Make an A-Frame Planter

Ideal for container gardening in a small space, this ladder and platform design can fold up and store easily when not in use

Not everyone has room for a backyard garden. This A-frame planter offers ample space for container gardening in a small (18" × 55")footprint. The frame supports three shelves that have hardware cloth decks for easy drainage. When growing season ends, the A-frame folds up so that the entire unit can store compactly.

I made my first version of this project from pressure-treated 5/4 and 1× pine that I bought from a home center. The planter I’m building on these pages is made from clear pine, finished with a solid-color outdoor stain. Cedar and cypress are two other woods to consider for a project like this, because of their natural resistance to insects and moisture damage.

A folding frame with 3 planting platforms

The planter’s structure resembles a step ladder. Identical leg pairs contain 3 rungs, which are through-mortised for strength and appearance. 3 planting platforms are supported on the rungs, fixed in place by bolts that extend into T-nuts.

Major Construction Steps

  1. Rout dadoes in 8 leg pieces (photo below). Then glue leg halves together.
  2. Cut legs to length.
  3. Cut tenons on rungs, then glue rungs to legs. Hinge leg assemblies together.
  4. Assemble shelves, then coat them with exterior finish. Install hardware cloth.
  5. Add sides to shelves.
  6. Drill holes in frame and shelf sides, then install T-nuts in shelf sides.
  7. Protect entire project with exterior finish.
Rout dadoes to make mortises. Instead of creating through mortises by plunge-routing, I used a straightedge guide and pattern-cutting bit to rout 1⁄2" deep dadoes across 8 identical boards. Then I glued the boards up in pairs to create 4 legs. Let the leg halves run long, so you can make the angled end cuts after glueup. The same gang-cutting technique can be used to create the 13⁄4"-long tenons in the rungs. Simply clamp the rungs together, then rout away the waste. 
Assemble the legs. Glue the rungs in their mortises to complete leg assemblies, then chamfer leg edges and the ends of through tenons

Make shelves designed for drainage

Shelf lengths are shown in the drawing on p. 25. For overall shelf width, subtract 3⁄16" from the distance between legs. Each shelf has a pair of rails connected by a combination of narrow and wide crosspieces. Complete all rail-and-crosspiece assemblies first, and coat them with an outdoor finish. Then install hardware cloth and shelf sides. Once your shelves are complete, you can put them in place on the ladder frame, and drill for bolts and T-nuts.

Tips for working with hardware cloth

  • Wear work gloves. Handling stiff steel strands can cause nasty scrapes, so protect your hands.
  • Cut close to the joints. Don’t leave sharp protruding stubs that can catch on skin and clothes. Use a pair of wire snips to trim along the square edges.
  • Fold over the ends. Cut each piece about 2" longer than the shelf where it will be installed. Fold over the last inch on each end, then hammer the folded section flat to create a safe, strong end.
Drill for screws & T-nuts. With the shelf centered on its rungs, drill through the leg and the shelf side with a 5⁄16" bit, then install a 1⁄4-20 × 2" T-nut to anchor a matching machine bolt. I used a small drilling jig that straddles the rung and locates the hole 11⁄8" above the rung. Two bolts will hold each shelf in place.
Go green. A porch, patio or landing is a great place to set up your planter and put it to work.
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