How to Build a Garden Box

 How to Build a Garden Box

For the first time in my adult life, I have a yard. Having moved from the cement-covered buildings of San Francisco to Portland, I now enjoy cozy home concepts set against a lush Pacific Northwest backdrop. The surrounding greenery also motivates me to test my green thumb. Because I was interested in the idea of caring for living things and growing my own food, I decided to work in the garden. How hard is it?

An overview of what's inside

This article is intended to be equal parts educational and cautionary. My experience building a garden box was not as straightforward as some articles lead readers to believe. Many obstacles and hurdles are overlooked (and oversimplified) for first-timers. Here's an honest and comprehensive look at what to consider when building a garden shed. In this article you will find the following:

What is a garden box?
Benefits of garden boxes
Avoid these mistakes while constructing a garden box
Things to consider when planning a building
Garden Box Questions and Answers
Garden box supply checklist
A step-by-step guide to building a garden box
Final tips for building a garden box

What Is a Garden Box?

Before detailing each failure and path from growing herbs to becoming a master gardener, let's get through the basics. A garden box is another term for a raised garden bed, which is what it sounds like – a gardening method that involves growing flowers and/or vegetables within an area located above ground.

Garden sheds are usually made of wood or metal, but almost any construction material will do. A little creativity and resourcefulness can go a long way in keeping your pockets full. We'll talk more about the physical considerations in a moment.

Why Use Garden Boxes?

There are many benefits to using raised beds in gardening, from aesthetic quality to functionality. The chart below provides a quick list of reasons to plant in garden boxes.

Benefits of garden boxes

Soil Quality
Pest Control
Visual Appeal
Prolonged Growing Season
Minimize Back and Joint Pain
Beginner Friendly

Garden boxes are especially useful when living in an area with poor, nutrient-rich soil or soil contaminated with heavy metals, as is common in urban areas. Testing your native soil (the stuff that's already in your garden) to make sure it's toxic and nutritionally balanced can be expensive and time-consuming.

It's great to skip the scientific and bureaucratic hassle of performing laboratory analysis on dirt, but garden boxes also allow the gardener more control over what is well-suited to the plants in his or her garden. Sanitation, fertilizer rates, etc

Aside from soil issues, garden boxes also help prevent weeds and insects from overpowering the crop. Although garden boxes typically do not have a solid bottom, lining the bottom with landscape fabric can prevent soil-dwelling insects and pesky weeds from causing problems while growing, and still allows for plenty of drainage. The items are placed in garden boxes, clearly showing what has been intentionally planted with everything growing on the property.

Because garden boxes increase drainage efficiency and temperature regulation (they heat up relatively quickly), using garden boxes can extend the growing season. Gardeners can plant in early spring.

There is also a body to consider. It is much easier to care for plants raised from the ground on the back, knees and joints. Using raised bed gardens can prevent injuries associated with bending over long periods of time.

Garden boxes also have the more obvious advantage of being attractive to look at. Adding garden sheds can add value to a property. Garden boxes are also tenant-friendly because they can be removed or moved without any consequences.

Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Garden Box

When I started my garden box journey, I had every reason to want to get a garden box but little did I know about the process involved in turning my vision into reality. I encountered many unexpected problems while building my first garden box at every stage from concept to completion.
Perhaps reading Mary Vince's worthwhile story about a budding DIYer navigating the world of woodcutting and power tools could provide a sense of camaraderie for fellow first-timers, or at least ease fears of making a mistake (or two). . There is nothing here!

Mistake 1: I'm biting off more than I can built

Initially, I planned to build three boxes running the length of my garden. I've spent a lot of time researching which plants enjoy each other's company and which plants to avoid as neighbors, but that's a whole other article!

With the top plans and general measurements in mind, I moved on to the supply assembly portion of the project, where it became very clear how flawed my initial plans were.

Armed with a tape measure and a dream, I donned my best Bob the Builder costume and headed to the local lumber yard. The first sign of trouble was the crowded parking lot. With the refreshing breeze of spring after a long and lonely winter, many others are also gearing up for home (and garden) improvement projects.

Inside there was a crazy house. The smell of freshly cut wood was intoxicating, but the rush of pushcarts piled high with beams and various planks was absolutely dizzying. Entering a male-dominated space as a beginner can be intimidating.

Overwhelmed by the process, I immediately decided to leave the project behind. After all, I hadn't started a farm (yet). I decided to start with one 4x4 garden box.

Mistake 2: Missing the Mark

After touring the lumber yard and weighing my options, I started lining my cart with cedar planks because cedar is rot-resistant and long-lasting — more on wood type later.

I wasn't prepared for the price point. I didn't bother setting a budget, assuming it would be cheaper to do it myself. Otherwise, why not buy a pre-made garden box online or go to one of the big home improvement centers and buy a ready-made kit?

Imagine my shock when the lonely old man working the register passed $200. I panicked and silently fumbled with my wallet.

You miscalculated. I chose wood by the foot, not by the board. Yes, this is probably pretty obvious to experienced builders, but I was completely naive about the value of wood.

I settled on a box of 2.5-inch deck screws and four 2x2 pegs before heading back to the car. I returned home to regroup and rethink my plans.

After wandering around a few building material reuse centers and scrolling through the free section on Craigslist, I returned to the lumber yard one weekday when things were less exciting. With the help of an employee who was a little more forthcoming than the actual cashier, I found a sale section out front with pre-cut cedar boards priced per unit. The boards had some cracks and warps but were in good condition to create a simple garden shed.

