Most gardeners I know love free things, and wood pallets offer free building materials for just about any construction project imaginable. You can find them on the side of the road, pick them up from businesses, and scavenge them from dumpsters. They are composed of relatively sturdy wood held together by flimsy nails that are easy to remove. They are, in short, the ideal DIY material. Here are some of the most useful pallet garden projects I have come across.
1. Compost Bins
The internet is brimming with wood pallet compost bin designs, and with good reason. Wood pallets provide an easy to build and efficient compost bin at a very low cost. For a low tech wood pallet compost bin, just connect four pallets together using twine and some stakes. For more advanced projects, consider building multiple bay compost bins out of pallets like the one featured in this short video:
2. Vertical Planters
If you have limited garden space, vertical gardening is the best solution for expanding your beds. With a little ingenuity, wood pallets make ideal vertical planters.
A coat of paint and some posts are all you need to turn a collection of wood pallets into an attractive garden fence. Wood pallets typically measure between 3 and 4 feet wide and 3 and 4 feet tall, making them ideal for a garden fence. Think of your wood pallet as a partially assembled section of fence. All you have to do is remove a few pieces of wood and add some notches for a picket fence that is both easy to build and very affordable, like this guy did:
4. Cold Frames
Cold frames make it possible to extend your growing season all through the winter and they are relatively simple to build. Wood pallets provide you with a source of scrap wood to build your cold frame, saving you money at the hardware store, and if you can combine your wood pallets with an old window then you have all of the basic materials you need - for free. This video shows a simple cold frame design that you can modify for use with wood pallets:
5. Window Box or Planter
Nothing says summer to me like window boxes overflowing with flowers. Wooden window boxes and planters are the perfect weekend DIY project for gardeners. They do not require advanced carpentry skills, and with a nice coat of paint or stain can blend into every decor scheme. The benefit of DIY window boxes is that you can tailor the dimensions of your box to fit your porch or windowsill.
6. Potting Bench
Bending over for extended periods of time isn't great for our backs. A potting bench or table helps relieve some of the stress on our backs during seeding and potting, and DIY tables are perfect for these messy jobs. You can use raw pallets or you can apply a coat of paint or stain for rugged, long lasting potting benches. Adjust your DIY bench to your height for maximum comfort.
7. Raised Beds
Raised bed gardening is all the rage these days, and with good reason. Raised beds offer temperature and drainage advantages over traditional plots, and are great for conserving garden space or for square foot gardening. Plenty of books have been written about the advantages of raised bed gardening, but buying the wood to build these raised beds is less exciting. Wood pallets provide a free source of materials so that your raised beds don't cost you a fortune.
8. Garden Furniture
I always balk at the cost of patio furniture. Outdoor furniture spends a lot of time exposed to the elements during the summer and shoved into storage during the winter. These chairs and couches need to be sturdy and weather resistant, and that comes at a price (either to your wallet or sense of aesthetics). Or, you could build your own garden furniture using wood pallets for free. There are countless free plans and video tutorials out there about building pallet furniture and many websites devoted to the DIY pallet community. Here is a simple tutorial for a garden chair to give you an idea of the work and skill level involved:
Whoever said "don't look a gift horse in the mouth" wasn't familiar with wood pallet construction. You should always research safety concerns regarding your materials, especially free materials. Pallets are graded based on the treatments used to make them. Some pallets are heat treated (HT), which is safe for use, but others are fumigated with Methyl Bromide (MB), which is a powerful pesticide and has been linked to human health problems. If you do not see a logo, don't use it. It is not worth the risk of introducing harmful chemicals into our bodies and gardens.
Another safety consideration is the pallet's history. Pallets that you know were used to transport toxic materials are generally a bad idea to use, period. Pallets with oily or unpleasant spills are also risky. It pays to be picky about your pallets. While they might be free, your health and the health of your loved ones is not a price you want to pay.
Check out this in-depth article about pallet safety for more information. Are there any other uses for pallets in the garden that you have tried?