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How to Build Rustic Stone Planters for Your Garden

Updated on March 7, 2017
bac2basics profile image

Hi. bac2basics has studied gardening and horticulture at night class and also with the RHS as a distance learner.

A Planter Almost in Full Bloom, Just Waiting for the Canna Lily to Flower
A Planter Almost in Full Bloom, Just Waiting for the Canna Lily to Flower | Source

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.

This planter filled an awkward spot between a fence and the top of a steep banking and took a few hours to build and fill.
This planter filled an awkward spot between a fence and the top of a steep banking and took a few hours to build and fill. | Source

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.

Mortar Hoe

Union Tools 66158/MM10 10-Inch x 6-Inch Pattern Mortar Hoe
Union Tools 66158/MM10 10-Inch x 6-Inch Pattern Mortar Hoe

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.

 
Click thumbnail to view full-size
All the tools you will needMortar mixedDig a trench and use bigger heavy stones sitting on a layer of mortar for your foundationPut a good layer of mortar on top of the stone. You may notice that one stone doesn´t have mortar, this is because it was much bigger than the others and I needed to build the layers up to this height before putting stone on top of this oneContine layering mortar and stone until the correct height is reached. Than put a dab of mortar between all the topmost stones. Tap down the stones as you place them and with a pointing tool gently smooth out any mortar that has sqeezed out  Once the mortar has started to go off ( set ) very gently smooth out irregularities in the mortar and wipe off any spilled onto the stone with a damp sponge. Use a very light dabbing motion to do this. Now leave to dry completely
All the tools you will need
All the tools you will need | Source
Mortar mixed
Mortar mixed | Source
Dig a trench and use bigger heavy stones sitting on a layer of mortar for your foundation
Dig a trench and use bigger heavy stones sitting on a layer of mortar for your foundation | Source
Put a good layer of mortar on top of the stone. You may notice that one stone doesn´t have mortar, this is because it was much bigger than the others and I needed to build the layers up to this height before putting stone on top of this one
Put a good layer of mortar on top of the stone. You may notice that one stone doesn´t have mortar, this is because it was much bigger than the others and I needed to build the layers up to this height before putting stone on top of this one | Source
Contine layering mortar and stone until the correct height is reached. Than put a dab of mortar between all the topmost stones. Tap down the stones as you place them and with a pointing tool gently smooth out any mortar that has sqeezed out
Contine layering mortar and stone until the correct height is reached. Than put a dab of mortar between all the topmost stones. Tap down the stones as you place them and with a pointing tool gently smooth out any mortar that has sqeezed out | Source
Once the mortar has started to go off ( set ) very gently smooth out irregularities in the mortar and wipe off any spilled onto the stone with a damp sponge. Use a very light dabbing motion to do this. Now leave to dry completely
Once the mortar has started to go off ( set ) very gently smooth out irregularities in the mortar and wipe off any spilled onto the stone with a damp sponge. Use a very light dabbing motion to do this. Now leave to dry completely | Source

How to Make Your Own Rustic Stone Planters

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Now leave the planter to dry and the mortar to harden completely before filling with soil and compost and planting.

I built these planters in the spring to beautify the side of the track leading to my villa after a wildfire burned everything to the ground.
I built these planters in the spring to beautify the side of the track leading to my villa after a wildfire burned everything to the ground. | Source

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.

Will You Have A Go At Building Stone Planters ?

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I built this planter in late spring and am very pleased with just how well it's doing. I will add miniature daffodils and other spring bulbs. For summer and autumn interest I added canna and day lilies.
I built this planter in late spring and am very pleased with just how well it's doing. I will add miniature daffodils and other spring bulbs. For summer and autumn interest I added canna and day lilies.

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    • profile image

      oldalbion 3 months ago

      Good luck with your sale. Cold here anyway.

      Graham.

    • bac2basics profile image
      Author

      Anne 3 months ago from Spain

      Hi Old Albion..Graham :-)

      This hub is doing my head in I have piddled and poked about with it for days since it became unfeatured and no matter what corrections I make it remains that way. Never have I had a hub that´s caused me so much strife :-( Glad you like it anyway :-)

      Lovely to hear from you and yes I am still in Spain and still trying to sell this place and indeed move to Darwen. The housing market has been stagnant here for a long time but in the last year quite a few house´s around me have sold so maybe I won´t be far behind and I am getting quite a bit of interest so fingers crossed.

      Hope you and the missis are doing alright love. All the best. Anne xx

      How nice to hear from you though.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 3 months ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Annie. A very informative hub indeed. How are you? You seem not to have moved to England, last time Imade contact you were thinking of moving to Darwen near Bolton. Keep smilin'

      Graham.

