Learn how to build a vertical balcony garden, the perfect project for small-space gardening! I created this project as a way to grow more herbs and veggies on my small apartment balcony.
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? It looked like it used to be crib slats, and it was in great shape.
See more DIY garden ideas for small spaces!
Vertical balcony garden solution
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…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.
Vertical balcony garden supplies
- Wood—I used a mixture of my dumpster wood, which I think was actually crib slats; common pine boards (the knotty stuff); and furring strips.
- Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer and HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams Laid-Back Beige paint (here)
- Flower Pot Clips and eight 6” pots (Note: Pot Clips 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: (3) furring strips cut to 4 feet each.
- Horizontal cross pieces: (3) 31.5-inch pieces of pine for the horizontal strips—this was my dumpster wood.
- Base box: To make it easy, I got one piece of 1-inch x 8-inch x 8-foot pine cut into (3) 30-inch pieces—the front, back, and bottom—and (2) 9-inch pieces—the end caps.
And here’s how to build a vertical garden balcony!
Step 1: Prep and build the base box
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. The nails would not have been enough to hold everything, especially with the weight of wet soil.
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. 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. Drainage is also necessary, so a few holes in the bottom will do the trick. Just keep placement in mind for this garden structure because dirty water will be draining out the bottom.
Step 2: Attach the vertical pieces
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 and hold them in place, then we pre-drilled holes and screwed them on tightly.
Step 3: Add the horizontal pieces
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. Looking back, I’m not sure why we used the nails since the clamps did a great job holding everything in place.
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 paint suitable for outdoor use. 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: Attach pot clips and paint pots
For the last step, I attached the pot clips. I absolutely love these pot clips. They don’t look terribly sturdy at all, but they hold the pots very well. They don’t fit all pot 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 necessarily 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 pot clips!
Finished DIY vertical balcony garden
And here is my totally finished balcony garden planter! Look how many pots I can fit!! T decided to plant lettuce in the box since that is an easy gateway vegetable to grow, and it started sprouting just a few days after I’d planted it. 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 pics below.
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 little 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.
Update! Let’s talk pot clips.
Okay guys, I am popping in to update this post YEARS after originally publishing it in 2015ish. It’s now 2021 and we still have and use these awesome little pot clips. I actually wrote an entire post about them last year—how to hang plant pots on fences and decks.
But as you can see from this project, you can attach the clips to pretty much any vertical wood surface. I’ve put them on wood planter structures like this one, our slatted HVAC unit screen, fence posts, our deck posts, and more. I even used them on a modern wooden key rack I made.
For pictures of these pot clips in action in our current backyard, check out our yard post from 2019 and then an update post from 2020. I leave these bad boys out year round and they have held up amazingly. And guess what? I have NEVER had a pot fall off of them. Even outside in wicked summer thunderstorms. I can’t recommend them enough to help you maximize vertical space!!