Brooke Stranberg grows chamomile, nasturium and other flowers in a chest-high pallet garden at Valley View Nursery in Ashland. 7/26/12 Denise Baratta

Pallets for the garden

We see them everywhere piled outside stores, but we seldom pay much attention to them. Wooden pallets are just part of the necessary detritus of life.

Yet there is good wood there, and in the spirit of "reduce, reuse, recycle," some people have started using pallets as gardening containers.

Brooke Stranberg, a member of the family that owns Valley View Nursery in Ashland, saw pallets used for planting on a gardening blog and decided to try it. Brooke works full time elsewhere but still puts in some time at the nursery.

"It looked like fun," Brooke says, "and they are quick to put together. Any skill level can do it. It's great for porches and small areas."

The idea is to fill the pallet with dirt, plant small plants in it, then set it upright against a wall to create a vertical garden. Vertical gardening is the new "in" fad right now, with many different types of containers used to extend gardening space, especially in small yards. Once the plants fill in the pallet, the wood often is not even visible.

First, find two wooden pallets. Many pallets have fairly open backs, so remove wood from the second pallet to fill gaps on the back of the one to be used as a planter. Make sure the wood is in good condition, not rotted, cracked or broken. It also is a good idea to sand down the rough edges.

Some pallets from outside the United States have been fumigated — you don't want them. Pallets that have been heat-treated are safe and come with the letters "IPPC" stamped or painted on them. Some people paint the wood, which is fine if the planter isn't going to be used for edibles.

Next, you'll need professional-grade, weed-blocking cloth, which can be purchased by the linear foot at many garden centers. Cut enough to wrap around the back, sides and bottom of the pallet. Doubling the cloth will make it last longer. Staple it very tightly.

Then fill the container with a lightweight potting soil, something with perlite or vermiculite in it. Mix in any fertilizer required for the intended plants. It takes 2 to 3 cubic feet of soil to fill a pallet.

Brooke made three sample pallet gardens for display at Valley View. One contains sedums; one has red, white and blue flowers; and one has vegetables.

After filling in the open rows, leave the pallet flat for two weeks while the plants develop roots. This will help anchor them so the dirt stays put when the planter is tipped vertically.

It is very important not to let pallet planters dry out. John Stranberg, Brooke's brother-in-law, who works at Valley View, has been experimenting with drip systems for them.

"I've got quarter-inch tubing on them, and right now I'm trying an hour at a time as needed," John says. "But you can just spray them, too. Just so they don't get completely dry."

"They can be pretty heavy," John notes, "I think it might almost be better to do it all in place rather than try to move them later. And angling them back slightly instead of having them straight up and down would probably be better, too."

There are endless possibilities for plants. Even large plants such as tomatoes can work, but shallow-rooted vegetables such as radishes and lettuces are best. Having a vertical garden with salad greens and herbs outside the back door is especially enticing.

Sedums against a wall fill in to look astonishing. And Brooke's red-white-and-blue Fourth of July garden is planted with red petunias, white alyssum, blue lobelia and red nasturtiums.

There are so many possibilities. Let us know what you come up with.

A. Paradiso is a freelance writer living in the Applegate. Reach her at apwriter@gmx.com.

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