If you think your outdoor space is too small to garden, think again. Planter boxes offer space and ease for accessible, productive growing.

Raised beds, containers, cedar planter boxes: who can tell the difference when there are so many options out there? To keep things simple, let’s go with the most common definitions.

A raised garden bed is a large frame that sits directly on the ground with its bottom open to the soil beneath. A planter box has a solid bottom that sits on four or more legs, raising it off the ground. Both options let you grow an abundance of food and flowers, though raised beds tend to be larger, with more soil volume.

What are planter boxes made of?

While there are as many different materials as there are planter box sizes, a few choices are popular for a reason. The wood planter is a common, low-cost choice that is easy to DIY thanks to readily available materials. Long lasting options include cypress, redwood, and cedar.

Other materials commonly used in outdoor spaces include moulded concrete or aggregate, galvanized or coated metal, and combination wood-and-metal.

Natural cedar planter box with flowers

Natural cedar planter boxes are popular due to their beauty and durability.

Why grow in planter boxes?

There are many reasons why you might want to grow edible or ornamental plants in planter boxes. Here are some important benefits to consider:

  • Great for small-space gardening: Planter boxes work well on patios, porches, balconies and more. They’re available in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can transform small outdoor spaces into lush mini-gardens.
  • Perfect for gardening on hard surfaces: The legs on planter boxes lift them off the ground completely, meaning there is minimal opportunity for staining your patio or concrete. When water does drain out, it will usually dry quickly since it’s not trapped between two surfaces.
  • Fewer pests: Thanks to their height, planter boxes are often out of reach for ground-dwelling creatures like rabbits, moles, gophers, and more. Insect pests may still find your crops, but the small space close at hand means they’re easier to control. Beneficial insect controls work great in planter boxes!
  • Helps combat soil-borne diseases: Planter boxes thrive with light, rich soil. Using a sterile container mix means preventing the common diseases associated with in-ground gardening.
  • Easy access: If you find bending and stooping difficult, elevated planter boxes can help raise gardening to an easier level.

Related: Gardening on Concrete with Raised Beds and Patio Containers

How to get the best results from planter boxes

With all these benefits, it’s easy to see why gardeners love planter boxes. Thankfully, growing successfully in boxes of various sizes and styles isn’t difficult. But it’s worth considering the following tips to get the most from your planters.

1. Use a soil mix designed for planters and containers.

While it might be tempting to fill your planters with garden soil, please don’t fall for that particular temptation. The soil that fills in-ground gardens is heavy and dense. That’s a poor combination for container growing.

Instead, choose a sterile mix designed for planters and containers. These mixes will usually include ingredients to aerate your soil and keep it light (such as shredded bark or coconut coir), materials to increase soil filtration and retention of nutrients (perlite, pumice or vermiculite), along with compost or other organics. They might even be soil-free.

planter box herb planter

Using the right soil mix for your planter box will help ensure your plants won’t dry out and will get the nutrients they need.

2. Ensure your planter box has adequate drainage.

In addition to filling your planter with well-drained soil, be sure your planter box isn’t watertight. This can happen when converting basins or watering troughs into planters. The water needs to escape somewhere or your plants’ roots can get waterlogged.

Wood planters often have slots where the wood comes together. In these cases, water can usually escape. In other cases, extra drainage will be needed. Drainage holes should be about 9” apart and no smaller than ¾” in diameter.

3. Choose the right size box for your plants.

Garden planter boxes offer ease and versatility. Not only can you find L-shaped and U-shaped planters along with the standard rectangles, you can also find them in a variety of sizes. The question is, how big should you go?

Measuring your space is the easiest way to determine what length and width planter will best meet your needs. If your planter is two feet or narrower, you won’t need access on both sides to tend your bed, since you should have no trouble reaching across. Anything wider, and you’ll need access from both sides.

But what about depth? While most vegetables will grow well with under 24” of soil, some varieties need up to three feet. These are usually not the best choices for planter boxes. For more information, see

Raised Beds: Soil Depth Requirements

4. Locate your planter in the right place.

Like any garden bed, your planter will need enough sunlight for the plants you hope to grow. Most vegetables do best with 6-8 hours of full sunlight. Leafier crops like lettuces, arugula, kale, and Swiss chard, will tolerate slightly fewer hours or benefit from some dappled shade in the afternoon. To test the sunlight available in different spots on your patio or balcony, use a sunlight calculator or download one of the sunlight apps available through your cell phone.

Another thing to consider when locating your planter is proximity to water. If you aren’t installing irrigation, you’ll want to be close to your hose bib to avoid lugging water. This is equally true if you plan to use a soaker hose. Having your planter close to the kitchen can also be convenient when growing greens and herbs.

elevated planter box with flowers

Elevated planter boxes are convenient to move from year to year.

5. Choose suitable plants.

As noted above, there are some plants that don’t do well in planter boxes unless you have the soil depth required to help them thrive. The good news is that as more and more people turn to urban gardening, newer varieties of plant breeds designed for patio living have come onto the market. You can now find ‘patio’ or ‘compact’ varieties for most popular fruits and vegetables. Here are some of our favorites:

Patio Varieties for Planter Box Gardening
Tomatoes: Tumbler, Tiny Tim, Red Robin, Manitoba
Peppers: Black Hungarian, Red Bulls Horn, Right on Red, Hungarian Hot Wax, Ancho
Squash: Shokichi Green Mini Kabocha, Raven or Bush Baby ZucchiniCucumbers:Patio Snacker, Spacemaster, Tasty Green, Picolino
Sweet potatoes: Vineless Puerto Rico, VardamanStrawberries: Rose Berries Galore, Tribute, Fresca
Watermelon: Solitaire, Sugar Baby, Black Beauty MiniBlueberries: Pink Icing, Peach Sorbet, Jelly Bean
Carrots: Little Fingers, Romeo, Paris MarketRaspberries: Raspberry Shortcake, Heritage

patio tomatoes

Select varieties designed for patio plantings to get the most from your planter boxes.

You can also choose from the many vegetables that thrive in planter boxes less than 24” deep:

Vegetables to Grow in Planter Boxes
Bush beans

Related: Container Gardening Secrets – Ideas to Inspiration

Planter box revolution

No matter how big your patio, backyard or balcony, there’s usually a planter box to fit your space. With the right soil, location, and plants, you can grow fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers almost anywhere.

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