My best friend's wife got me interested in Succulents. (Thanks, Annie!) They currently live in Oakland, CA and while space for a garden is an issue, she has always found interesting ways to fit a 100+ succulent garden on a small apartment balcony. They also have the weather to support outdoor gardening year round.
Here in Indiana, the summers are great for outdoor gardening but the harsh winters require you to move your plants indoors. This gave me the perfect excuse to design a small garden that I could sit on my kitchen table so I could bring my plants inside.
I decided to go with a self-draining system comprised of concrete and copper pipes. Each individual planter would allow excess water to drain from the plant into the embedded drain system in the concrete base. This allowed me to pipe the used run-off water into a small container I had under another one of my homemade planters.
As always, before we start any project, follow these famous words from Norm Abram - "Before we use any power tools, let's take a moment to talk about shop safety. Be sure to read, understand, and follow all the safety rules that come with your power tools. Knowing how to use your power tools properly will greatly reduce the risk of personal injury. And remember this: there is no more important safety rule than to wear these — safety glasses."
Step 1: Step 1: Gathering and Prepping Your Materials
Here is a list of the materials I used:
- 10' of 1/2" copper tubing (ended up with extra)
- 2' of 1" copper tubing (ended up with extra)
- 6 x 1" - 1/2" copper reducers
- 13 x 1/2" copper 90 degree elbows
- 5 x 1/2" copper tees
- 1 x 1/2" copper 45 degree elbow
- 1 bag of quick setting concrete mix (ended up with extra)
- various scraps of 1/4" MDF for the concrete mold
- blue painters tape
- hot glue
- plastic netting
Here are the tools needed:
- tube cutter
- fitting brush/emery cloth
Step 2: Step 2: Laying Out and Cutting the Pieces
I began by laying out the pieces to ensure I had everything I needed and started to piece together the design. I decided the best course of action was to embed the drain system half-way in the concrete, supplying both support for the copper planter and giving the design an exposed feel. I needed to connect the bottom 5 tee joints and single elbow (at the end) together to form the drain system. I did this by using my copper tube cutters to cut 5 small pieces (1.5" in length) of 1/2" pipe. I also needed 6 longer pieces (2 @ 4.5", 2 @ 5.5", and 2 @ 6.5") of 1/2" pipe to come up from my embedded drain pipe to attach to the first bend in the planter. These pieces were placed at different heights to add some variation to the design.
A 1/2" 90 degree elbow was placed on each of these, followed by 6 shorter pieces (2.5" in length) of 1/2" pipe. This bend would allow me to rotate the planters out and away from the center drain line, giving the plants room to grow out and also give it a less symmetrical look. I then added a 1/2" 90 degree elbow to each of these pieces to set the planter vertical.
I cut 6 pieces of pipe (1.5" in length) to add to the top of the last elbow. These pieces of pipe then allowed me to place my 1" - 1/2" copper reducers at the top of the piece, giving me a larger planting area in the actual planter. This was then followed by 6 pieces (2.5" in length) of 1" copper pipe that I used as my actual planter.
Step 3: Step 3: Soldering the Drain Pipe
After cleaning all joints with my fitting brush, I began by soldering one section of 1/2" (1.5" in length) pipe to one end of each tee joint. I also soldered a 5" pipe of 1/2" pipe to the end of one tee joint to use as my drain pipe. I then soldered the 6 vertical pieces of 1/2" pipe to the top of each of the tee joints and on one 90 degree elbow. I placed these fitted these pieces together on a flat piece of wood and set a heavy metal bar across the longer pieces to help hold everything straight. I added flux to all joints and began the process of soldering the pieces together.
