Having a garden deck is terrific as your deck is great for sunlight, has fewer pests and weeds than backyard gardens, requires less water along with easier access. If you love plants and gardening, deck gardening could be for you. The most significant difference between ground and deck gardening is containers. Additionally, a deck has wonderful architectural features that are great for a garden.
Enhancing your outdoor living space and increasing your deck enjoyment.
Depending on your deck design, your deck garden could be hanging, wall pockets, vertical, multi-tiered pots, elevated raised beds, planters, or railing boxes. Deck features like built-ins, privacy walls, pergolas, tiers, and railing all lend themselves to deck gardening. The right marriage of containers and deck features will bring years off enjoyment on your deck garden.
Ideally, the plants you grow on your deck should complement your deck features. A lattice privacy wall is great for vining plants or a pocket garden. Pergolas provide plenty of space for hanging plants along with large canopy for vining its original purpose back in Italy.
This will be our driving question. What deck features are ideal for garden containers? How can you design your deck for gardening? Which containers work best, and where on your deck?
Deck Features Great for Gardening
You can have a garden on any deck, regardless of design, but certain properties are exceptional for plants. Using these deck features naturally enhance your deck garden. There are five-deck features which with the right container, are ideal for a deck garden. Integrating built-ins, privacy walls, pergolas, tiers, and railing into your deck will upgrade your deck garden. Let’s look over the deck features and which garden containers will work best with them.
Built-ins deck gardens
Read any deck construction book, and if they mention anything about plants, they will discuss deck-built ins. It is like the default setting for deck gardening. If you want plants on your deck? A built-in lined box on your deck will provide the most soil for your garden. Offering the most versatility in gardening, what plants you can grow.
The key with built-in deck planters is the liner and placement.
Built-in liners prevent the planters from rotting and keep water off your deck. There are several types of liners, varying in cost and durability. I have a more in-depth article discussing costs, durability, ease of use and customizability of planter liners. Click here to read more about planter liners.
If there enough sunlight, six to eight hours, any part of your deck is good for plants, but with built-ins planter, the edge of deck or centre surrounded by benches is ideal. Integrating the planter in a part of the deck furniture or leaving room on the deck for furniture.
Planters along the edge of the deck can double as decoration and railing. The box itself acting as railing, preventing falls. If the deck is higher than 24” (0.6m), the planter will need to be elevated to code railing height. Which fortunately is a very convenient working height, 36” (0.9m) if the deck is less than 6’ (1.8m). Matching the familiar working height of your kitchen counter height. The only requirement is that the box cannot be climbable.
A built-in planter box 36” (0.9m) should have a false bottom. Minimizing the amount of soil you need and weight on the deck. A box depth of 8”-12” (200-300mm), is an amble depth for plant roots without overloading your deck.
An excellent design is a raised planter box, with a lattice wall behind for the plants to vine up. Turning your brown privacy wall into a lush green wall of life.
Speaking of plants beside privacy walls.
Privacy wall deck gardens
I love privacy walls for garden decks because of the sheltering and support they provide for the plants. The privacy wall blocks gusting wind from knocking over pots and breaking the plants, all while increasing the deck’s warmth.
The sun reflecting off the wall, acting like a mini greenhouse extending your growing season. The ground may be frozen in your yard, but beside the privacy wall, its already 20°C (68°F) ready for plant to start to bud.
If you have a ground-level garden, setting up a planting table in front of the privacy wall will allow you to start the seedling early, getting a head start on your garden.
Growing your garden from seed saves money on buying plants while extending your gardening season. But let’s face it we garden for fun, not for money but saving money allows us to garden more.
Not only does a privacy wall extent your growing season, but it also increases the deck’s temperature, which is a mixed blessing. The plants will love the additional heat and sun but will need more frequent watering. The mid-summer heat will wilt the plants quickly, requiring the pots beside the privacy wall to be water once or even twice a day.
