Introduction: Modular Vertical Garden

Picture of Modular Vertical Garden

I wanted to build a vertical garden that I could attach to my fence, but with planter boxes that were removable so I could more easily share the gardening experience with my 3 year old. Unable to find specific plans online, I made my own, inspired by images found online that didn't have any instructions.

The end result is a 5' tall, 6' wide frame that can hold up to 9 planter boxes using a french cleat mounting system.

Step 1: Materials:

3 - 5' long 2x4s

4 - 6' long 2x6s

5 - 5.5" wide cedar fence pickets (less than $3 each from Lowe's)

Finishing nails

2 to 3" wood screws (I used deck screws since I knew they'd be well suited for outdoors.)

While a table saw and miter saw would be nice, I managed everything with just a circular saw.

Step 2: Planter Boxes:

Picture of Planter Boxes:

(Note: In retrospect, I wish I had made the boxes a little deeper. However, I'll give instructions for what I actually did.)

The wood listed in the materials section provides enough to make 5 planter boxes. However, the frame is able to support up to 9. For each additional box (and cleat to go with it), you will need 34" of 2x6 and one cedar picket.

For each box:

  1. Cut two 5.5" squares from a 2x6. Along one edge, cut in at a 15 degree angle. (Miter saw would have been nice for this.)
  2. Cut two 23.5" lengths from a cedar picket.
  3. Screw one length of picket across the straight side of the 2x6 blocks. This picket will be the back of the box while the blocks will make the sides.
  4. Screw the other picket on the angled side of the blocks to make the front.
  5. Orient the box so that the narrower opening is the bottom of the box.
  6. Measure the inside width (block to block).
  7. Cut the remnant of the picket to this size. Should be roughly 19-20".
  8. If the angle was done correctly, you should be able to push the bottom picket down into the box with a snug fit. On some of my boxes, I actually needed to use a rubber mallet to tap it as far down as possible.
  9. Once the bottom is snug, use finishing nails to secure it.

Once the boxes are all built, set them aside.

Step 3: French Cleats:

Picture of French Cleats:

This design uses french cleats to make the planter boxes removable. One of the 2x6 boards will be used horizontally on the frame. A second board will be cut into smaller sections for the planter boxes.

  1. Along the length of the board, measure 2" in and draw a line. Using a table saw or circular saw, cut along that line at a 45 degree angle for the entire length of the board. This should give you two identical 6' long sections.
  2. Repeat on two more boards.
  3. Set aside three of the 6' cleats for the frame. Use the remaining cleats to cut five 23" long sections.
  4. Screw the 23" cleats on to the backs of the planter boxes. Pay attention to the orientation of the cleat. Use the images as a guide.

Step 4: Assemble the Frame:

Picture of Assemble the Frame:
  1. Lay out the three 2x4s on the ground, 6 feet across on the outer edges, with the middle board centered at the 3' mark.
  2. Measure 13" up from the bottom, and attach one of the long cleats across all three boards. Pay careful attention to orientation.
  3. From the bottom of the first cleat, measure up 20". The bottom of the next cleat goes here.
  4. Again, measure up 20" from the bottom of the second row. The bottom of the last cleat goes here. This will leave a few inches right at the top where the planter boxes will go.

Step 5: Final Touches:

Picture of Final Touches:

I wanted to keep my vertical garden as simple and modular as possible, so I decided to avoid putting any holes in my fence when mounting the frame. Instead, I just got some heavy duty zip ties and strapped the frame to the fence.

Since the bulk of the weight will be straight down, the zip ties should be plenty strong enough to hold it up. This is also nice if you don't own the structure you are connecting to, or if it's a chain link fence or something.

Now just fill up your planter boxes and hang them on the frame!

