Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Garden boxes are one of my favorite ways to grow my veggies etc. There are a lot of perks to gardening this way- it’s elevated, which makes tending to your plants a lot easier on your back! #hellobackache It’s great for smaller, more contained gardens because it adds dimension, height and interest. Depending on the type of box you choose to build, your box edges can double as seats in the garden. Two functions for the price of one! #frugalmama #twobirdsonestone
I’m a big advocate of gardening organically. Pesticides and herbicides harm our health, the wildlife’s health and the earth itself. #crunchymama right here! If you prefer to use them though- I suggest considering keeping your garden boxes organic to grow your food. It’s easy to create a buffer of separation with a path and the box itself and avoid using sprays in your organic zone. It’s what you and your family are eating, after all!!
So how do you choose what kind of box to build and how do you go about actually building it?! In my mind you have two basic building materials: wood, or masonry of some sort.
#Wood The pros
Wood is an inexpensive material to work with.
It is also a simple material to work with.
With the proper tools it's not a complicated thing to cut it down to the exact size you need, and it’s easy to level your wood. Using screws (nails will pull out) you can make several garden boxes in one day, even if you’ve never made one before.
The nice thing about wood is that if you ever want to move your box (and I have, haha), you can take it apart and relocate it. As long as the wood hasn’t rotted through you can even reuse the same boards or just replace the ones that need replacing. You can paint the outside of your garden box any color you like, so it’s simple and fun to personalize. If you get tired of the color or want a quick update it’s not a big deal to repaint your box.
The con to this is that you WILL have to repaint it at some point as paint tends to peel off wood when exposed to the elements fairly quickly.
Expect to have to repaint at least every 5 years if not more often.
The biggest downside to wood is that it does not last forever, especially when exposed to the elements, wet dirt, roots etc.
You will almost certainly have to rebuild your box at some point. What kind of wood though?
You’ll want to avoid using treated wood as those chemicals will seep into the surrounding soil and contaminate your crops. Cedar tends to last the longest in terms of being pest and weather/rot resistant.
Unfortunately cedar is also a more expensive option in terms of wood.
#Masonry The pros
A masonry box gives you a lot of options.
You can create a retaining wall/box using retaining blocks, you can build using #stone or #bricks, or in our case #cinderblocks You can stucco or paint (or both) the outside of your blocks depending on the difficulty level you feel comfortable with. Using #capstones you can create a nice, clean, professional looking top, which will double as a seat in the garden. It’s also a nice place to rest while you weed so you aren’t always bent over! We opted to use #travertine to cover the exposed sides of our cinder block box and I love how it looks.
It will also last a lot longer. You won’t have to worry about rot, or exposure to the elements. Masonry is a much more permanent solution which is ideal in many situations. It will however, also be more difficult to remove should you ever decide you don’t want it anymore. Masonry will also require little to no maintenance once its complete. Paint does not peel from masonry as easily (if you opted for paint).
You can double your function by making the top of your box a garden seat. It's great for social events or just taking a breather when you're working in the garden. #Retainingblocks and capstones require virtually no maintenance at all. You may seal them if you wish, which will keep them looking newer for longer, but if you choose not to it won’t impact the actual function of your box.
This type of box requires more planning, a higher level of expertise, will take longer to build and will also cost more than it’s wood counterpart.
#Stucco, may occasionally crack and require repair, which is ultimately the reason we opted not to go this route, but if you are confident in your stucco skills this is a good, long term option. Patching stucco is also a fairly simple thing to do and you can find tons of videos showing you how.
Sometimes the space you've picked for your box dictates the size. If your garden is small, or if you're working between two existing structures or parts of your garden that are staying put, then you need to work within that space and figure out the best use for it.
If your garden is wide open then choosing the size is more about your wants, your needs, perhaps your budget.
If you're working within a contained space, the first thing you need to do is take measurements.
Write them all down on a piece of paper and draw out the rough shape of your space.
Our most complicated box was crammed into a U shaped space. We had the fence to contend with on two sides, and our raised vineyard on the third side.
Complicating it even more was the fact that our third side was the entrance/access point to the rows of our vineyard, so we couldn't block this access. This clearly had to be the path. I access both the box and the vineyard from this path.
On the fourth side we had an existing paved path that we didn't want to mess with. Our dimensions were EXTREMELY restricted.
Because we couldn't imagine ever using this small space for anything else we choose to make this a permanent, masonry box.
In order to capitalize on the best use of space we ultimately decided on an E shaped box. This was definitely more complicated, but it meant that I could optimize my growing area, and it also meant that I could still access every point via the little niches we created.
My point is- think outside the box.
Don't be afraid to make your box L shaped, U shaped or something completely funky!
The first thing I urge you to consider is the height of your box. I find that a minimum of 2' from ground level tends to be ideal. It's the perfect height to sit on the edge while you weed or plant. It requires far less bending or stooping which saves your legs and back. Gardening is hard, rewarding work, but there's no reason to make it harder on yourself!!
2' in height usually also makes it the ideal height if you have young children who like to help you in the garden. Mine love to pick strawberries and raspberries right off the plants and pop them in their mouths, lol. This height garden box puts the plants right at eye level for them.
Then there's the depth of your box.
Where is your box located? Can you access it from both sides?
One of my garden boxes is squeezed into a corner of the yard. It's a complex L shape and two sides butt up against our fence.
This means that along those two sides I need it to be narrow enough to reach everything in the box from only one side.
Or climb into the box, lol.
If you don't mind climbing in then it's less of an issue, but when you're weeding, staking and trimming, you need to be able to access the entire box.
If you are able to easily access your box from both sides then I recommended keeping your box 4' deep. This gives you access from either direction and gives you decent length rows in which to plant. If you're using wood to build your box it's also simple to cut 8'x's in half without waste.
The length of your box is truly up to you.
If you have no size restrictions at all you can go quite long.
One thing to consider when choosing length is your material.
The longer you go the harder it is to keep the lines of your walls neat and straight. Wood will warp/bend outward with the pressure of the dirt inside. Even with reinforcement pieces on the inside it may bow.
If you are working with wood you will also want to consider the standard lengths that wood typically comes in. Using basic lengths eliminates the need for cuts, and also eliminates waste. Sometimes cutting is inevitable of course, but we try to avoid it as much as possible.
Even when building a box with masonry materials, trying to plan your length to eliminate or reduce the number of cuts necessary is the goal.
Nobody likes breathing in dust from cutting a ton of bricks with a diamond blade, lol.
So have you decided what material you want to use?
Do you know your dimensions?
What’s next? Check out my follow up blogs giving you step by step instructions on how to build wood and masonry boxes!