Building With Bamboo: Planter and Trellis

Use these tips and tricks when building with bamboo to make your planter and trellis strong.

Overview: Materials, tools and costs

If you’re wishing for wisteria or craving clematis, you can plant them just steps away in this planter and trellis for your deck or patio. And if you build a pair of them, you can create a privacy screen or provide shade from the late afternoon sun.

Similar planter/trellis combinations—made of wood or plastic—can cost $200 or more at garden centers. But you can build this one for as little as $100 in one weekend.

To build this planter, you’ll need standard woodworking tools like a table saw and a miter saw. If you want to round the edges of the wooden parts as we did, you’ll also need a router and two round-over bits (1/4- and 1/2-in. radius). Our total materials bill was about $140. Your cost will depend mostly on the wood you choose for the planter box. We built our planter from “select-grade” pine boards, which cost about $60 altogether. If you don’t mind a few knots, use construction-grade pine, which will cost about $20. If you live in a damp climate, consider rot-resistant choices like cedar or teak. Pressure-treated lumber is another good choice because it costs about the same as construction-grade pine and lasts practically forever. The drawback is that you may have to let it dry for a month before you start building.

Small-diameter bamboo for the planter box slats and lattice is in stock at most home centers and garden centers. The bamboo we used was labeled “3/4 inch.” To find 1-1/2-in.-diameter bamboo for the trellis posts and header, visit a large garden center or shop online (search for “bamboo poles”). You’ll find lower prices online, but those savings may be offset by shipping charges. We bought our bamboo at a garden center and spent about $50. Select straight poles for the trellis posts and header.

Bamboo Planter and Trellis

This bamboo planter and trellis looks handsome on a patio or deck and is durable as well.

Bamboo planter and trellis
Master a New Material

Bamboo is one of the world’s greatest building materials. It’s incredibly strong, good-looking and cheap. And if you’re a weekend woodworker, you already have the tools to work with it. But bamboo doesn’t behave exactly like wood, so you’ll also need some new tricks up your sleeve. We’ll show you how to build with this hard and brittle, irregular and hollow material.

Close-up of bamboo
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Step 1: Build the Planter Box

To get started, rip four 8-ft.-long 1x6s into strips on your table saw. You’ll need two 2-3/4-in.-wide strips for the top rim, two 1-3/4-in.-wide strips for the cleats and legs, and four 2-1/2-in.-wide strips for the legs, rails and stiles. Glue the rails and stiles together to make frames (Photo 1). Sand the frames and round the inside edges with your router and a 1/4-in. round-over bit. Then mask around the frames (Photo 2).

You’ll need to cut about 120 slats to fill the frames. To avoid measuring them all, clamp a stop block next to your-miter saw. With the slats cut, mark guidelines 1-1/4 in. from the top and bottom of the frames and glue the slats between them (Photo 3). Place the best side of each slat face down. Alternate thin and thick slats, and the direction of the tapers—one narrow end up, the next down.

While you’re waiting for the adhesive to harden, glue together the planter legs. Round the edges with a 1/2-in. round-over bit.

Assemble the planter box (Photo 4). Take diagonal corner-to-corner measurements to make sure the box is square before you screw the pressure-treated floor boards to the cleats. Top off the planter box with rim boards, mitered at the corners and screwed to the frames. We rounded the edges of our rim material with a 1/4-in. round-over bit before cutting it to length. The rim overhangs the inside of the box by 1/2 in.

Figure A: Bamboo Planter and Trellis Details

Overall dimensions: 40 in. wide x 18 in. deep x 72 in. tall. All wood parts are 3/4 in. thick. Bamboo parts vary in diameter from 3/8 to 3/4 in. unless otherwise noted.

You can download Figure A and enlarge it in “Additional Information” below. Also find a complete Materials List in “Additional Information” below.

Bamboo planter and trellis details
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Step 2: Build the trellis

To assemble the lattice, first grab any 1x4s or 2x4s you have handy and build a 1x4 frame with inner dimensions of 2 x 4 ft. Take diagonal corner-to-corner measurements to make sure the frame is square. Lay the first pole across the frame from one corner to the other and screw it to the frame. Then add more poles, screwing each to the frame (Photo 5). Although it’s time-consuming, you must drill a pilot hole for every screw—otherwise, the bamboo will split.

Attach the second layer of bamboo with wire ties and a “twister” tool (Photo 6). Wire ties are designed to connect the rebar that reinforces concrete, so you’ll find them and a twister in the masonry aisle at home centers. For a neat, tight connection, pull upward on the twister as it spins. When the lattice is done, cut it out of the frame (Photo 7).

Next, build the bamboo frame that will hold the lattice. Start by cutting kerfs in the posts and header (Photo 8). Bamboo can develop wide cracks as it dries out. Cutting a kerf creates a single, straight opening and prevents random splitting. Then cut the tops of the posts using a 1-1/2-in. hole saw (Photo 9). Glue 4-in.-long 3/4 x 3/4-in. wooden plugs into the posts to provide anchors for the screws that fasten the header. The plugs don’t have to fit tight; just use lots of construction adhesive.

Drill the posts with a 3/4-in. hole saw to create sockets for the rungs. Don’t use a spade bit; the bamboo will split. Insert the rungs and measure the spread of the posts. To fit into the planter box, the spread must be no more than 27-1/2 in. Cut the rungs a bit shorter if needed and then glue them into the posts with construction adhesive. Attach the header (Photo 10). Leave the trellis frame on a flat surface until the adhesive hardens, then attach the lattice to the rungs. When you screw the completed trellis to the planter box, insert wooden blocks behind the bottom ends of the posts. Bamboo isn’t perfectly straight, so you’ll have to experiment with blocks of different thicknesses to make the posts plumb.

Using Tie Wires

Wire ties are simple to use: Bend each tie in half and slip it over the bamboo. Then hook the looped ends with the twister tool and spin. For faster twisting, cut the handle off the tool and chuck it into a drill (Photo 6).

Tie wires and twister tool
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Step 3: Finishing details

We finished our planter box with deck stain. When you’re done finishing, slice the masking tape around the box frames with a utility knife and peel off the tape. Add plastic furniture glides to the legs to keep the wood from soaking up moisture. To hold soil, we used a 12-1/2-in. x 27-in. plastic planter. You could use two or three smaller pots instead.

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