DIY Hugelkultur Planter Boxes

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My favorite DIY garden project this year was building raised planter beds along our deck. Our house had a 25-year old cedar deck which was starting to deteriorate. We decided to redo the deck and incorporate two raised planter boxes into it.

Photo by Mary Jane Duford

Before refurbishing the deck and building the planter boxes, we took down an existing linden tree which was overhanging the deck. It created quite a mess each year. It was a bit sad to see it go even though we knew it was time (my dad planted the tree when I was a kid). We decided to incorporate the timber from the linden tree into our planter beds as hugelkultur to utilize the organic matter on-site.

After taking down the linden tree we removed the old deck boards and replaced some of the structural lumber (see the before photos here). We re-decked the area with new 1-by-6-inch cedar. Then it was time to build the garden planter boxes!

Photo by Mary Jane Duford

Building the Planter Boxes

We built our planter boxes with 2-by-4-inch lumber frames. The simple frame was clad on the outside with 1-by-8-inch deck fascia board. We are lucky to have a great local lumber yard that sourced this custom cedar for us. Finding nice cedar 1-by-8-inch can be a bit tricky (especially in the 16-foot lengths we used for our deck side stairs).

Photo by Mary Jane Duford

The inside of the frame was lined with salvaged plywood left over from the dance floor from our backyard wedding. It makes me happy to know that a little piece of our wedding is now incorporated into our deck!

We decided to line our planter boxes with some leftover plastic that was in the garage. This should extend the life of the plywood lining by a few years, delaying replacement of the plywood liner. I usually avoid buying plastic for the garden, but I made this exception as it was a good way to repurpose a waste product and may lengthen the lifespan of the salvaged plywood liner.

Photo by Mary Jane Duford

Filling the Planter Boxes

A few years ago I built a small hugelkultur bed. It was a fun project and got me thinking about more ways to incorporate in-place composting into our landscape. When we were considering the future for the linden tree, using it on our property as a carbon source for in-place composting seemed like the natural choice.

The bottom layer of the planter boxes was filled with large deciduous linden log pieces from the felled tree. I had hoped to place them vertically but we ended up just placing them horizontally on the ground in the bottom of the box. The voids between the logs were packed with branches, leaves, and grass clippings. We tried to pack the voids as tightly as possible. We don’t have pest issues with termites or carpenter ants here, but I just don’t like leaving large voids.

Next in the box was a layer of nitrogen-rich composted manure followed by some of our homemade yard waste compost. We topped the bed with high-quality potting mix.

Photo by Mary Jane Duford

Planting the Hugel Planter Boxes

Because the planter boxes are located right on our deck, I’m torn between using them for convenient leafy salad greens or filling them with bright cheery flowers to enjoy from the patio. Next year will be the first full gardening season with the boxes, and I’m sure I’ll have fun planning what to plant! I have a feeling that I’ll want to mix in some flowers and hopefully some leafy greens.

To test out the floral look, I transplanted some canna lilies passed down to me from my husband’s family. I also put in some of the dahlia tubers that were given to us by the organic flower farmer who did the flowers for our wedding. I like the height of the flowers as the deck will feel more enclosed and cozy (like an outdoor room).

Photo by Mary Jane Duford

Here’s the finished look of the raised deck hugelkultur planter boxes! We’re so happy with how they turned out. I’ve already started next year’s garden planner so I can plan these beds out for the spring!

To see more photos of our DIY deck project, check out this article on my personal blog.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.