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 13 months ago from Spain

      Hi billybuc

      Thanks for reading. If you think that view is spectacular you should see the one at the right side of my house, that also overlooks a valley but the mountains are very close and stunningly beautiful.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 13 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm always interested in outdoor projects, so thanks for the step-by-step instructions, but I was more amazed by that view of the valley you have...spectacular. I would set up a coffee table there and never want to leave that view in the morning.

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 3 years ago from Spain

      Hi wiccansage.

      I´m so pleased you like my handiwork. I have two more planters to build and fill this spring next to a rose arch which was made with stripped down pine gathered from trees which were killed in a wildfire we had here a couple of years ago, it´s amazing what you can do in the garden for free or at very little cost. Thanks for reading and your lovely comment :)

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      Aww, I love this, it's so beautiful. I especially like the round one like a wishing well with the flowers growing out of it. Great project... nice hub!

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 3 years ago from Spain

      Hi Rebecca, Thank you so much for your lovely comment. They are really easy to build so maybe you will give one or two a try when you have a little free time :)

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 3 years ago from Spain

      Hi Suzie. wow what praise, thank you so much for everything. The soil in my garden in Valencia is terrible and so I have stone planters everywhere which I can fill with decent enriched soil and this allows me to grow things I wouldn´t normally attempt. Also the garden I created from nothing around the pool is all raised beds which I have built myself from cinder ( breeze) blocks and rendered, or I have dug out the shapes of island beds , enriched the soil and edged those with local rock. The soil in this garden is even worse than everywhere else on my property as it´s actually sub soil which would have been dumped last when they took the top off the hill to build my house and one other. Around the island beds I have spread gravel and find this a good and very cheap way of making pathways and quite easy to maintain.

      Good luck with your garden in Italy and thank you once again for your lovely comments and sharing and everything :)

      PS: I have another hub which may also be of interest and that´s titled how to make a garden on a budget and like yours on recycling household objects in the garden is packed with money saving ideas.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Your rustic stone planters are just my "cup of tea." They are just beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing this idea.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi bac2basics,

      You are right, I ADORE this!! Absolute must for our garden in southern Italy! When we move this is going to be so done!! The land there has so much natural stone that is unusual too I would hate to throw it away as would my partner so these planters are perfect. We have about 15 olive trees too, massive area for olive groves and the space we have is a blank canvas at present apart from the protected trees. Votes everywhere, shared, pinned, linked to mine and following !! Awesome job they look stunning and so right for Spain!!

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 3 years ago from Spain

      Hi PS.

      Thank you for your lovely comment. I am very pleased with my planters and even more so as they cost very little to build and gave me good exercise gather all the rocks, even if it was a bit hard on my knees building them, I really should get one of those kneelers with the handles to help you get up and down again.

      I put a link on this hub to your one about the easy wood and stone bench as I was very impressed with that too.

      Thank you for the angels, ditto :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Using natural stone and rock makes these a great complement to your land. There is nothing intrusive about them like there is with some other types of planters.

      And inexpensive is what I am all about. This is definitely something I must give a try.

      Pinned

      Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Pearl.

      Many thanks for all the lovely votes and the pin too.

      I had to smile when I read your comment because I built all these planters during the winter and it was freezing cold and blowing a gale a lot of the time. We had terrible gales for months and months here in Spain from the start of the new year, I was told because the jet stream had moved slightly. I hope you have more pleasing conditions in the Autumn when you start on yours :)

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      I like this idea very much. Since I have always said that if I had a nickel for every rock on my property I'd be rich, this is the project for me! I am bookmarking this very informative and instructive article for future reference. I do better in the autumn when I have to work outside. Summer heat and me do not mix well!

      Voted Up, Useful, Beautiful and Interesting, also pinned!

      ;) Pearl

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi FlourishAnyway. I´m so pleased you found this useful and I hope you will give it a try. Having read some of your hubs I know for sure that your dad will help if you get stuck, but they are really easy to do. Beware though, making them does become and addiction :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Absolutely beautiful and useful. I have always admired these in other people's yards and wanted them myself but didn't quite know how to construct one. Your instructions make it seem easy. I would love to try this as a border for my flower beds. Voted up, awesome and useful. I'd vote you frugal, too, if that was an option!

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Nancy.

      What a shame you can´t get free rock, it grows round here for fun. You could always buy some from a builders merchant or garden Centre, but it can be quite expensive. Very many thanks anyway for reading and taking time to comment , we have to do things sometimes to take a break from work I know, and am very pleased you read my hub whilst doing so. Thank you :)

    • Nancy C Moores profile image

      Nancy C Moores 4 years ago

      I really liked the information you gave about these planters. I wish I had access to rocks and stones but unfortunately where I live they are very scarce. But, wonderful job on explaining everything here. I will also try and read some more of your hubs, but right now I have to get back to work. :~) Take care, and I enjoyed your writing.

