How to Make a Better Strawberry Pallet Planter


Over the past year I've come across scores of diy pallet projects, some of them intriguing and others not quite there yet but still having potential. One that I see time and again is the idea of using a single wooden pallet as a strawberry planter. Filled with soil and with plants inserted in the gaps they're usually leaned up against a wall but sometimes bolted on to keep from tumbling over. It's a clever idea but I've steered away from trying it myself because I suspect that they'll require constant watering and erosion control and also because I'm not convinced that they'll work long term. Almost every image I've found of pallet planters look to be newly planted rather than a tried and tested design.






Still I was interested in the idea and with the gift of eight pristine wooden pallets, I started scouring the internet looking for alternative tutorials. Ones that offered increased stability, more soil capacity and better aesthetics. Eventually, after finding nothing that really jumped out at me, I came to the conclusion that I'd have to come up with my own design. After thinking about the process for this post I'm quite sure that anyone who is comfortable using a hammer and hand-saw could complete this project too. Though I'll be honest and say it's much easier if you have a jigsaw and a few other extra tools.


First of all, choosing pallets for diy projects involves a bit of know-how. You need pallets that are in good condition, without rot, and which have not been treated with chemical insecticides. Most people are probably not aware of this but pallets that cross international borders must be either heat treated or sprayed to stop the spread of foreign pests. Whether you think this is a good idea or not, you certainly do not want pesticide-soaked furniture or objects in your garden let alone your home. Not only can it kill off insects that eat your crops but it can indiscriminately kill all the beneficial insects too. There's also the possibility of your plants absorbing these chemicals into their tissues and into your tasty strawberries!

To help you find the right type of pallet for your project I've put together a diagram of what to look for when you spot one. By international law, a pallet must be stamped twice with certain information which includes whether it's been sprayed. Keep clear of any pallets that have been printed with the letters MB.


For this project you will also need to look for a pallet that has six or nine planks making up its main surface. The reason for this is that the first major step will be in slicing the pallet up into three equal sized pieces (both six and nine are divisable by three). If there's such a thing as a pallet with twelve planks then all the better because that means you can build an even larger planter.

For this tutorial I've tried to use a series of photos to illustrate the various steps. As a beginner wood worker, it's easier for me to understand what I'm meant to be doing if there are visuals - I hope they'll help you too. After the main construction sequence I've also listed more in-depth instructions.







How to Make a Better Strawberry Planter out of a Wooden Pallet

You will need the following materials:
- A suitable pallet as described above
- A hand-saw or jigsaw
- Electric drill or hammer
- Two sizes of screws and nails - approx. lengths 4 cm (1-1/2") and 8cm (3")

Optional:
- Heavy duty chisel/wedge and iron mallet
- Non-toxic paint and paintbrush


Step 1: Cut the pallet into three equal pieces
The easiest way to do this is to cut lay the pallet so that the long planks are in parallel with your own position. If your pallet has nine planks, like mine did, then count over three planks and then saw the wood between the third and fourth planks. Saw right in the middle, to keep things easy and to ensure that all of your proportions remain correct. Continue another three planks and cut again. Remember that you'll have to saw in the exact places on both the front and back of the pallet.

Step 2: Trim and remove excess wood pieces
You'll have three pieces of pallet now, all of the same height and width. Two of the pallets will be formed from the top and bottom and will have chunky blocks securely fixed to them between one of three planks on the front side and the single one left on on the other. You'll want to trim off the excess wood jutting up from each one of these wooden blocks. Please refer to images for step one and two. Though I chose not to do it in this project, you could also remove that single plank on the back side. If you do this then you could have a deeper planter - it's up to you.

The piece that made up the centre part of the pallet also has thick wooden blocks sandwiched between its front side and stubby planks on the other. Pull these blocks and stubby planks off but keep them in reserve - you'll need them to complete the project. If there are nails sticking up after removing these pieces then either hammer them flat or remove them completely.

Step 3: Fix the two end pieces to the middle part of the pallet. Screw in from the other side of the middle (bottom) piece. 
The two end pieces will be the sides of your planter and the middle piece is the bottom. Though the image shows the structure right way up, it's actually easier to flip it over in order to fix the bottom piece to the sides. You'll want to screw or nail the bottom piece into the wooden blocks still attached to the side pieces. 

Step 4: You should have three to four of these pieces that were removed from the centre piece of the pallet. Separate them into individual blocks and planks.
This is easier said than done if you don't have the right tools. Since pallet wood that has been heat treated can be brittle if you try to pull the plank off with the tongs of a hammer. If you have a heavy duty chisel then I recommend that you use it to separate the block and the plank and sever the nails in two. If you're planning on doing any more pallet projects you could really save yourself a lot of tears and invest in one along with an iron mallet down at your local hardware store. If any of your pieces have bits of nails sticking out then try to hammer them flat.