“Of course, you can also take advantage of existing structures on your deck, like slats in the railing, to use for plant support. Simply use garden twine to tie the plant to the structure.”Bonnie Plants
If your deck does not have a privacy wall, but you would like a screen between your nosy neighbours and you. A vertical vegetable garden creates a living screen of plants. Increasing privacy on your deck while adding life. Good vining vegetables like cucumber, peas or pole beans are great. Flowering vines like Clematis of flower rose adds colour to your deck throughout the summer.
Balcony Garden Web has a list of 24 vining plants for pots. To see some vine options with pictures for your deck, Click here.
Pergolas deck gardens
Another fantastic place for a deck garden is the pergola. Pergolas are great for hanging plants. The beams and posts convenient hanging locations on the deck. Or vining support with a larger planter at the post base and vining up the post unto the rafters. Providing additional natural shade in the hot summer months. Enclosing the pergola completely will take a couple of years of growth, but its beauty and shade will be worth it.
You can also hang wall pockets on the post adding greener up the post without vines. Adding plants without taking up floor space. Leaving the deck open for furniture and guest.
Multiple Deck Tiers gardens
Combining elevation and a sheltering wall. Multiple deck levels allow you to drape plants over the side of the higher deck, covering the railing and wall with leaves and flowers. With the plants sheltered from the wind, plants like tomatoes can vine up a trellis in their pots without worry of the wind tipping them over. If additional strength is required, simply tying the top of the trellis to the higher deck or railing will keep it in place.
I like the waterfall or garden hill look between deck levels. Either by using the stairs or arranging the planters at different heights, your garden rising from the lower decking level unto the upper deck. With each row increasing in height. The tiered plants creating a sense of openness on the lower deck than a straight wall. With the higher plants further away. Your deck chairs arranged at the bottom of a lush valley, not beside a sharp cliff.
Deck Railing gardens
There is so much you can do with railing. You can hang plants of the post unto the lawn, adding greener without infringing on the deck. Railing planters are also great for this. A small trough garden at the perfect working high conveniently attached to your deck railing.
Wall pockets can be strung in front of the railing between the post on the deck side. Again, increasing your garden without using deck space.
Or a planter sitting on the deck below the railing with the plants vining up the baluster. Do be careful with planters on the decking. Care needs to be taken to prevent the planter from damaging the decking. To read more of how to avoid decking damage from planter, click here.
Elements to consider when setting up a deck garden
There are so many great places on a deck for a garden. When deciding where to set up your deck garden, there are six things to consider.
- Sunlight exposure
- Weight restrictions
- Watering Deck Plants
- Space to work and enjoy your deck
- Gardening tools storage including watering
Most vegetables need 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, flowers often requiring less sun. Around 4-6 hours for flowering plants. Check for exact plant requirements, but if your deck is shaded, you will be better planning for more of a flower deck garden than vegetables.
“The sun is often hottest (and toughest on plants) from after three until just before sundown.”E.Vinja
Vinja raises a good point that ideally, a deck garden will have full sun exposure in the morning and early afternoon, followed by a cooling shade to prevent wilting. Deck pots with wheels can also be moved in and out of the sun as required. The wheels also help to dry out the decking under the planters reducing mould and rot.
Before committing to your deck garden arrangement, take some time to observe the sun’s path and shadowing. Unfortunately, as the seasons change, so does the sun’s path. But using moveable planters and privacy screens on the deck can help.
Deck Garden Presentation
Your outdoor oasis is about more than just function but also appearance. How you arrange your deck garden is essential.
“When planning your deck container garden, take a good look at the existing structure to see what elements you can incorporate into your garden.”Bonnie Plants
Your deck and garden should work together, complementing each other. Plants should not creep out unto the deck, or crowd your deck in other ways. The deck should still be welcoming, not feel crowed and cluttered with excess plants. Just enough plants to enjoy but not so many as to take over the deck. This is your deck garden, not a jungle.
