later section about the importance of adequate drainage). Therefore, you should be sure to know how much water your plants need, and water them based on that, rather than just guessing by the dampness of the soil around them. 
  • Make sure that their light exposure is correct. As mentioned above, it’s helpful to have plants within a planter box that share roughly similar light exposure needs. Matching the proper light exposure is important when placing your planter box for the first time, but you should also keep an eye on it as the days progress, especially if it’s near anything which could cast different shadows when the sun moves to different positions in the sky throughout the day or the season. If you find that your box is getting too much sun for the plants there, try adding some shade to help them out. If it’s not getting enough, you may need to move it or the other objects around it, if possible.

What are some ways to decorate planter boxes?

The most important “decorations” for your planter box will likely be the plants inside it. Different types of flowers and decorative plants can be planted in the box to match whatever seasonal events are ongoing—red and white flowers for winter and Christmas time, for example. Many planter box owners like to have a variety of decorative plants in each box. To create a balanced look, you may want some plants which grow very tall and others which spread out and trail over the sides of the box. You may also want to mix large and small flowers with each other or try to color-coordinate the plants and flowers in the box so that they either match or complement each other.

All of this is fairly normal for a decorative garden, of course! However, if you are growing herbs or other edible plants instead of decorative ones, your main focus might not be the aesthetics of the things growing in the box (though naturally, you can also include small decorative plants around some of your practical ones).

When it comes to decorating the boxes themselves, you, of course, always have the option of repainting or staining the box a different color. This includes the possibility of painting on designs or images if you’re of an artistic nature. You might want to paint on a nature scene or even just a brick or wall pattern to make the box fit in nicely with the garden around it if it’s near a structure.

How can a person use planter boxes in outdoor landscaping?

You’ve probably gotten some ideas on how this can work from reading the article so far, but here are a couple of specific ideas about how planter boxes can help you with your landscaping.

First, they can improve the liveliness of a concrete-covered area without you needing to tear out the cement and replace it. Many homes have large expanses of concrete in their yard, and while these can be nice places to set up outdoor furniture, they also don’t exactly look like a natural space most of the time. A raised planter box can go anywhere you want, even without a garden bed, and adds a splash of color and life to these spots without the need for extensive renovations.

Next, planter boxes can help serve as dividers for different areas of your landscaping. If you want to section off parts of your outdoor space without putting in a full-on fence, planter boxes can be a great and practical way to establish a barrier. You might line the edges of a patio with them, for example, or have them on either side of a walkway.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, planter boxes can help you make better use of hilly areas that otherwise wouldn’t be well suited for growing plants or crops. You can use them in a tiered line going up or down an incline, almost in a step pattern. This will make it so that they provide a flat surface for plants to grow, and you won’t have to flatten out the entire incline at once to make them work. 

How can a person build their own planter box, either from scratch or using a kit?

What if you don’t want to buy a pre-made planter box? Fortunately, these are relatively simple to make on your own with some basic tools and materials, or you can buy kits that you can construct on your own. Planter boxes require a base and four walls solid enough to keep soil in place…and that’s about all you really need! A basic planter box can be made with just a few planks of wood and some screws or nails holding them together, or even with wood glue. Some planter boxes are also elevated by “legs” at the corners, just like a table; this can raise them higher while requiring less volume (and therefore less dirt), and it’s also a good way to help improve the water drainage of the box. These legs can also generally be constructed from simple planks of wood, provided they are sturdy enough to support the box when it’s full of dirt. However you make the box, you'll need to make sure that there is at least one drainage hole for water to exit the bottom of the box.

On the other hand, planter boxes can also be set directly on the ground. If your box is not elevated, you’ll probably want to include a weed barrier to line the inside of the box and help prevent outside plants from sneaking in through the bottom or sides. Weed barriers are often made of a material called woven landscape fabric, which can be purchased at most home improvement stores. This fabric has very small perforations, which allow water and nutrients to pass through while preventing many weeds and unwanted plants from growing past it. It’s easy to cut to the right size and doesn’t need as much maintenance as other materials used for the same purpose (like cardboard, which will degrade much more quickly).