Step 5: Use planks to create the sides and the blocks for feet
If you've followed the directions in step 1 and sawed in the middle between the long planks, then the little planks leftover from step four should all be approximately the same length. They will also be the same width you need to create the shorter sides of your planter. If your original pallet was the same size as mine then you'll have four of these planks to make up two pieces for each side. The bottom planks for each of the shorter sides can be created by re-using the bits of wood you cut off the side pieces in step two. For a more pleasing and symmetrical effect, line the small side planks up with the planks along the front and back pieces.

Attaching the wooden blocks as feet can be a bit tricky and in the end I drove very long screws in sideways to attach them to the bottom of the planter. Putting feet on the piece will help with drainage and slow down the process of the bottom rotting. I think they also make the planter look nicer. 

I can foresee some people finding pallets of slightly different sizes to mine and being left with less small planks and blocks in this step. In fact it's more likely that you'll end up with three of each rather than four, especially if you're using a smaller pallet. In this case you'll be cobbling together more scraps to make and additional side piece and having to find a fourth block to use as the last foot. In this case I'd look at removing one of the inner blocks from the side pieces to use.

Step 6: Project Completed!
Well almost :) Turn your planter right way up and have a look at it. Does it feel sturdy? Are the feet wobbly? Are there extra bits of wood sticking up that you could trim back? Once you feel the planter is complete then either plant it up as is or use a non-toxic outdoor wood paint to paint the exterior. Being wood, this piece will eventually rot down but some tlc now can help extend its life.



Step 7: Plant it up
Soil and compost will erode through any unprotected opening in the sides or bottom of the planter. Putting down your choice of barrier materials will help keep that soil where it's supposed to be. I chose to line the bottom of my planter with scraps of wire then a layer of gardening fabric that will let water out but keep matter in. Since I placed my planter against a hedge I also chose to roll the black material up the back since I won't be planting any strawberries on that side. On top of the fabric and running up the sides I used straw as an organic erosion barrier.

The easiest way to plant your strawberries is to work your way up from the bottom. A layer of compost, mixed with well rotted horse manure and slow-release organic fertiliser went in first. Then I placed the plants in the bottom slots along with straw. Another layer of my compost mixture and then I repeated the process for the next set of slots. You'll also notice that I've spaced my plants out far more than you'll see in most other pallet planter tutorials. If you want strawberries to produce well, it's recommended that you place the plants at least 35cm (14") apart. I've also made sure that each plant will be able to grow and spread out without smothering any plants underneath.








If you decide to try making one of my diy pallet planters for yourself then please feel free to get in touch if you have any further questions. And considering that my planter is just newly planted up I'll also be posting on its progress throughout the year with any other tips and tricks I learn along the way.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Update on 14/07/2013
Here's a before and after shot of how my planter looked on the day of construction and how it looks today. In two months the plants have grown enormously and I'm picking ripe berries every day. I've planted my container with two types of strawberry and the most prolific are the ever-bearing variety that should produce fruit for most of the summer.


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66 comments:

  1. The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say Tanya - so we shall have to wait and see now how well they fruit - but the idea looks very good indeed.

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    1. Absolutely! I have a feeling it will do well but will post on its progress throughout the coming year.

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  2. What a fabulous idea! I really like this as I have to create a new strawberry patch this year and this would free up a raised bed if I had a couple of these. Thank you xxx

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    1. That was my dilemma too Fran...I wanted a good place to grow strawberries without taking up too much space. I'd love to see a photo of yours if you end up making one yourself :)

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  3. Absolutely LOVE this!! I'll be featuring it tomorrow in my Tuesday's "Three". :) You are so creative.

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  4. I just love this idea and I think it is much better than the pyramid one I was going to make. Just wanted to ask if the plants can stay out in the winter in one of these? I live in Columbia, MO and our winters can get pretty cold.

    thanks for any help
    Jayne
    lady_jayne_1999@hotmail.com

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    1. Hi Jayne, if you were concerned about freezing temperatures, maybe move your planter into a greenhouse over the winter. Since it would take a couple of very strong people to move it once it's filled, maybe you could think about attaching wheels to the feet area instead of the blocks?

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  5. that is such a brilliant idea - I've been looking for a first project to tackle and this could be just the thing!

    thanks
    Richard

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    1. Am glad you like the project Richard - let me know how you get on if you end up building one?