I hope my mistake can save others from embarrassment. Look closely at prices to determine if a product is sold per unit or other measure, such as length or weight!

Mistake 3: The Power Tool Learning Curve

With everything I needed safely delivered home, it was time to build. Well, I've never used a drill before. Through trial and error (learning about torque control, the difference between a drill and an impact driver, and the onslaught of new words – ahem, chuck), I was able to screw all but one screw into the wood.

Mistake 4: A Knot-So-Smooth Finish

Correct the problem? Well, I was trying to drill a hole in a knot in the wood. As it turns out, knots are solid pieces of wood and should be avoided. Solution? Simple - I moved the position of the screw so as not to interfere with the knot. there he is! I had my own nursery.

With the garden box, the rest was smooth sailing. I filled the box with three parts soil and one part compost, then planted the vegetable starters in neat rows. For full information about the process, see more step-by-step instructions in the article.

Considerations for Building a Garden Box

Although I've found that experience is the best teacher when building my first garden box, it may be helpful to learn a thing or two from my mistakes. Before starting construction, consider the following aspects of the project:


With these general considerations in mind, there are many questions I wish I had answered (or at least been known to ask) before I started building a garden shed. Let us answer some of them here:

What Kind of Wood Is Good for Raised Beds?

When considering what type of wood to use to build a garden shed, there are two main factors to consider – longevity and cost. Long-lasting, rot-resistant wood is more expensive. Consider whether you want your garden box to last a generation or only need to spend a season or two growing.

For example, using pine is a less expensive option but will deteriorate in the elements. Rice, as I mentioned earlier, is resistant to mold. You don't have to worry about maintenance or replacement, but it will cost more than before.
Regardless of the type of wood, get untreated wood to avoid chemicals in your vegetables.

How much does it cost to make a garden box?

As with everything, the cost of building a garden shed will vary depending on materials and space. However, consider the budget before building. The construction business began during the pandemic when lumber prices skyrocketed due to lumber mills closing and increased demand. It wasn't ideal, and I certainly didn't plan it.

To be honest, I haven't given much thought to lumber prices or fluctuations. Now every time I walk through my neighborhood and pass a garden box, I feel an added sense of appreciation.

To combat the high prices, I recommend looking for local suppliers. Is there a scrap yard or building materials recycling center in your area? Check Craigslist to see if anyone is offering additional materials.

Remember, if you are collecting scrap materials on the cheap, it is a good idea to keep in mind the type of wood and whether or not it has been treated, and again, no one wants toxins found in vegetables grown for consumption.

What do you fill raised beds with?

Filling a garden box depends largely on what is grown and what resources are available. If you live in an area with nutrient-rich soil, fill from the yard. A local farm or garden center may dump large amounts of soil at a reasonable price. The beauty of a garden box is that you can control what goes in it. Just don't forget to compost!

Garden Box Supply Checklist

It's time to talk about things. Here's what I used to make a 4x4 garden box:

Two 8-foot-long 2x12 cedar boards (I cut them in half at the lumber yard to make four 4-foot-long 2x12 boards)
an exercise
2.5 inch screw box
Three 3-cubic-foot bags of soil (9 cubic feet total)
Two 1.5 cubic foot bags of compost (3 cubic feet total)
Safety glasses
Measuring tape

How to Build a Garden Box Step-by-Step

make a plan. Consider what you want to grow, the location of the garden box (full sun, partial shade, etc.), dimensions, wood type and budget. Remember to be flexible.

Collect goods. You probably already have a box of screws lying around the garage. Take another look at my viewing list for inspiration.

Prepare the area. Level the ground where the garden box will be and remove weeds from the immediate area. A good, level starting point will help the building process go smoothly.

Share the corners. It's a good idea to use sideboards to make sure you measure the corners when stacking so that the boards form a flat corner. The side boards can be drilled directly into each other if you don't want to use pegs or they are too difficult to drive into the ground. However, you run the risk of splitting the boards, and the final product will be less stable – and that's a good thing! Anything works.

Screw into the boards. I recommend making a pilot hole before driving the patch. This reduces the chances of the boards splitting and makes it easier to tighten the screws because there is a hole to guide them through. (Remember to use a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the width of your screw so that the screw has something to attach to.)

Once the panels are damaged, take a step back and enjoy your work. This is an important step! Look how far you've come.
Next, fill the garden bed with soil and compost. Divide the soil evenly so there is a flat surface for planting.

Final tips for building a garden box

Here are the most helpful (and surprising) things I learned while building my first garden box:

It's okay to mess up. Don't expect perfection.
There is a lot to learn about wood! The options seem endless. Remember to take into account the relationship between longevity and cost when choosing building materials.
Measure twice and cut once!
Knots and screws don't mix well. When drilling holes in wood, try to avoid knots.
Simplicity wins. I downsized my project from three boxes to one box and used a simple design of just four boards and four corner stakes. Flashy designs can be attractive, but it's a good idea to keep things simple at first. There is always room for growth!
The payoff is worth it. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with hard work is incredible. As someone who has never made anything before, it is a pleasure to see my garden every day. And grow your own food? There's nothing better than that.

If building a garden box sounds like a lot of work, I don't blame you. There were some points along the way when I found myself in over my head — remember when a few pieces of wood and a box of screws totaled over $200? Ultimately, the joy of watching little vegetables grow and learning what went into building their home is a reward for the lessons learned and missteps along the way.

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