An informal garden planter made from a rigid plastic kiddie pool is very inexpensive and easy to make. It can be a great way to repurpose a family splash pool that is no longer being used by the kids. You can plant anything that has shallow roots, which includes most herbs and many vegetables as well as many annual flowers.
Any standard rigid (not inflatable) kiddie pool will work, but the bigger the better. Once filled with wet soil and plants, it will be quite heavy and difficult to move, so be sure to park it in the right place before filling. Don't put it on the lawn unless you're okay with killing the grass below. A large patio or gravel or dirt area may be best. Keep it off of wood decking because moisture trapped under the pool could damage the deck wood.
Raised planters have some special needs since the soil tends to get hotter and dryer from sun exposure around the walls of the planter. This may mean that you can plants seeds earlier in the spring than you would when planting an in-ground garden, but it also means you will need to watch moisture levels carefully. Raised planters typically need to be watered more often than do in-ground gardens.
Equipment / Tools
- Utility knife
- 1-inch spade bit (optional)
- 1/2-inch twist bit
- Plastic kiddie pool
- Fiberglass window screening or landscape fabric
- General-purpose potting soil
- Slow-release granular fertilizer
- Lightweight wire fencing (optional)
- Plant seeds or potted transplants
Cut Drainage Holes in the Pool Bottom
Cut 1-inch-diameter holes in the bottom of the pool, spaced about 12 inches apart. You can do this with a sharp utility knife or a drill fitted with a 1-inch spade bit.
Drill Drainage Holes in the Sides
Drill holes into the sides of the pool, using a drill and 1/2-inch twist bit. Locate the holes about 1/2 inch up from the bottom and spaced about 12 inches apart along the entire perimeter. These holes will serve as backup openings in case the holes in the bottom of the pool get plugged.
Drainage is key to healthy plants. You can elevate your pool slightly by setting it on bricks or wood so water can flow freely out of the drainage holes. Just make sure the bottom is evenly supported. Wet soil is heavy and will crack the pool bottom if it is not well-supported.
Line the Pool With Mesh
Cover the bottom of the pool with fiberglass window screening or porous landscape fabric, cutting it to size with scissors. Make sure to cover the bottom of the pool entirely, and overlap the screen partway up the sides, covering the drainage holes.
Add Soil and Fertilizer
Situate your pool planter in a sunny spot. Most flowers, herbs, and vegetables will require at least 6 full hours of sun each day. A planter filled with shade-loving flowers can work in a location of partial shade.
Fill your pool with either general-purpose potting soil or a combination of potting soil and garden soil. You can also make your own potting soil by blending peat moss, garden soil, and perlite or vermiculite in equal amounts.
Thoroughly mix in a granular slow-release fertilizer with a balanced mix of nutrients. Follow the label directions for quantity.
Prepare the Soil and Add Fencing
Smooth out the soil in your garden planter and pat it down gently. The surface should be flat but not tightly packed. Form furrows into the soil, if appropriate for your seeds.
If rabbits, squirrels, or other animals are anticipated to be a problem, you can add short wire fencing around the perimeter of the pool, embedding the bottom of the fence a few inches into the soil.
Plant Seeds or Seedlings
Many vegetables grow quickly from seeds, while others (such as tomatoes) are so slow-growing that it's best to buy potted transplants that are already well developed. Generally speaking, shallow-rooted vegetables (such as lettuces and herbs) are better suited for this type of planter than deep-rooted vegetables (such as potatoes).
One of the biggest mistakes people make when planting seeds is to plant them too deep. Check the information on your seed packet to see how deep and far apart you should plant them. Make rows in the soil according to the directions on your seed packets.
Potted transplants should be planted at the same depth they were in their containers. Dig small holes, insert the transplants, then press down the soil around the plant. Make sure to follow spacing recommendations for each type of plant. Some vegetables, such as tomatoes, are quite large; a single planter might be able to handle only two or three such plants.
Water the Soil
Give your garden a deep watering, preferably until water runs out the bottom of the planter. It is important, particularly at this point, not to use a harsh stream of water that will disturb the seeds or wash them away. Either use a watering can with a rose attachment or a garden hose with a misting nozzle to provide a gentle spray.
Caring for Your Planter
The fastest way to kill growing seeds is to let them dry out. In the early stages of germination, keep the soil moist at all times. As the vegetables sprout and get larger, you can gradually reduce watering somewhat. Generally speaking, most plants need about 1 inch of water each week, through combined rainwater and irrigation. Raised planters, however, can dry out fairly quickly, so make sure to keep an eye on the plants.
- You may need to thin the sprouted seedlings after they get their first set of full leaves. Follow the space recommendations on your seed packets.
- If you are growing basil, once the plants are about 4 to 6 inches tall, let the soil dry out a bit between waterings; this is an herb that likes somewhat arid conditions.
- Go easy on the fertilizer if you are growing herbs, as they will be most flavorful if the soil is somewhat poor in nutrients. Fruiting vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini, on the other hand, will benefit from feeding every month or so.