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  6. I love the idea to, but am worried about cold temps come winter. Will the plants make it without ground warmth? And no I don't have a green house :-(

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    1. Strawberries are pretty hardy so why not give it a go? If it doesn't work out, strawberry plants are inexpensive so it's not a big loss. You could then use the planter for something different...herbs in the slots and lettuces on the top maybe? Perhaps even squash or wildflowers - the possibilities are endless :)

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    2. I left a strawberry in a 1 gal. nursery pot in my shed this winter; it survived nicely. Still green in the spring. Gave it to my friend. (Zone 5)

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  7. What a great tutorial. I hope you get a great strawberry harvest from it.

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    1. Me too Jo! I'm thinking about sowing some radishes on the top as well - there's plenty of space between the plants.

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  8. I was going to tear apart a pallet to build planter boxes for my veggie garden, but this seems a lot better.Great idea! Thanks!

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  9. Looks great! Hope it works Cuz I want one too.

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  10. That's fantastic, clever you. The tutorial is really handy, and it is so useful to know about the printed symbols on the pallets. I'm betting the strawberries will do really well in there, with so much space, fantastic soil and not too many slugs and snails. Maybe you could put something around the feet of the planter to deter them further - gravel or copper perhaps. (Last year they ate almost all of my strawbs - the ones that didn't rot in the rain that is!) A really great post, it must have taken you ages, thank you.

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    1. Love the idea of slug-deterring copper around the legs...genius! The project itself is pretty quick and should only take about an hour and a half, start to finish. Planting it up probably took another 45 minutes so really just an afternoon.

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    2. I'm told that slugs are deterred by using epsom salts to fertilize garden plants either disolve a tsp to gallon of water and use to water or mix about 1/2 cup into soil used for planting; also told to use aluminium pie plates and stake down or fill with gravel beside cabbages or other plants that have slug issues; also, thinking might do a planter for strawberries and one for herbs on back porch; handy to kithen; and another for cucumbers and one for squash because we do the raised bed gardens and it would save space on the viney plants that use more room!

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  11. What a great idea - thank you for the tutorial x

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  12. Wow! I'm impressed! This looks very interesting :)

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  13. I'm def going to try this. My wife has been telling me that we don't have room for strawberries. I have so many other veggies going, but I have no fruit, so it would be nice to finally get some going........Can't wait.

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  14. I had my first set of pallets and decided after seeing your post, that this would be my first pallet project. With the help of my hubby, we broke them down, then built two of these in about 2 hours. We still have to put the liner, soil and plants in, but I am very pleased with how they turned out. Thanks so much for the great idea!

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    1. Brillliant! Maybe you could share a photo of them on my Facebook page? :)

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  15. I look forward to seeing how your strawberries grow!

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    1. The plants are doing well so far...my only concern is that birds might try to get at the fruits so I might have to net the box eventually.

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  16. Tanya, I'm so impressed with your ingenuity. I think it helps that you have the right tools to speed up the job. My son tried to take a pallet apart to build a frame for a school photo project and it took him ages! The planks just wouldn't separate as hugely long nails had been driven in. Once the pieces were broken up, we still had to deal with the nails. You seem to have avoided that problem and come up with a well designed trough for your plants. It's an idea I'd love to copy - the finished piece is rustically beautiful.

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    1. Oh yes, same here with taking a pallet apart. The wedge helps with that but it really takes a LONG time.

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  17. What a great idea! You did an amazing job and did a great job with the post too. Thanks for the info...can't wait to see it with the strawberries filled in. :)

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  18. It looks great Tanya.....I do love both DIY and recycling projects so one that combines both is just great!!

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  19. Hubby brought me home some really good pallets,I already have a strawberry garden that does great so I am going to try these out on my tomatoes,peppers and zucchini,wish me luck!

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    1. Would love to see a photo of all those veggies growing in one...good luck! :)

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  20. Just finished making this and I love it I'm yet to put soil and strawberries in it but its looking great had pics to post but can't work out how

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  21. My wife found this on Pintrest and it has now become my project ;-) I have built one and had to modify as it did not use some of the same dimension wood as yours did so I had to "barrow" wood from an extra pallet :-)

    The part I'm confused about is putting the starters in the planter.
    My spacing between pallet decking is wider than yours, is that okay or will soil fall out the sides?
    You said space the starters 14" apart which I get, but how much soil do I put on top of each layer?
    And as far as orientating the starters do I do it like the figure below?

    Figure 1:
    Layer3 X->-X->-X
    Layer2 ->X->-X
    Layer1 X->-X->-X

    Thanks for the help, Ryan

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    1. If you're worried about soil spilling out you might want to line the inside of your planter with that weed-resistant material you can buy at garden centres. It lets water drain through but holds soil in and will also stop weeds from taking root in the side slats of your planter. When you've figured out where to place your plants just slit a hole in the material and push the plant through.