Step 4: Step 4: Soldering the Vertical Supports
I started at the top of the vertical planter supports and soldered each of the sections of 1" pipe to the 1" - 1/2" reducers. I then soldered the 1.5" connection pieces to one of the six 90 degree elbows that were needed. I then soldered the 2.5" horizontal supports to the other end of the 90 degree elbow. This gave me the main support for the vertical planter pieces. I went through with a wire brush on the end of my drill to each of the joints, polishing and cleaning off any excess solder that seeped out of the joints. (Full disclosure - I am not a professional plumber and soldering is not high on the list of things I am actually good at. I can get a joint closed but it never looks pretty.) Halfway through polishing and not really obtaining the results I wanted, I decided that the messy soldering job actually added to the aesthetics of this rustic piece. (cop out)
Step 5: Step 5: Pouring the Concrete Base
I wanted the concrete base to have some interesting geometry to it instead of a simple block so I cut some scraps of 1/4" MDF to create my concrete mold. I cut the base piece to 10" long by 4.5" wide. I then cut the 2 longer side walls to 4" tall by 10" long. The end pieces were cut to 4" wide by 4" tall. One of the end pieces received a hole 2" up from the bottom that tightly fit the drain pipe at the front of my planter. The back piece received a hole 3" up and then was split horizontally halfway through that hole. This allowed me to angle the back part of the mold and rest the end of the drain system into the semi-circle cut at the top of the mold piece.
I added blue tape to each face of the mold, hoping that would prevent the MDF from soaking any moisture from the concrete, and began hot glueing the panels together. While on a level surface, I adjusted the end piece to ensure the entire drain system had a bit of pitch so that any water falling down the pipes would drain out towards the end. I then hot glued that end cap to the mold and set the entire mold at and angle facing towards the drain. This gave me the ability to angle the top portion of the concrete as well as the angled end piece. The front drain pipe popped through the hole in the front of the mold and the back end rested in the semi-circle cut out on the back wall of the mold.
Once I ensured everything was standing straight up and down from the mold sides (I used pocket levels and framing squares.), I mixed my concrete and poured it into the mold. I am a fan of smooth concrete and for most projects, filter the large rocks from the concrete mix. I then used my orbital sander (minus the sandpaper) to help remove air bubbles from the concrete by placing the empty sanding pad against the outside walls of the mold. After a few minutes of vibrating the air bubbles from the concrete mixture, the mold was allowed to sit for 2 days to fully cure before releasing the base from the mold.
I did a little sanding to the concrete and placed a couple of coats of concrete seller to the base. I then taped off the base and added a few coats of clear coat finish to the exposed pieces of copper.
Step 6: Step 6: Connecting the Drain System to the Vertical Supports
I used a spare piece of 1/2" copper pipe and leveled that vertically in my vice. I then placed a 90 degree elbow on the top and attached the horizontal section of the vertical support to the other end of the elbow. I used my level to ensure the 90 degree elbow would hold the vertical support properly and soldered the horizontal piece to the elbow. Once I finished all 6 of these joints, I cleaned them a little with my wire brush and took them outside to give them a few coats of clear coat finish.
After they dried, I cleaned the two remaining joints on the support arms, arranged them in a fashion that was as random as I could get, and proceeded to solder the drain system to the vertical supports at the bottom end of the 90 degree elbow.
I also cleaned and soldered the 45 degree elbow to the end of the drain pipe coming from the front of the planter, making sure the drain pointed in the downward position.
Step 7: Step 7: Planting the Succulents in the Planter
I had some old plastic netting from a screen door and cut 1" circles of the material that I could place at the bottom of the copper reducers. This helped keep large chunks of dirt from falling down into the pipes and the drain system. I then proceeded to add a little dirt mixture to the bottom of each planter and add my succulent plants. I topped them off as needed and everything was ready to go.
Step 8: Step 8: Setting Everything Up
I placed the fully assembled planter on my kitchen table and positioned the drain over the container I use to collect excess water from my other planter (Oliver the Bamboo Plant). I attempted to water the succulents using my small watering can but the size of the overall planter was too small for the nozzle of the watering can. I ended up finding a small eye dropper bottle and can accurately use that to feed my plants the exact amount of water they need with little to no mess. After a few weeks of up time, Succland 3.0 (My friend's wife uses this system for her succulent garden.) is doing well and I am seeing the results of the drain system properly discharging the excess water from the planter. So far, all is well in Succland 3.0.
Please let me know if you have any specific questions on designs or measurements. Being this was made mostly on the fly, most measurements were taken after the piece was finished. Being said, I would be happy to dig into the finished product to get you any info you'd like.