You may have seen them at the cool new restaurant in town or in a modern hotel, but living walls aren’t just for contemporary public places. You can easily build your own to hang inside or outside your home. And the perks don’t stop with just how cool they look: These plants work hard to purify the air naturally, reducing carbon dioxide levels and airborne dust. Plus, research shows that indoor landscaping has a positive effect on mental health.
Using thick plastic sheeting to line the inside of the wood frame protects the wood (and the walls of your home) from damage. It’s important to not have rips or tears in the sheeting so water stays where it’s supposed to. Landscaping material is breathable, allowing water to pass through it and ensuring that your plants have a healthy, moist environment to live in. The second sheet of landscaping material will act as the barrier for the dirt, the most important “wall” of your planter. This breathable barrier is also important because it allows oxygen into the soil and passes nutrients to the roots of your plants.
The number of succulents needed to fill the frame will depend on the size of your succulents and how dense you want your wall to be. Keep in mind that the planter will fill out as the plants grow. Smaller, lighter succulents will be easier to plant and will sit up better when turned vertically. It’s important to consider the location of your finished wall in terms of weather, sunlight, and seasonal changes. You can use other types of plants as well, depending on what works best in your climate. We used mostly Echeveria, Senecio, and sedum.
Related: Succulent Care Guide
This project is best completed with a friend in a space that can get a little dirty.
Set the table saw to a 45-degree angle. Mark the ripped French cleat board at 3 inches wide. With the saw, cut the board in half at a 45-degree angle down the length of the board. Use a guide (or the table saw’s fence) to keep your line straight.
Decide which indoor or outdoor wall you’re going to affix your living wall to. We recommend finding a sturdy wall outside or one that stands over hardwood or linoleum floor to make cleanup easier in case you have to replace any plants. Locate and measure a spot 2 feet wide and 3 feet tall where your living wall will hang. Use a stud finder to assist in locating where you will drill into the wall. Mark the center of the top edge with a pencil. Measure 4 inches down from there and make a second mark. Line up the center of one of the French cleat boards—with the narrower side against the wall and the angled cut pointed up—with the second mark. (You may have to move your cleat a few inches to one side or another in order to screw it securely into wall studs.) Using 2-1/2-inch screws, a level, and wall anchors, if desired, attach the cleat to the wall.
On a work surface, line up the two 36-inch-long boards parallel to each other, then line up the two 22-1/4-inch-long boards perpendicular to them to make a rectangular frame for your wall. Make sure all corners are flush. Pre-drill your holes, then glue together and drill three 2-1/2-inch deck screws from the outside of the 36-inch boards into the ends of the shorter boards to fasten.
Line up the longer 3/4-inch by 3/4-inch supports inside the longer edge of the frame, making sure edges are flush with what will be the bottom of your frame when laid horizontally. Pre-drill all holes, and glue and drill 1-1/4-inch screws from the inside of the frame. Line up the shorter support inside one of the shorter edges of the frame, between the longer supports and flush with the bottom of the frame, and glue and drill 1-1/4-inch screws from the inside of the frame. On the opposite end of the frame, glue and attach the remaining half of the French cleat inside the shorter edge, with the square side against the frame and longer edge of the angled cut flush with the bottom of the frame. Glue and drill 1-1/4-inch screws from the outside of the frame.
Line up the first slat along a long edge of the frame, on top of the supports and French cleat. Using a clamp to hold if necessary, pre-drill the holes and glue and drill a 1-1/4-inch screw on either end from the bottom of the frame. Repeat with remaining slats. (We used a 3/4-inch spacer to make sure our slats were evenly spaced. If you are not using a spacer, lay all of your slats out before you begin attaching them to make sure you’re leaving enough room for all seven.) Drill two to three screws along the sides of the two slats on the end into the longer supports for additional support. Sand down any rough edges.
With the frame laying down horizontally, line the bottom and sides with plastic sheeting. Make sure that the plastic lies flat inside the frame on the bottom and sides, smoothing it out with your hands. Use clamps to secure the plastic on the edges. Flip the frame over and staple the plastic to the bottom of the frame. We put in one staple every three to four inches to prevent any leaks.
Flip the frame back over, lay the landscaping material over the plastic, and repeat, stapling the material to the sides of the frame. Trim any excess plastic and landscaping material from the bottom of the frame.
Stretch your second sheet of landscaping material over the top of the frame, keeping it taut against the edges. Flip the frame over so that the material is centered underneath. Wrap the material around the frame, carefully tucking the corners, and staple it along the frame every three to four inches to secure. (It’s important to make sure there are no rips or tears in this layer of material, as it will be the only thing keeping the dirt inside the frame.) Flip the frame back over.
Cut three slits in the material, six to eight inches long, in different places. Use a trowel to scoop soil into the frame through the slits. Continue until the frame is full but not packed with soil. (You can add more soil later, as some might spill out when you turn your frame upright.)
Through one of the existing slits, use your fingers to scoop out a small hole in the soil. Remove a larger succulent from its container, loosen the roots, and shake off most of the dirt. Carefully tuck the roots through the slit and into the soil and pat down around the base, making sure the succulent is nested securely. Repeat to fill the remaining slits. Once those are filled, carefully cut smaller slits elsewhere in the material and repeat to fill up your wall as desired. Once the wall is vertical, you may have to rearrange some of the plants.
Once your wall is planted to your liking, grab a friend to help you lift it to hang. You may want to lay a tarp underneath to catch any soil that spills out. Make sure you tilt the frame so that the edge with the French cleat is up. Carefully set the living wall against your home wall, and slowly lower it until the cleats catch. Make sure the cleats are centered properly to distribute the weight evenly. Adjust any plants that might have loosened or tipped. Thoroughly water your wall to promote root growth, then continue to water as needed.
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