      As for how much soil to layer on top, I don't think it really matters just so long as you provide enough soil and compost for each plant to have a healthy root system. Also, please plant in whichever order you'd prefer and just use my tips as guides :)

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  22. Another option for avoiding possible contamination would be to use the pallet planter as a container for pots rather than planting directly in it...

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    1. Absolutely! Whether a pallet has been treated with Methyl Bromide or not, there's a concern about what exactly has been shipped around on the pallets and if the wood has been exposed to any contaminants.

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  23. We make stuff from pallets around our place. Thank you so much for including the info on how to check whether a pallet has been treated with pesticides!

    I also love your strawberry planter. We will be using your plan this fall when we plant more strawberries. Great idea!

    http://mamaisinspired.com/

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    1. You're very welcome C and have fun with the project this autumn :)

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  24. I've just stumbled across your blog and found this post. The pallet planter is a perfect project for me and the hubby to tackle. We have ducks and they tend to root around in plants so I can grow things in here which they can't reach!

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  25. Planter finished. Wow, that was the best constructed pallet ever. I think it is oak. Had a heck of a time getting it apart. Strawberries go in tomorrow. Love this idea! Thank you! My strawberries started to take over more real estate then they were allotted. Now they have their own little condo. :) Thanks again for the great idea!

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  26. Hi Tanya... very good idea... I have been using wooden pallets to construct many things such as (my first) chicken coop and beds for my veggies... your project on the strawberries is very good... it got my mind cracking as to my next pallet project...

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  27. Prolly dumb question but im new to gardening entirely will be attempting to make this since my son is a strawberry fiend!!!! Did u plants seed inside this box? or start seedling indoors then transplant?

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    1. Not a dumb question :) I started with bare-root strawberry plants that I potted up and grew for a month before planting inside the pallet planter.

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  28. Love it! have to ask my hubby to grab me a pallet from work...this would probibly work nice for potatoes too

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  29. To solve the problem of the cold, I think it would be fairly easy to frame a hoop house around the box. I can only container garden and hoop houses in the winter save my plants. Thanks for sharing this! I can't wait to give it a try!

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  30. i am waiting the next post coz am very i need to starb but does reqiure attetion time is problem.

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  31. i mean can i plant and leave it on its own to grow.

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  32. Tanya,

    I'm going to try this. What state are you located in, and what particular strawberry plant did you plant?

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    1. I'm in the UK! The strawberries I planted into the container are called Malling Opal (an everbearing variety) but I also had a nameless variety that I put in the bottom slots.

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    2. We're located in Florida, USA. They grow strawberries here in my home town, so I sure hope this works. Thanks so much for your great idea!! We already found ourselves a pallet with the correct stamp on it! Any other tips for us?

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  33. After weeks of looking tutorials on line! thank youuuuu!!!!!!! soooo much easier with the pics!!!!

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  34. Thanks for this idea, I found a slightly different pallet but it came out fine for a raised veggie bed.
    sheryn

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    1. That's great to hear Sheryn...would love to see a photo! If you have a chance, will you post it on my Facebook page?

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  35. What do you do about the runners? I've read on other sites to keep them and then I've read to cut them. What do you with yours in pellets? I was thinking of putting this in my front yard, in front of my windowsill. But I've read birds love strawberries as much as we do. This seems easier to put a net over than growing it on the ground. Thanks for the idea.

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  36. I bet erosion wouldn't be a Problem if you used the Bottle Waterer Idea.

    Like this on link.

    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/80924124527809610/

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  37. so going to build these for my deck just bought bare root berries to plant now to get hubby to bring me pallets... lol

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  38. love this idea I also have got a few pallets im going to try this with and just bought everberring strawberries as well...so excited to see how they turn out

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  39. also looks like it will eliminate the crawling bugs-eating-the-strawberry problem I have.

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  40. Love your way of creating a strawberry planter using pallets. I have this weird love for projects using pallets, but can't decide on which ones to do. This is going to the top of the list.
    Oh, and thanks for explaining treated vs untreated. I hadn't seen that yet.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  41. Thanks so much for the tutorial of the panter and how to plant them! We are doing our first garden this year and I'm super excited for strawberries! My boyfriend made the planter for me but we were wondering how many plants you planted and if you planted the strawberries only on the sides of the planter in between the slats, or across the entire surface of each layer? Sorry if that makes no sense lol I'm having a hard time figuring out how to pose the question! Thanks again!

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