    • bac2basics profile image
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      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Pstraubie. Many thanks for all the sharing etc, I really appreciate that as well as your lovely comment. I have stones everywhere and especially now the farmers are turning the soil in the olive groves, almost every time I go out in the car I stop and collect more as I am now building a wall to cover and make firm a banking. Keep well dear and Angels back to you too :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      This idea is so appealing and I do have much ground space I could use for one. However, I will have to import my stones as I have none readily available.

      Thanks for sharing this.

      Voted up and pinned and shared Angels are on the way this morning :) ps

    • bac2basics profile image
      Author

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Nell. For some reason I am no longer informed when someone I follow has published a new hub, maybe the same for you that´s why you missed it. I now scroll down the recent notifications to see when you and others I like have published, mind you Nell I don´t need to do this when you publish a new hub because my inbox is jammed up with answers, well done Nell.

      Glad you like the planters, my nerves are quite bad at the moment but building them is therapeutic, maybe when I get back to the UK you and I and Gordon and Seeker and Redberry and Tara and all the rest of us UK hubbers can get together and build a gigantic stone planter around the houses of parliament, and then charge the bloody MP´s wall tax LOL :)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      How did I miss this? they are brilliant! I would never have thought of doing these, they look great especially in your photos, tell me again why you are coming back to england? lol! wonderful, nell

    • bac2basics profile image
      Author

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Marlene. Building these planters is also soothing when times are stressful, but I love them because they cost almost nothing to build too.

      many thanks for reading and your kind comment.

      PS. If you haven´t already read some of my spiritual hubs I think you should, specially the sign from my aunt after she died, this is right up your street :)

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

      I really enjoyed reading about this project. What a beautiful idea. I like that it is also easy to do. Your instructions are wonderful and easy to follow.

    • bac2basics profile image
      Author

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Nettlemere. I will take more photo´s when they really are in full bloom. To overcome the problem of drying out and because the soil is so bad here I mixed half soil and half compost that contains vermiculite and then line the planters with the compost bag , black side facing outwards so that it looks better if the soil levels drop.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Definitely a good way to use up rocks and I would imagine the thickness of the planter's walls means they shouldn't dry out in summer so quickly. I look forward to seeing some pictures of them in full flower.

    • bac2basics profile image
      Author

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hola Roberto, como esta ?

      Of course you can call me Annie, all my friends do except when I´m in trouble :)

      I hear what you are saying loud and clear , it´s why we left in the first place, but the truth is I can no longer manage here on my own, it´s just too hard. I´ve battled on for the past 9 years solo but now each year gets harder for me and the problems never ending, I just can´t do it any more. Anyway I can always winter in Benidorm with the rest of the old biddies when I finally start drawing a pension LOL. Keep well Bob besitos a ti tambien xx

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Annie, if I may call you that. You will miss the weather and all the rest if you come back to the UK...awful place now. But all you do should help to sell the villa if you finally so decide.

      Hasta pronto

      Roberto ...un besito x

    • bac2basics profile image
      Author

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Maj, how lovely to hear from you again this week, bless you.

      gardening in Spain is a challenge I have to admit, and with such a lot of land I had to be inventive to creat a garden I could actually afford. The area we decided to put the swimming pool was ideal for it but just a rough piece of contryside covered in gorse and rosemary and other native plants and trees, this too had to be knocked into shape and gardens made and it´s amazing what you can do with a lorry load of gravel and free rocks. I still have quite a way to go after that awful fire, but am well on the way now and things do look a whole lot better. Take care maj and keep well love :)

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      Well done Annie - most creative, I'm so impressed. What hard work. How rewarding now, and when the spring flowers burst through. I have to admite my creativity isn't my strong point but I'll be searching for something similar. Best wishes....

    • bac2basics profile image
      Author

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi Eddy.

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment and also for sharing. On the bigger planter I used some bits of slate, it´s not Welsh slate but that´s where I think of every time I look at it , I can´t wait to get back to the UK now and one of the first things I want to do is go and visit my dear friends Pete and Kath in their cottage on the seafront at Criccieth. You have a great evening too Eddy love and thanks again :)

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      A brilliant hub which I vote up and share.

      Enjoy your day.

      Eddy.

    • bac2basics profile image
      Author

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Hi wetnose and Carol. Thank you so much for your great comments. Most of the planters shown are very newly built and I still have a load more to do. At the moment they are not looking as good as they will in the summer when the Canna lilies appear and the nasturtiums and Cyclamen. Once the conifers take off too I think it´s going to look stunning and a big improvement on what was only a few weeks ago a load of burned black pine trees.

      Many thanks also carol for voting up and pinning :)

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

      Great hub. It is awesome what you did with lots of muscle and imagination. Very pretty.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      These look lovely and they are pretty cheap. I would have the rocks delivered and fill with good soil. Great ideas... Pinning and voting up

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