Pallet Planters - A Reclaiming Project

Container gardeners have a seemingly endless variety of planters to utilize, yet it is plastic that more often or not finds its way into the garden. In the gardener's eyes, these planters seem to be the most inexpensive option for setting up their growing space. Sure, plastic planters are relatively cheap, but it's this type of thinking that leads us to purchase into unsustainable products. While even the Patio of Pots garden hasn't escaped the lure of cheap plastic, a renewed sense of sustainability was put into place for the 2013 season; pallet planters! By utilizing wood pallets bound for the landfill, container expenses were reduced to less than that of buying plastic planters, and also gave the satisfaction of reducing the garden's environmental impact. In this article, learn why pallets are a viable planter option, how to find the right pallets, and to see examples of reclaimed pallet planters.


Why Pallets?

Wood Pallets. Photo By: Walt Stoneburner
Immediately, some of you reading this will argue that using pallets is somewhat hypocritical in a sustainability sense. After all, pallets are a massive reason for deforestation and other unsustainable practices. While I won't explain these processes in detail, I will agree that they need immediate addressing for the better good of our planet. In a completely sustainable outlook, wood pallets should simply not exist. However angering the processes of producing pallets may be, the reality is that there are tons produced and tons that end up in the landfill. This is where the sustainability of pallet planters comes into play. Since there's an abundance of pallets streaming into the landfill, why not grab up a couple and put them to good use. Instead of polluting the environment further by improperly decomposing in landfills, pallets can be refashioned to grow flowers and even vegetables! Reclaimed pallet planters also cut down on the dependency of plastics in our gardens, cutting our environmental impact even further!

Choosing the Proper Pallets - 

While I'd like to tell you that building pallet planters is as easy as disassembling an old landfill bound pallet and building a planter, the process isn't really such. To ensure that you are growing healthy crops that pose no harm to your health, there are a few things you need to consider when selecting the proper pallets:
Wood Pallet showing the IPPC stamp.

  • The IPPC Stamp - When searching for pallets to use, the first step to look for is an IPPC seal. Required for wood pallets used for international transport, this seal will tell a lot about the pallet. If the seal bears the initials MB, this stands for Methyl Bromide fumigation treatment. Although this toxic treatment is being phased out, all pallets bearing the MB initials should be avoided. Pallets bearing the HT (heat treated) and DB (debarked) initials are generally safe for use, granted they meet the other criteria below. 
  • Stains/Spills - If there are visible stains or spills on the pallets, it's best practice to leave them alone. Unless you're 100% certain that whatever was spilled on the pallet was not toxic, just pass. It's better to be safe than have a potentially toxic cocktail leaching into your garden!
  • Mold/Pests - This one should hopefully be a no-brainer! Never use pallets with visible signs of mold or pest infestations. 
  • Grocery/Food Industry Pallets - Wood pallets used in food transport can, and have been known to harbor pathogens such as e. coli and listeria. The majority of these pallets will be safe, but once again, avoiding pallets used for food transport is just good practice!
  • Domestic Pallets - Many pallets (at least here in the US), lack an IPPC stamp. These untreated pallets are commonly built and used for domestic transport. Granted they meet the standards above, these raw pallets are generally safe for gardening with. 

Planters out of Pallets - 

Now that all the technical jargon is out of the way, it's time to let your creative mind run wild. You can take apart the pallets for endless designs, or keep them together and plant right inside! With so many sizes of pallets, there is bound to be a design that's perfect for your patio space. If you choose to disassemble the pallets, take into consideration that it will take a bit of time and labor. From personal experience, I'll be the first to say that their not the easiest to get apart! Though I was able to disassemble with just the back end of a regular hammer and a mallet, you may want to find an approach that is best suited for your own needs. Once they're apart, separate out similar pieces and plan your planter designs. I've included a design and finished product as an example:
Pallet planter designs. Okay, so my original pallet planter
design was crude at best, but the final product ended up
turning out very nice. Filled with soil, this pallet planter is
ready to grow!

Alright, so that just about wraps up this article on how to build pallet planters. My only hope is that the text has sparked a pallet planter design of your own! Just in case it hasn't, I'll leave you with a couple more designs I managed to create. Thanks for reading, and as always, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you may have!

Planters made from Pallets - 

Okay, so I made this planter from old fence posts, but it can be made with
pallets just as easily!

Constructed from a large pallet, this planter is over 52 inches long!
This planter was constructed from the framework of a few