Weight restrictions of your deck
A few small planters on your deck will not be an issue, but when using large planters for your garden deck, re-enforcement may be needed. Large planter should be a planned part of your deck construction, not a later addition.
The weight of planters is mostly dependent on the soil mix. Topsoil from your garden, on average, weighs 12 lbs per gallon where a potting soil mix heavy in peat moss, vermiculite or perlite are lighter. Another reason to use potting soil not just dirt from the backyard.
Most decks built to code are designed for 40 Lbs per square foot. Meaning a 3-gallon planter shouldn’t be a problem for your deck. But spacing your garden pots around the deck will ensure there is no undue strain. With sufficient joist under each planter. As an added bonus, most planters are placed near the edge of the deck, often the strongest part of the deck.
Space to work and enjoy your deck
Closely related to garden presentation is workability. A garden deck needs to be arranged for you can efficiently work with your plants and enjoy your deck. Maintaining pathways on your deck to move around. Additionally, leaving room for chairs can be moved in and out around the table.
“A container-style garden is a good idea for a patio, but only if it doesn’t make your outdoor space unmanageable. You still need access to the space, and there’s no reason it should feel cluttered.”Dengarden
It’s no good to have the most beautiful and productive deck garden if you can’t be on your deck to enjoy it. Arrange it to be enjoyed. Often it is better to start with fewer plants, adding with ever year than to overcrowd your deck the first year without realizing the effect of mature sized plants. And not having any place to move them because every corner of your deck is full.
Gardening tools storage including watering
You are only as good as your tools, or so the saying goes. You may not need the best and newest gardening tools, but access will make a big difference. Having a small storage box on the deck for your garden tools. Increasing access not only saves time but will improve the health of your garden. If it’s not a chore to get, you are more likely to work a few minutes. Here and there with your plants, then if you have to go into the house to get the tools. Quickly deadheading the flower to keep them blooming, or watering when you step out for a breath of fresh air.
Watering Deck Plants
A deck garden may require less water than a ground garden but will require more frequent watering. As the soil will quickly dry out with no reservoirs. Potting soil with high water retention organic material and polymers will help, but still, easy access to water will help your garden flourish.
Robin Sweetser gives a great tip. If you double pot plants, filling the larger pot with sphagnum moss or crumpled newspaper. Then when you water the plant, you also water the larger plant cooling down the soil and slowing evaporation. Helping your deck garden to make it through the heat of the day.
“Small containers dry out quickly and need frequent watering—sometimes twice a day in high heat. Larger containers still need water, but they contain more soil to retain moisture, so you won’t have to do it as much.”Bonnie Plants
If your deck does not have a hose bib already on it. It will be well worth it if you have more than a half a dozen plants. Deck plants are thirsty things, often requiring daily watering or even twice a day watering. Easy access to water like tools will increase garden health.
Deck containers at the same time need to drain. Plants, regardless of how hot it is on your deck, should not sit in water. All containers need proper soil for drainage and holes in the bottom for all excess water to drain. Keeping the plants’ roots healthy, damp but not drowning.
Speaking of water, deck containers should be raised either on blocks or wheels to allow air under the plants to dry out the decking. Even better are plant tables or raised beds allowing, even more, drying air under the planters. Sitting water can stain and rot the decking. But raising the planters enabling the water to evaporate, keeping the decking safe.
Sizing containers for vegetable garden
Most deck plants can grow in pots between 12”-24” (300-600mm), and 8”-12” (200-300mm) deep. Herbs often requiring even less space. Sizing specific plant pots requirements would be an article in itself, much longer than we wish to go here. Fortunately, the almanac has written precisely that a list of vegetables and required pot sizes. Click here to see what pots you need for your plants.
Deck Garden Conclusion
Your deck has incredible potential as a garden, with many deck architectural features that are perfect for setting up a garden. Be fluent in your garden design, adapting to each potential challenge and opportunity on your deck. And please, as I have said a million times, enjoy your deck!