Step 6: Tips and Thoughts

Picture of Tips and Thoughts
  • I'm currently working on some sort of semi-automated drip watering system, since vertical gardens tend to dry out very quickly and otherwise require daily watering.
  • Squirrels are vicious little monsters hell bent on destroying my efforts. I found a lot of different suggestions to keep them away. So far, I've found success with adding spicy pepper flakes on the soil, and pointy bamboo skewers sticking up out of the soil in different directions. So far, so good.
  • I mentioned above that I wish I had made the planter boxes deeper to give the plants more room for roots. I'm open to suggestions for a better box design.
  • This is the first project I've designed for myself, and would love suggestions as to what I could do better next time.


wordswork made it! (author)2017-06-16

Many, many thanks, Michael, for this terrific instructable. I borrowed liberally from your idea and simply enlarged on it. My 10' posts are set in concrete, we cut 2x8" to support the weight of numerous boxes and I'm using a drip irrigation system to keep everything moist (things do dry out fairly quickly). The posts, rails, pots and growing things provide an excellent "organic" fence.

mgrenzoni made it! (author)2017-06-12

I modified this a bit eliminating the vertical runs and instead using the posts on my deck. One item that perplexes me is in step 1: "Cut two 5.5" squares... along one edge cut in 15 degrees." I did this and ended up with two sides that were 5.5" and one side (which becomes the base) about 4". This won't work (the cedar picket becoming the base is 5.5" wide). I think what you want is to go 5.5" on the board and then cut an angle 15 degrees OUT. In this way, your base is 5.5" (which will fit the cedar bottom), one side is 5.5" and the top is just under 7". That is what I did and it works perfectly. Great idea. Thanks for the instuctable - I'm enjoying mine!

thesummas made it! (author)2016-06-10

First DIY project. Thanks for making it clear and concise. Currently growing my wife herbs and pepper plants. Excited for my next project.

ToolboxGuy (author)2015-08-04

You cut cleats with a circular saw? Wow. I'd be dragging out my table saw for that activity! Looks great!

russaw (author)2015-06-23

Great design with an easy french cleat.

telgip33 made it! (author)2015-05-23

Thanks for the idea, my wife and I followed your instructions with a few small changes and are very happy the the out come.

dykhouse made it! (author)2015-05-16

Thanks so much for the inspiration! I built a scaled up version of this out of cedar using your french cleat idea with boxes. Rather than putting dirt right in the boxes, I built the boxes to fit a plastic window box from the big box garden center. I left the bottom of the boxes open (you can't even see once the window box is in) so there is good drainage with no wood rot.

PaganRaven (author)2015-04-29

Man after my own heart! Love this build! If it has to do with gardening - I'm there!

The french cleat mounts are ingenious!

MichaelB39 (author)PaganRaven2015-04-30

Thanks :) And thanks for the article about drainage!

PaganRaven (author)MichaelB392015-05-02

I think as long as the wood pieces don't fit together snug (sides and bottom) you'll have adequate drainage. I made a wooden box for chives, on the deck. There were slight gaps and that made drainage perfect!

I was surprised when I read about the gravel in the bottoms of containers being a hinder instead of a help but it DOES make sense! Just thought I would pass it along to a fellow gardener!

Oh and, not sure which strawberries you planted (ever-bearing or June bearing?) but if you want almost continious berries - go ever-bearing.

That way, your little Fae doesn't have to wait for a berry when she wants one!

June bearing gives a huge flush of berries at one time, then done for the year. (although you might get a few here and there)

You done good, Dad!

drboom2000 (author)2015-04-29

By the looks of the article the use of rocks or not depends on many factors, I suggest that you check many different sources for the answer that best suits your situation. Thanks for the link to the article.

drboom2000 (author)2015-04-07

you may want to use a thick garbage bag as a liner, then and place stones in the bottom this will hold water and force the roots down and will reduce mold and rot.

