How to Build Rustic Stone Planters for Your Garden
It's always a pleasure to get something for nothing—or at the very least, a few dollars or pennies— and since I live in an area full of rocks, my planters cost very little.
Honestly, they are very easy to make— no building skills required, just the ability to gather rocks and stones and stack them one on top of another using a stiff mortar mix. They are fun to build, and I think you will agree look very attractive, too.
It took about an hour or so to build each one (depending on size, of course) and how fit I was feeling that day! They are really helping to beautify my garden. Read on to discover how I made them.
What You Will Need to Make Your Rustic Stone Planters
- Stones or rocks. Try to pick stone that is not too rounded or jagged; flat is easier to work with. You may need more than you think, so gather a good amount.
- Builders sand and cement for the mortar. You will be making a mortar mix using 4 parts sand to 1 part cement so will need more sand than cement.
- Bricklayers trowel.
- Bricklayers pointing tool.
- Something to mix the mortar in. I use an old wheelbarrow.
- A shovel, mortar hoe, or cement mixer to prepare the mortar.
- A bucket of water to dip the stone into.
- A sponge. Dampened sponge does a great job of smoothing out irregularities in the mortar once it's starting to set, and also for wiping off any mortar that has dropped onto the stonework.
- Kneeling pad to protect your knees.
- Waterproof or rubber gloves to protect your hands as mortar can be very drying to the skin and also can burn a little, especially if, like me, you tend to press mortar into gaps with your fingers.
As I don't have a cement mixer, I mix my mortar with a hoe like this one. It's much easier to use a hoe than a shovel as you don´t have to lift and turn heavy mortar over and over with the hoe. Instead use a raking motion until a smooth consistency is reached.
How to Make Your Own Rustic Stone Planters
- Gather your rocks and stones. You do need quite a few, even for a small planter. Try to find ones with fairly flat surfaces as rounded and jagged ones are much harder to build with. I use a mixture of large and small. The smaller ones are handy for filling in gaps.
- Buy your sacks of sand and cement, or if you prefer you can buy mortar mix. It is the same thing but the sand and cement has already been measured in the correct amounts. Mortar mix is 4 parts sand to 1 part cement, and this is mixed with water. The mix needs to be fairly stiff but pliable, so add your water a little at a time until you have the correct consistency. If you find it is drying out as you build, add a little more water. A good builder's trick is to add a squirt of liquid dish soap into the mix as this prevents it from drying out too quickly. The mortar mix does need to be pliable but not runny, so add your water little by little until you get the right consistency. It needs to be similar to really thick porridge. If you do add too much water by mistake, just throw a bit more sand and cement into the mixer until the correct consistency is reached.
- Delineate the shape of the planter you want. I used the lid of my trash can as a template to dig around as it was just the right size and shape I wanted, but you could do a freehand shape or lay a piece of rope on the ground until you find the shape that suits your taste and the position in your garden that it will fill.
- Dig out a trough for the foundation mortar and rocks to go in. I dug a shallow trench for my planters and put a good layer of mortar in it before laying the bigger rocks. I like to use big rocks on the bottom as a good foundation.
- Add another layer of mortar on this foundation layer, roughly in the middle of the rocks or stones, as this will spread to to fill and hold the rock. If you are looking to create a dry stone wall effect, put the mortar more to the back, not in the middle.
- As with brickwork, when layering up your rocks and stone, stagger and overlap the edges so the build is stronger and holds together much better. It's also a good idea to give each rock or stone a quick dip in a bucket of water before laying, as this helps the mortar bond to the surface.
- After placing each stone, it will need a gentle tapping down all over the top surface to settle it into the mortar. Then, with a pointed trowel, you can smooth the mortar that has oozed out on the front (the side you will see). If a lot has oozed out on the inside of the planter, the excess can be gently scraped off and reused elsewhere. Try not to move the stones. Wet the trowel before smoothing out the mortar but don't drag it too much; the idea is just to gently press the mortar into any gaps.
- Small gaps can be filled in with smaller stones in order to stagger the joints. Thin pieces of stone are also useful in keeping levels more or less straight. Obviously, rocks come in all shapes and sizes when you gather them from fields, but this gives the planter a nice rustic look.
- Once I have reached the height I want, I then add a dab of mortar between the topmost stones to give the top edge a smoother and more uniform finish. It also helps to add a bit more strength to the part which may get knocked about when planting up.
- I then give the planter half an hour or so for the mortar to begin to set before I very carefully wipe the mortar between the stones with a dampened sponge to smooth out imperfections and drips. Be very careful and use a light touch when you do this otherwise you may end up taking off most of the mortar which is holding the planter together.
- Now leave the planter to dry and the mortar to harden completely before filling with soil and compost and planting.
What to Put In Your Planters
You can add whatever plants you like, but I love to add a selection to mine and always add some bulbs or corms for seasonal interest. For example miniature daffodils and narcissi, muscari and crocus for spring interest, Canna lilies or gladioli for later on in the year, and a few annual seeds as well as perennial and bedding plants.
It's very spring-like here in Spain so I have planted mine with a geranium and a couple of pansies either side and also some miniature daffodils which are about to come into flower any day now.
I had some cyclamen seedlings which had sprouted from last year's parent plants and added a couple of those to each planter, and then split a canna lily which was crowding another planter and added a bulb of that to each one too, along with a few nasturtium seeds (the compact growing variety) which will tumble down the sides of the planters and add a wonderful splash of colour and a delicious bite to salads. The flowers, leaves. and seeds on nasturtiums are all edible and add a distinctive bite to liven up any salad, as well as prettiness from the flowers. The taste is similar to mustard and cress.