Let us talk about pallet gardens. You may have heard about these and wonder, "What's the big deal? Why not just plant in the ground? Pallets are expensive and clunky to transport..." I hear ya!
So, why go through the trouble of finding and planting a pallet?
*It's great for small areas as it can also be turned up into a vertical garden.
*You can fill it with any kind of dirt, compost, manure you want with no tilling!
*Like pretty rows but can't seem to get them straight? Not a problem with wooden dividers guiding your way.
*Normally an innocent passerby or guest won't accidentally step in a pallet.
*They are great for places with a bit of standing water to raise your plants up a bit so they don't drown.
*They can be found for free.
*Slats covering the soil help prevent moisture loss.
*It's just plain fun!
So great! You are ready to run out and get a dozen pallets to get started! But wait! Let's talk about the disadvantages of pallet gardening.
*They can be expensive if you can't find a free source.
*Cumbersome to transport unless you have a truck.
*If you need to buy soil, that can get costly too.
*You might need to watch if the lumber has been chemically treated.
*The condition of the pallet may not be ideal for planting. (Rusty nails, splintering, painted, etc.)
*Pallets are easily tripped over.
*Watering may get cumbersome when the plants get bigger as it's harder to set up an irrigation system and the slats can deflect rainfall.
*Having to figure out what to do with the pallets after gardening season is over.
*You are limited to what kind of plants you can grow.
*May not be as pretty as you wanted your garden to be.
Wow, so that's a lot of negatives. Well, let's dig a bit further.
I have not bought pallets. Most of them I got when we had our roof replaced a couple years ago and the rest were from a free trade site. When the roofing suppliers were done unloading the shingles and such, I just asked the guy if they reuse those or throw them out. He said they just throw them out, so I asked if I could keep them. He gave his coworker the this-crazy-lady-wants-our-trash-pallets-but-whatever look and said "sure." They left them on my drive and I've enjoyed them ever since. You can check Craig's List and Facebook, or anywhere online really. Please just use caution and read up on internet safety before going that route.
Now, what is the condition of the pallet and is it chemically treated? Some sites will tell you that your pallet shouldn't have any cracks or rusty nails, but I have to tell you, many of mine do and they work just fine for me. The rust can get into the soil and that will help some plants, but hurt others. I am by no means an expert, but my plants have not been adversely affected by rust from what I can tell.
Lots o' cracks
As far as the chemically treated part, I honestly don't know if mine have been treated or not. Perhaps I have unknowingly contributed to my family's early demise! Most of my pallets don't have markings at all and have sat out in the weather for quite awhile before I acquired them. The ones that do have markings have HT which means they have been heat treated. Be sure to watch out for MB which means it's been treated with methyl bromide. This is about the extent of my knowledge on this. It's best to consult an expert if you want to know more. If you want to be sure about your pallets, buy them from a local gardening center.
What do you fill your pallet with? It depends on how much time you have on your hands and how much you want to spend. You can buy bags of premixed, fertilized soil or make your own. To make your own, there are many different ways, but the easiest is to take some topsoil and mix it with compost and/or manure. You can make compost yourself, buy bags of it, or check with your local dump to see if they have a compost pile you can get some from. For manure, if you don't have livestock yourself, ask around. Maybe stop at a cattle ranch and see if you can go cow-patty hunting. Warning: Don't ever go into a field of livestock without checking with the owners first...if a bull doesn't get you, a shotgun might! Also check with your local zoo. Many of them have what they call "zoo poo" for sale. Just be sure it's always from mostly herbaceous animals. I'll have more detail on making your own soil later, but this will get you started.
Here are several different kinds, some need mixed, some don't. That's for another day. (I am not advertising one brand over another, this just happened to be what I had around for pictures.)
Or forgo the bag and use your own home-decomposed compost!
Also, you may want to block the ends to help decrease erosion.
I have a few bricks in one.
Which plants like to make their home in a pallet? Choose any shallow-rooted plant such as: strawberries, most leafy greens, celery, legumes, and most herbs. Deep rooted or wide plants like tomatoes, root veggies, berry bushes, potatoes, squash, and melons don't have enough space either above or below ground to thrive in a pallet garden
Strawberries yet to be seen.
Lots o' leafy greens...
As I mentioned above, pallets can also be made into a vertical garden. You'll need to find a solid-backed pallet for this, or attach something to the underside of the pallet to keep the soil in. Seal up one end of the pallet, then turn the whole thing up on end, or what ever angle you would like it to be, and brace it. If you didn't pack the soil in tight, you'll know it now! Also, you could plant it first before standing it up. You will really need to watch the moisture of your soil with this method as it will dry out quickly. You may need to water everyday depending on the climate.