Of course, if you’re not very experienced with building these sorts of things, kits and pre-made boxes will be a solid option and will probably have a more professional look to them. Aside from that, putting together a planter box kit might be a good way for you to get some experience figuring out how these things can be put together; sometimes, seeing a good example of something is a great start for your own future efforts to do it yourself. 

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for a homemade vibe in your outdoor decor, as well. In fact, if you’re not very experienced yet, but want to learn, planter boxes might be a great place to start if you want to practice basic construction and building skills in a low-stakes environment.

What are some ideas for recycling materials into planter boxes?

As mentioned above, the basic idea of a DIY planter box is not too complicated. This makes it a great DIY project, especially if you already have some unused materials around that can be recycled into working planter boxes.

For example, wooden pallets might be a good source of material for this kind of project. Since they’re made of several planks of wood nailed together, pallets are a go-to for many DIY’ers who are looking for simple planks to use at a low cost. If you’ve recently received a furniture order which used pallets, for example, or know someone who has, you can begin by dismantling the pallet. If the pallet has been constructed using wood staples, a set of pliers or a heavy-duty staple remover can help you pull out the connecting bits and get the individual planks apart from each other. From there, you have some wood that can be sawed, nailed together, stained and painted or dyed, or whatever else you’d want to do with it in order to put together a small planter box or two.

Old-fashioned fruit crates are another great option for a basic planter box; while they won’t be very “dirt-tight” at first due to the gaps between the different parts of the crate, these can easily be filled with dirt after a weed barrier is placed inside, keeping everything nicely contained.

If you want some small, basic planters to use, and don’t care if they have an actual box shape, used buckets can be a great base.

One important note: make sure that your planter box, whether you build it yourself or from a kit, has some holes for drainage in the bottom. If the planter box is watertight, some of the water you use to care for the plants in the box will likely start to pool at the base of the box. This can be very bad for the plants growing there, as many plants aren’t used to having their roots constantly submerged in stagnant water; it can also be bad for the planter box itself, as the pooled water may begin to rot the materials it’s made from or allow mold to grow. Stagnant water is never good for your health, either, and if the problem gets bad enough, you can start to get not only mold but pests like mosquitos and flies. 

Therefore, it’s very important that you make sure to include some holes for drainage in the base of the planter box. A few holes, evenly spaced and somewhere around half an inch in diameter, can be put into the bottom of a planter box in order to drain it effectively; if you’re not seeing the water drain out properly after a few watering sessions, go back in and drill additional holes until the excess water is able to leave the bottom of the box. Some kit boxes may have these holes already, while others may require you to drill them yourself. Make sure to always check on this!

What are some common mistakes to avoid when using planter boxes?

Aside from making sure that you have adequate drainage holes, there are a few other things that you should keep in mind if you want to avoid common mistakes that people make with planter boxes:

  • Don’t expect the cheapest options to last forever. Like many other landscaping improvements, you will often get the value that you pay for with planter boxes and planter box material. A planter box made of cheap plastic is not going to give you great value if it breaks after only a bit of usage, so make sure you’re happy with the quality of the boxes you’re picking. 
  • Don’t expect the box to be easily portable once it has dirt and plants inside. Although one of the big perks of a planter box is the fact that it can be set up just about anywhere you want it, that portability will decrease drastically once you’ve added enough soil to fill the box. Make sure to fill up the box only once it’s in the place where you want it to stay, or you might find yourself struggling to move it or having to remove large amounts of the soil to make the transition easier. 

Are there any resources that can provide additional guidance or inspiration for planter box gardening?

If you’re looking to find out what basic kinds of planter boxes or planter box kits are out there, home improvement stores will be a great resource to consider. You can check out what they have available and see if any of it strikes you with inspiration.

If you're looking for inspiration on what plants to include in your boxes or how to decorate the boxes themselves, craft-sharing websites like Pinterest would be a great place to go for ideas.

Finally, you can check out ModernAspect.com to find inspiration and more for planter boxes and how to make them fit with all your home and garden renovations.

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