MichaelB39 (author)drboom20002015-04-08

Maybe I'm showing my extreme gardening ignorance but I thought holding the water in would increase mold and stagnation. I intentionally made it to have easy drainage so the water wouldn't stay. Did I get it backwards?

drboom2000 (author)MichaelB392015-04-08

you are right if the dirt is all the way down to the bottom, but by putting a couple inches of stones in the bottom the water will sit there after the dirt is wet, this will help the roots to grow deeper to get the water when the dirt dries making them stronger. by the time the water gets to the bottom of the box there will not be much but enough to get some more time between waterings. your way is fine but i have done this and i find i get a hardier plant with less drought between watering.

PaganRaven (author)drboom20002015-04-29

I actually thought that rocks or gravel for drainage was a good thing - for years!

Now I know why I had so many failures then, and haven't anymore since I read an article about rock drainage a year or so ago.

Can't find the original, but here's another on it - and how it affects the water table inside some pots.

Stephlovesplants (author)2015-04-24

Your next project should be a wooden selves so you can do your plants or growing seeds too. Make it cute and neat :)

8chilipeppers (author)2015-04-09

Looking forward to the evolution of your build! Hope you add pics going forward, keep up the good work :)

bmaverick (author)2015-04-08

Wow, this is very much similar to gutter gardening. Where you take a simple gutter and place two metal hanger on the back side to latch onto a fence. Both this concept and the gutter garden really work! It keeps crawling bugs away and weeds/grasses that would otherwise take over a garden quickly. Keep sharing this type of work!

dspathaky (author)2015-04-08

I love it. Just wondered if a little angle on the top cleat might stop water pooling and promoting rot. the other idea is to make them deep by just making them a deep V?

I'm not a fan of plastic so a large inverted glass flagon (used for home wine making) some rubber tubes and a limited air hole might let out a slow enough drip...? or perforate the hoses and limit the water flow with pegs or clamps?

dspathaky (author)dspathaky2015-04-08

I guess if you were really clever the boxes would drip from one to the other or....

sand in the bottom of the V with a 'leaky' tube running thro.?

MichaelB39 (author)dspathaky2015-04-08

I like the V idea! Not only would that create more depth, but it would also improve drainage.

For watering, my current (untested) thought is a large bottle or bucket at the top of the frame with multiple tubes coming out of it, each tube feeding into a planter box, perforated to drip water across the length of the box.

pattiemelt (author)2015-04-07

I love it! Nice way to build a temporary or moveable garden for somebody who rents, too.

One suggestion, though. Using zipties to attach the frame to the fence as shown in the photos is just asking for trouble. The weight of the wood + soil/potting mix + plants + water will pull the pickets off the fence & eventually you'll find your vertical garden has fallen victim to gravity & assumed the position of a horizontal garden once more. Better to attach to the frame of the fence after reinforcing it for the extra weight. Or better yet, drive some fence T-posts into the ground next to the wood fence & attach to them. They'll be hidden & are still removable if you decide to move your garden.

MichaelB39 (author)pattiemelt2015-04-08

Virtually all the weight from the boxes is pulling straight down, where the 2x4s rest on the ground, not away from the fence. I tested it out before securing it to the fence and even my daughter was able to hold it in place with minimal effort. So, I'm not too worried about it pulling away. Thanks though!

8chilipeppers (author)2015-04-07

Just had a wild idea and then I'm going to stop looking at Instructables at midnight :) If possible, you could attach a platform to the center post that can hold a gallon plastic jug, run flexible tubing to each box (like octopus tentacles), run the length of the box and poke holes along it, bury it, you and your daughter paint it into an octopus or camouflage or etc. then you figure out how often you need to fill up the gallon jug and you can use your rain water and fill from a watering can, thanks again for sharing this, It's got my brain thinking :)

MichaelB39 (author)8chilipeppers2015-04-08

That's right along the lines of what I've been thinking. I love the octopus idea! I picked up some cheap tubing for use with aquariums. If that doesn't work, I think I can get my hands on some expired IV drip sets. :)

8chilipeppers (author)2015-04-07

You could cork the ends of the tubing, and use a plastic milk crate as the platform, which would also help wind not blow over jug when empty. Paint or decorate for eye-appeal :) you probably know good sealants to secure and leak-proof tube insertion points into gallon jug

8chilipeppers (author)2015-04-07

You might need to test what size bottle you need, or even use a small plastic central "tank" for the whole garden and plumb each box with flexible tubing?!?

