Summertime is a great time for family. The kids are on summer vacation from school. And it’s the season of holidays for you too, often choosing to stay home and discover local treasures rather than on expensive trips abroad. Summertime is also a time to spend on those projects that you know will help to transform your outdoor living space too. So, why not combine family time with getting those projects done, making for a fun summer activity you can enjoy together with your family?
Writer Derek Dasher is here to outline one project idea that you can take on, while inviting the family, including kids, to pitch in with; the backyard garden box
How about a home project that could involve the family without entirely depleting your budget or taking all of your free time? Sound too good to be true? Consider building a simple garden box. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but the possibilities are almost endless.
Garden boxes can be used to grow vegetables, flowers, herbs, ornamental plants, or even a combination of all the above. With such variety, it’s a project that can interest toddler to teen, or include an older parent who may be living in your home. Who doesn’t love the taste of a garden fresh vegetable? What child isn’t fascinated by planting a tiny seedling and watching it turn into a beautiful flower? Even a seemingly uninterested teen can be intrigued. Why not give it a try?
Planter boxes vs. traditional gardens
A garden box (sometimes referred to as a planter box) is a structure made out of wood that people use to plant a variety of vegetables and flowers. Most garden boxes are above-ground (no digging required) and have four sides and a wooden bottom. Garden boxes are different from traditional gardens in the fact that seeds are not planted in the ground, but directly in the soil that has been placed in the box.
There are many advantages to building garden boxes rather than planting traditional gardens. Garden boxes allow you to plant a variety of vegetables and flowers in a small space and they are a great way to keep animals from eating or destroying your plants. They also give you the freedom to use exactly the type of soil you want, allowing you to successfully grow plants in areas that do not have very fertile soil.
What are your backyard garden box options?
You have two options when it comes to building a planter. You can buy a readymade kit at a home supply store or you can purchase the wood and build it yourself. Readymade kits come with pre-cut wood that is ready to assemble, requiring only minimal tools. The dimensions of the box are not customized, but you will find there is an extensive selection of shapes and sizes. Any readymade kit will come with specific instruction on building your raised garden planter to ensure that you do it correctly.
There are two different types of DIY planter boxes: moveable and permanent boxes. Moveable boxes have a wooden bottom and can therefore be picked up (if small enough) and moved from place to place. Permanent boxes do not have a bottom and the soil is placed directly on the ground where the box sits. Because permanent boxes cannot be moved, make sure that you construct it exactly where you want it to be located.
Most people choose to build their own garden box rather than buying a ready-made kit because it allows them to select the type of wood they want and cut it to the precise dimensions that they prefer. Personally, I prefer moveable boxes over permanent boxes because they can be easily moved around your yard or transported to a new location if you move to a new home.
Have an outdoor living space plan in mind
Start by looking at the space you have and deciding where you want your planter box to be located. Boxes can be built on grass, concrete and asphalt, among many other surfaces. While they can be placed anywhere in your yard, most people opt to place them in the backyard.
While mapping out the project area, bear in mind sun exposure and which plants you might like to grow. Most vegetables—and many flowers—require an average of six hours of sunlight. But don’t be afraid of the shade. There are many plant varieties that thrive in limited sunlight.
Getting started on your raised garden bed project
Determine the area where you want the garden box to be located and how big you want it to be. A garden box can be almost as small or as large as you like. Consider how many vegetables and flowers you want to plant and choose a size that will accommodate that amount. A rectangular box is usually preferable to a square box if space allows.
Experiment with the size of the planter by placing long pieces of string (or another material) on the ground in a rectangle. Move the pieces of string in and out until you are satisfied with the dimensions. Next, get out your measuring tape. Measure around the edges of your string “planter box” and make sure to write down the length and width of the area.
Get ready to build
Before construction can begin, you will need to purchase the wood. Wood can be purchased at lumber yards and many home improvement stores. Redwood is a great choice because it resists wood rot and insects, can be effectively weather-treated, and with minimal care can last decades. Cedar and cypress are also great choices. You will want to make sure any wood you purchase has been treated with a water sealant to help prevent water erosion.
Make certain you have all the necessary tools and supplies before you start. You will need a saw if you intend to cut and measure each piece, or you can contact your local lumber supplier and arrange for them to cut each piece to your specifications. For the recommended rectangular box, you will need:
- Four longer pieces of wood, cut to length
- Four shorter pieces of wood, cut to length
- Four 4×4 square pieces of redwood to act as posts for each corner of your box, cut to match the height of the box
- One long, wide piece of wood, cut to length to act as the bottom of the box
- A drill (preferably cordless)
- 4-inch galvanized wood screws
- Wood clamps
- Water resistant wood glue
If you have never worked on this type of a project, skilled workers at your local home improvement store can effectively answer your questions.
Garden box construction
When assembling the garden box, take two of the long pieces of wood and lay them side by side (as if to make a wall). Attach them to one of the 4×4 redwood posts with the galvanized screws. Next, take two pieces of short board and attach them to the opposite side of the post, making a corner.
Note: Make sure to alternate the placement of the screws when adding the short boards, from that of the screws holding the long boards.
Repeat the process until you have built a rectangle with the 4×4 posts anchoring each inside each corner. Remember: You will be filling the box with dirt, so it doesn’t need to be masterpiece but it does need to be sturdy.
If you are building a moveable planter box, you will now need to add a bottom to the box. If you are building a permanent box, simply omit this step off. Take the remaining long, wide wood piece and glue it to the bottom of the garden planter box. Use the hot-dipped galvanized screw to screw the bottom on the portable garden planter box. Place wood clamps on the box and let the glue dry.
For garden boxes with a bottom, proper drainage is key. Make sure that you drill a couple of holes in the bottom of the box to prevent water from pooling. This can damage the wood of the box and cause your plants to die from too much water.
Completing the Project
Once completed, move the garden box to the desired location if you built it in a different location. With the box in place, it is ready to be filled. Garden soil can be purchased at a wide range of stores in your area, and conveniently comes free of weeds and pests! Children love the chance to play in dirt, so if you have young ones helping out on this project, get them involved in this stage. The experts at your local garden center or nursery can help you determine how much soil the garden box will require.
The real fun comes in planting those first seeds! Use your imagination and don’t be afraid to mix plant types. Many different types of fruits, vegetables, and flowers happily grow side-by-side. Planting marigolds with your tomatoes comes with built-in benefits. Known as companion planting, one plant actually acts as a natural pest protector for the other. The results may excite you as you watch your new raised garden maximize and liven up a fixed space.
Go ahead, gather the family together, make some fresh lemonade, and let loose and enjoy the process!