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Upcycling Pallets: Turning old and ugly into new and beautiful

September 6, 2012

By Tracy Steffenson

Upcycling projects with wooden shipping pallets have become incredibly trendy these days. Everywhere you look in the blogosphere, clever DIYers are crafting sofas, desks, beds, headboards, bookshelves, walls, and even hardwood flooring out of recycled pallets, and turning these old and ugly salvage finds into attractive home decor.

Pallets are basically a free source of wood that are seasoned and can last outside, ready to be disassembled and reconfigured into all kinds of cool, upcycled stuff. In the next few columns I will toss around a few ideas on ways to use your pallets.

For the gardener in you, turn your pallet into a vertical planter capable of holding a bunch of flowers or edibles. With a few supplies t his is a fairly quick and simply project to undertake.

You will need a pallet of course, two large bags of potting soil, around 16 six packs of annual flowers (one six pack per opening on the face of the pallet, and two six packs per opening on the top of the completed pallet garden), a small roll of landscape fabric, a staple gun, staples, and sand paper.

Once you’ve dragged your pallet home, give it a once over. Are any of the boards a little loose? Is the wood chipping in places? Nail down any loose boards, and use sand paper to smooth down any rough spots.

Decide which side of the pallet will be the bottom when the pallet garden is completed and leaning against the wall. You are going to be covering the bottom, back, and sides with landscape fabric, leaving the front and top uncovered (you’ll be planting flowers in the uncovered spaces).

Lay the pallet face down and start covering in fabric. Make sure to overlap your fabric by at least a few inches to help keep your soil inside the pallet and not on your floor! Once you have completed the back of the pallet, cover the sides (it might be easier to think of the pallet as a present you are wrapping and you want to make sure the goodies inside are not showing). You want to make sure your landscaping fabric is tight, but not in danger of tearing. Place more staples along the spine of the back side of the pallet, and anywhere else you think the fabric needs to be held down so that soil can’t creep into places you don’t want it to go.

Take your pallet over to where you think you are going to leave it and place it face up on the ground. First slide the plants into what will be the top. Plant everything very tightly, you should have to practically shoe horn the last plant into place. Now that you have capped the top, pour the entire first bag of potting soil on top of the pallet. Push the soil into the pallet between the slats and smooth it out so that the soil is level. Repeat with the second bag of potting soil. Make sure you push the potting soil into the bottom so the entire pallet is full of soil!

Plant six plants in the trench, so that they are very tightly fitted into the opening. Repeat with the other bottom opening. Now push the potting soil up against those flowers you just planted, making a trench beneath one of the openings in the second row. Plant your flowers tightly in that opening. Repeat for all the remaining openings. When you’re done planting, you should have plants that are completely covering every opening (i.e. there shouldn’t be any place for soil to fall out). There should also be soil firmly pushed into every part of the pallet where there aren’t plants.

Now, I’m going to tell you what you should do, and what a lot of pallet gardeners always end up doing (which is what you should not do). You should leave the pallet flat on the ground for a couple of weeks (watering when needed), so that the roots can start to grow in and hold all the plants in place. Most people can never wait though, so they tip the pallet upright a few days after planting. Some soil does fall out, but it seems to be okay. But it would be better if you left it to settle and only tipped it upright after a few weeks.

Water your pallet regularly since they dry out quickly. Pay special attention to the bottom two openings, they seem to be the driest. Fertilize with water soluble fertilizer added to your watering can (follow package instructions for amount and frequency).

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