8chilipeppers (author)2015-04-07

Hmmm, Good question ... In my limited experience, one bottle wouldn't spread 23", I do think it would spread 5". Here's a thought: I wonder if you could use one bottle turned upside down and attach it to a small PVC pipe with holes drilled along a 23" length? Then you could make a hole to fill in the upturned bottle bottom. PVC and its fittings are so versatile, I bet you could find one that could screw onto a larger bottle size, then an elbow to make a 90 degree turn, the pipe length and then an end cap. I hope this makes sense, I'm brainstorming as I go. You could totally customize an inexpensive contained system for each box :)

8chilipeppers (author)2015-04-07

I like your garden/build, nice job! I have a suggestion for easy container watering I use, maybe it will work for you ... I use plastic bottles with holes poked in the bottom, half-buried into soil by plant, you can use the size bottle appropriate for your needs. I got the idea years ago online, the article said that long ago, folks did the same with unglazed ceramic pots buried by plants, then you just fill the bottle/pot and it releases water for x-amount of time. Maybe cover/decorate the bottles somehow for beauty? I use several around a China Doll that's so thirsty I must water it that way with 5 bottles, then I just fill them up twice a week and no water waste. Here's a link that has a bit fancier ways to do this:

MichaelB39 (author)8chilipeppers2015-04-07

Do you think the water would spread out through the soil enough for a single bottle to cover a 5" by 23" box?

SiegHolle (author)2015-04-07

great idea simple good use of space that is sturdy

MichaelB39 (author)SiegHolle2015-04-07

Thanks! I was initially going to build the frame much heavier because I'm paranoid, but it's seems to be holding together just fine.

Photomancer (author)2015-04-07

How cool to get your daughter involved by designing in access. Kudos!

technovative (author)2015-04-05

I like this design. Simple, frugal, practical, versatile, and attractive. I have one suggestion. If you plan to leave the structure setup long term, the zip ties will deteriorate quickly exposed to UV. You might consider galvanized or stainless steel wire. Or even stainless steel band clamps. Nicely done, welcome to the community.

MichaelB39 (author)technovative2015-04-05

I had no idea the ties would break down. Thanks for the tip!

BlackoutXIII (author)MichaelB392015-04-07

You can also pick up UV-resistant zip ties (black) at most home improvement stores.

tjdux (author)2015-04-05

Great job on the boxes. As far as deeper I wouldn't worry about it for this round. it is what it is. next year build deeper ones and use these for smaller plants such as herbs or strawberries.

Love the French cleat and the zip ties. if the drip watering system proves a huge headache 1/2 pvc with a garden hose hook up and then drill small holes along the pipe can make a great and cheap sprinkler that doesn't waste much water outside the boxes.

MichaelB39 (author)tjdux2015-04-05

The tentative plan would be to turn the smaller boxes into a second "mini-garden" on our deck for herbs. Then build larger boxes for veggies and such on the main frame.

Interesting idea with the PVC. I'm hoping to use water from my rain barrel but it doesn't have enough pressure for something like that. A good backup plan though if the drip system doesn't work out. Thanks!

seamster (author)2015-04-05

I really like this! French cleats are so useful, but I've never seen them used in an application like this. Very clever and original!

MichaelB39 (author)seamster2015-04-05

Thanks! I've read about them before and loved the idea, but this is my first implementation of them.

About This Instructable




Bio: Rookie dad, amateur photographer, novice woodworker. Only area of true expertise is from the School of "What Does This Button Do?"
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