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Cinder block planters don’t have to be ugly.

We had a big empty space where we used to stack wood, but we built a woodshed.

“Can’t you do something about that space?” my husband asked. He suggested some whiskey barrels or nice flower pots, but those are expensive. So, when nobody was looking, I bought ten cinderblocks for a buck or so each, stuffed them with potting soil, and lined them up where the woodpile used to be. My plan was to forage the yard and woods for plants that would drape down the sides of the cinderblocks so it would look like a raised bed display.

I planted some yard ivy (English ivy and some plant that costs a lot in the garden center but grows everywhere in my yard). I found succulents spilling from a birdfeeder all over the garden that hadn’t died in the winter. I dug up periwinkles around the edge of the yard away from the poison ivy patch. Then, I took some moss from the yard and packed it all in there.

I finished it off with some orange and yellow blanket flowers I got from a local greenhouse–they’re perennial. Done! I had an outstanding homestead-art-meets-permaculture display that would bloom for decades to come.

Nope.

In the spirit of Poser Homestead, it died.  Half wilted and died that season, and only the succulents came up the next year, and a little of the ivy. So, I replanted them the same way. As if to tell me they died correctly the first time around, they died again in year two.

Poser Homestead Planting Mistakes

Winter freezing: The cinder blocks were set on stone. That’s good for drainage, but doesn’t let the plant roots establish and get deep enough to survive the winter. So even though these plants were perennials, they were acting like annuals because they couldn’t dig in properly. Even if I dug out the stone, they may have struggled, because the root systems of the ivy and blanket flower isn’t designed to go several feet deep.

The blocks were in the sun. This meant they dried out faster. Cinder blocks can’t hold a ton of soil, so they need to be in the shade, or to have plants that can retain moisture. To have blanket flowers in the sun, I needed to have watered daily. And, I didn’t.

I crammed them full. I went full Picasso with these small displays. I wanted ivy growing down the side, moss establishing to age the blocks, and blanket flowers shooting out from an array of succulents. That’s way too much for a six inch space. A pot that size can command a couple small plants, tops, or maybe one large succulent. So, all in all, it was a great, affordable idea, but my expectations were a bit out of sync with the project.

This year I may move these blocks and put in a couple half-barrels instead, or else get ten succulents instead.

Meanwhile, here are some gardeners who did it right.

cinder block planter wall

Project 1: What to Do With Cinder Blocks–Bob Vila

Bob Vila can make anything look classy. Notice how he arranged these blocks and put one or two succulents in each one? This is a well-executed project that isn’t going to die.

Project 2: Modular Succulent Planter–Martha Stewart Living

Succulents strike again with Martha Stewart garden editor Stephen Orr’s modular planter. This is attractive. Again, it’s simple succulents that won’t be affected by the drier soil in the blocks. What makes this particularly attractive is the different plant colors and the size variety of the blocks.

Project 3: Stenciled Cinderblock Planters–Rustoleum

This project is really beautiful. All it is is a few spray bottles of paint and some stencils… and probably a professional artist. But still, it’s a good idea, and they get the Poser Homestead Wilted Carrot Award.

 

Tips for planting in cinder blocks

  • Water them often unless you plant succulents.Stencil planters
  • Do not plant food in anything that may have had an industrial use beforehand. If you salvaged these from a construction site, stick to flowers and green things you’re not planning to eat.
  • Make these into interesting towers and shapes.
  • Plant a little moss along the top border of any planter arrangements headed for the shade. The moss will age the planter.
  • Sponge some brown paint on the side and partially wipe it off. That will also give the planter an antiqued look.
  • Cinder block planters are versatile. They can dot the landscape or make a wall. They’re great for urban, suburban, or rural homesteads. You can use them to make raised bed borders that hold plants themselves.

You don’t have to be Bob Vila or Martha Stewart to do cinder blocks right. You just have to respect the space and remember to water. If you do, you can make all sorts of things out of one of Home Depot’s cheapest materials–the old ugly cinder block.