Friday, April 15, 2011

The Good, The Bad & The Dirty ~ DIY Concrete Planters

After our day long search for decorative planters to use in our back flower bed, we decided to DIY-it.  We started by talking through how we thought we should make them, then spent some time Googling and reading how others had tackled the project.  After spending some time in the flowerbed testing different measurements, we decided we wanted the exterior to be 28" square with 3" thick walls.  Then, for the first time ever on one of our projects, we drew a project plan~
We were planning to have Lowe's make the cuts for us, so we made a list of all the wood cuts plus other supplies that we would need, including concrete, concrete dye and sealer.  I even unsuccessfully calculated attempted to calculate the cubic feet of mixed concrete that we would need...  that was only the beginning of the challenge.  We ended up going with the cheapest plywood Lowe's offers along with 6-50 lb.bags of quick-set concrete and 3 boxes of concrete dye--expecting this to be enough for two planters--Mistake #1.  If we were going to do this, I wanted it to be cost effective.

After making our trip to Lowe's, we set up shop in the garage.  Eric pulled out the trusty nail gun.  Ours shoot nails and large staples.  We decided to go with the staples--Mistake #2.

We first created our 25" square insets.  Then we stapled together our 28" outer frames.  Mistake #3.  It wasn't until we put the inset in the outer frame that we realized we should have subtracted 3" off of each side--duh--and not just off of one side.  The insets were supposed to be 22"!  And, we'd already built all of the frames.  We then had to take apart the inner frames and use a circular saw to trim each of them down and then re-staple them. 

At this point, we finally made a smart decision to fill them in place rather than build them in the garage and transfer them to the flowerbed.  At the time we thought it each one would weight 150 lbs. ...not the end result!

After moving them into the flowerbed and deciding on placement, Eric went to work leveling (or attempting to level) the area.  We have lots of roots in the dirt, which posed quite a challenge~

Then came final placement and making sure all sides were evenly spaced~
Now, time to mix the concrete. We chose to add charcoal concrete dye, which comes in a chalky powder.  We liked the resulting color, but beware, it will get all over you and your clothes.  I suggest wearing black while doing this project!

We kept a spray nozzle on the waterhose.  I added water to the mix as Eric stirred.  After we reached our desired consistency, it was time to start filling the frame~
We were a little sloppy with our work.  Oh well!  We mixed 2 bags of concrete at a time and added 1 box of dye in each batch.  After adding the first batch to the frame we realized we'd need all 6 bags for each planter---making each planter weigh a whopping 300 lbs.  After filling the first planter, here's what we had~

Then we learned of the mistake of the staples.  As we were cleaning up, we noticed one board starting to pop loose.  We tried adjusting it into place, and another board started to pop loose.  So, as the sun was setting on our Sunday, I braced myself holding them in place and well as I could, while Eric ran to the garage for the drill for reinforcement.  After adding a few screws, we'd manage to salvage planter number one.  We went ahead and reinforced the other planter frame that we'd have to finish later since we were out of concrete. 

The next day after work, we removed the frame to see our product.  It was shotty at best...  The wall where the staples gave way was lopsided and another wall cracked even though we carefully removed the frame.

We debated whether it was salvagable.  We decided that if we'd made it this far, we might as well keep going. 
After completing both planters, it was time to try to make them look better with flowers.  To ensure proper drainage, we filled the bottom of each planter with rocks~
Next, due to the cracking walls of the planters, we added rebar for reinforcement~
After visiting our local nursury and working with them to determine which plants might work best, here's what we had~
Ornamental grasses in front, a front row of yellow sundrops which will grow to drape over the edges, a middle row of hot pink begonias, and a back row of light pink geraniums and purple catmint.  After adding mulch to the flowerbeds, we achieved our desired end result~
All in all, this project certainly didn't go the way we planned.  We've done lots of DIY projects that went smoothly, and I see many projects on blogs that look like they went flawlessly.  The truth is, not everything is perfect.  We learn from our mistakes, and hopefully, despite them, we get the results we need.

And, I can't finish this post without saying thanks to my helper, Maizy, who hasn't eaten my plants yet.  That friends is success!!

UPDATE:  After last night's severe hailstorm, the back flowerbed is in serious need of work again.  More on that next week!


  1. Ok I love these!! I want some now! I didn't know you blogged. I'm so following you now!

  2. I found your blog via a Google search for concrete planters. I LOVED READING THIS! Especially the part about actually drawing a plan. I'm a DIY'er and I seldom take the time to plan. Including this in your post made me laugh out loud - for real. How have the planters held up?

  3. This is a beautiful topics for DIY Concrete Planters .Its clear any one who want to know about it.Thanks for your sharing.
    rebar reinforcement

  4. my fiancee worked in the concrete business for over 25 years, decorative as well as industrial. now that hes not doing it anymore, and missing it, i have a project for him, thank you for the great idea!!! only I want my planters to be octagon shaped ( it will be interesting to see how he does it, and i know he will) and I was thinking long rectangle ones running parallel to the driveway on both sides 2 feet high or less would be nice too. I could mix different colored hostas in them. or maybe a mix of foliage and flowers.