How to Build a Vertical Balcony Garden
Let’s talk about balcony gardens. No yard? No problem! You can make it work as long as you have enough sun! But how will you have space for an herb garden and veggie containers when you already have a little patio set on your teeny tiny outdoor space? You build up, my friends.
I’m not the first person to come up with the idea of building up to save space, and I’m definitely not the first person to plant a container garden on my balcony. But I’m so happy with how much my little DIY garden apparatus has helped me maximize space that I couldn’t not share it. I’m also just going to put a little feather in my cap because I used wood I took from a dumpster at my apartment complex. Perfectly good wood, thrown away. Some people, right?
I’ve never successfully grown anything edible. Our past apartments have either had no balcony or a balcony that got very little light. Window herb gardens also aren’t an option for us; we tried a little one by a window on a wall that I thought might get enough sun, but it didn’t. When we moved into our current apartment, I knew the balcony had growing potential and couldn’t wait for spring to come. But here’s what was working against us:
- Our balcony gets some great direct sun exposure, but for most of the day it’s isolated to one small part.
- We can’t mount anything from the balcony ceiling (i.e., the balcony above us) or the walls.
- I didn’t want to buy a bunch of railing planters because the ones I liked were more than I wanted to spend. (Although check out this amazing gutter planter I found just today from Boxwood Avenue…adding that to the project list.)
With those three challenges, I decided to build a standalone structure that I could hang herb pots on. That way, I could maximize the space on the balcony that gets great sunlight. Curious how I did it? Read on to learn more.
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- Wood–I used a mixture of my dumpster wood, which was actually crib slats; common pine boards (the knotty stuff); and furring strips.
- Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer (here) and HGTV HOME by Sherwin-Williams Laid-Back Beige paint (here)
- Flower Pot Klips and eight 6” pots (Note: Pot Klips can hold 5″-8″ standard terracotta pots)
- Nail gun, drill, and saw
- Screws, pencil, assorted sandpaper
- Optional: clamps and spray paint for the pots
- Vertical cross pieces: Three furring strips cut to 4’ each.
- Horizontal cross pieces: Three 31.5” pieces of pine for the horizontal strips–this was my dumpster wood
- Base box: To make it easy, I got one piece of 1” x 8” x 8’ pine cut into three 30″ pieces (front, back, bottom) and two 9″ pieces (end caps)
And here’s how we tackled this project.
Step 1: Before we started assembling the planter, I gave all of the pieces a quick sand using 150-grit sandpaper. Then it was time to create the base box, which is necessary to keep the weight in the bottom of the vertical planter so that it can safely stand alone.
We built this base box by first using a nail gun to attach all four sides to the bottom.
Then, we pre-drilled holes to avoid splitting the wood and added reinforcing screws at corners and other key pressure points.
Tip: Since we were working with imperfect wood, we did have some spots that didn’t line up perfectly due to slight bends in the wood. Take a look at this one we encountered after nailing the pieces together:
For those spots, we pulled out a clamp and clamped the pieces together, pre-drilled, and then drilled the screws in. This avoided putting too much pressure on the fragile wood while drilling.
Once the base box was done, we used a drill bit to drill drainage holes in the bottom.
Step 2: Next we attached the three vertical pieces: one on each side of the back and in the middle. We used a nail gun to attach them, then we pre-drilled holes and screwed them on tightly.
Step 3: We used a pencil to mark on the three vertical pieces where we wanted the three horizontal pieces to go. We grabbed some clamps and clamped the horizontal pieces on to help us visualize how it would look.
The clamps also made it easier to shoot a few nails in using the nail gun, which held everything in place when we removed the clamps but hadn’t yet pre-drilled the holes or drilled the screws.
Tip: When positioning the horizontal strips and deciding where to drill the screws, we had to remember that each of the pot clips would need to be drilled on, too.
Step 4: Paint! Since I knew this piece would be out in the elements and the base would hold wet soil, I gave it a coat of primer and two coats of this paint. I am so happy with how much a few coats of paint cleaned this piece up.
Here it is bare, with primer, and painted!
Step 5: Lastly, I attached the pot clips. I absolutely love these pot clips. They don’t look terribly sturdy, but they hold the pots very well.
They don’t fit all lips–for example, they didn’t fit the 6” pots at Jo-Ann, but they did fit the 6” pots at Lowe’s. The key is the pot’s lip size, not the diameter of the pot’s opening!
I painted my pots using this paint so that they would have a nice contrast with the light beige planter.
For my herbs, I planted spicy oregano, parsley, a few sweet basils, thyme, Thai basil, cilantro, and of course catnip. So obviously Henry wanted the Oregano instead.
I love how you can easily slide the pots in and out of the hooks! These Pot Klips are great.
I decided to plant lettuce in the box, and they started sprouting just a few days after I planted them. Let’s hope they keep growing!
A last-minute addition to this project was using Liquid Nails to glue pieces of scrap wood on the bottom corners of the planter base. Since we have a solid balcony surface, I wanted to raise the planter a bit to help with drainage. You can see them in the pic above.
When I’m not taking pictures of this for the blog, I actually turn it toward the front of the balcony. That’s the sunny spot! It also gives us much more room when we’re using our bistro set.
I’m so happy with how it looks, and as of this post going up, I’ve managed to keep everything alive. Container gardening can be challenging, but I am happy with how this option has worked out for us so far, especially for our small space.