The idea to build a succulent wall got wedged into my brain when my wife convinced me to go on a tour through the 2016 Pasadena Design House. Every year local LA designers are invited by the Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts to come show off their chops by remodeling an historic house in Pasadena.
Now, I love design of all kinds, but to be honest I had no particular interest in going on this tour. I just straight up thought it would be a snoozefest. But let me tell you, when we got back on the bus to go to our car, and we realized we had missed half the house by mistake, I was pissed. “What?! We missed the Butler’s Kitchen and Pantry? WTF?!”
Now there’s some instant karma for ya, huh?
Anyway, the highlight of the house for me was a small outdoor room dubbed The Smoking Room designed by Michael Wrusch. There were several striking elements to the room, but the clear star was a huge 4′ x 4′ succulent wall hanging.
I had recently made a much smaller succulent wall piece, but this was something else altogether and I knew immediately that I would be building one of my own.
I loved doing this project and the results are so cool that I would encourage anyone to do one of their own. This is not a particularly hard project, but it can get a little time consuming. Let’s get to it!
How to Make a Large Succulent Wall
People required: One person can build the frame and do the planting, but you will need help to move the filled frame into position. You may opt to fill the frame once it is vertical, but I thought that would be more difficult than filling first.
Time: 2-3 hours to build the frame, plus variable amount time to do the planting depending on size of your frame
You can use hand tools for this project, but obviously power tools are preferred.
- Power drill with Philips head driver attachment
- Circular saw
- Staple gun
- Tin snips
- Sharp garden shears or scissors
- Weed remover hand tool
- Safety goggles
- Work gloves
MBM tip: Don’t wear work gloves when using power tools. Glove fingers can snag in the mechanism and cause ugliness, which is no bueno.
- Garden gloves (I don’t like getting my nice leather work gloves muddy, but maybe that’s just me)
These materials will make a frame that is approximately 36″ wide x 48″ tall x 6″ deep. Feel free to modify measurements to suit your space. Note that I made my frame 6″ deep because I was too lazy to rip the planks I had on hand to make a shallower frame. Succulents can live in as little as 3″ of soil, so you may well want to modify this measurement as well. Finally,
- 2 pieces @ 5/8″ x 5½” x 48″ Redwood picket fencing
- 2 pieces @ 5/8″ x 5½” x 36″ Redwood picket fencing
- 1 pieces @ 5/8″ x 5½” x 34¾” Redwood picket fencing (center piece)
- 6 pieces @ 2″ x 4″ x 6″ Redwood or pressure treated 2 x 4
- 1 sheet @ ¼” x 36″ x 48″ waterproof backer board (recommended: Johns Manville GoBoard*) or treated plywood
- 1 piece @ 36″ x 48″chicken wire
- 2 pieces @ 40″ x 52″ landscape (weed block) fabric
- 1 box @ 2″ deck screws
- 4 bags Palm, Cactus and Citrus planting soil (or other fast draining medium)
Overview of the major steps for this project:
- Build the wooden frame
- Line the frame with chicken wire and weed block fabric
- Fill the frame with planting medium
- Close the frame back with waterproof backer board
- Move the frame in place
- Add the plants
Building the Frame
- Attach the 2×4 blocks to the ends of the 48″ lengths of fencing.
MBM tip: Use at least 3 screws offset from each other to avoid splitting the blocks or the Redwood boards. Also be sure the ends of the blocks are completely flush and square with the ends of the boards. This will ensure that your frame is properly squared.
- Find the center of the 48″ sides and mark.
- Attach the remaining two 2×4 blocks, one on each side, so that the top edge of the blocks are flush with the center marks. Again be sure the blocks are flush and square to the boards.
- Complete the outer frame by attaching the 36″ boards between the 48″ as seen in the picture above. Be sure all the edges are flush before attaching.
MBM tip: This is easiest done by laying the boards on a flat surface so that the boards sit squarely to each other. Attach one screw on one end leaving it slightly loose, then attach another screw to the opposite end before adding the rest of the screws. In this way you can make sure all sides are square. Be sure to tighten all the way around once you are done.
- Attach the remaining piece of Redwood to the center blocks. You should now have two equal areas on the top and bottom as seen below (Don’t worry, you’re going to add the chicken wire next – I just didn’t take a picture of the middle step)
- Attach the chicken wire to the front of the box using the staple gun.
MBM tip: staples should be no more than 1″ apart all the way around the edges and through the middle. This will seem like overkill, but you will thank me later when you start cutting out sections of chicken wire.
- Turn the frame over and line the top and bottom sections with landscape cloth. Staple cloth into place as seen below. Note that you will need to extend the cloth up the inside walls of the frame so that the dirt will not come out the sides.
- Add planting medium to completely fill both ends of the frame.
MBM Note: It was suggested to me by a viewer of my livestream that I could fill the box after getting the frame into place. After completing the project, I still feel that that approach would have been more difficult than the effort it took to move the filled box into place.
MBM Note: I added a PVC watering system to this planter, but in the end I think it was unnecessary so I have omitted the steps for that portion of this project. If you are interested in how I did this, please leave a comment below.
- Fill the frame completely with medium. Be sure to pack the dirt down somewhat tightly. This will prevent a lot of settling once the frame is upright.
- Attach the backer board onto the frame. Place screws every 2″ all the way around the perimeter and through the middle.
MBM Tip: I used lightweight GoBoard brand waterproof backer board for the back piece of this frame. This material is extremely lightweight and very easy to work with compared to plywood or cement backer board. That said, you can not mount any weight-bearing hardware through this material, and it is not cheap, about $30 for one 36″ x 60″ sheet. For my purposes, the benefit of lighter weight and ease of use was worth it.
- Move the finished frame into place. Be careful – this can be a back breaker!
Pat yourself on the back! Now the fun part begins!
Time to Plant!
Planting the wall is less a step-by-step process than a creative trial-and-error process. I say this because you will spend a fair amount of time simply looking at your wall and thinking about what you want to put where.
That said, there are a few specific tips I learned along the way that I will share with you here.
Regarding the Plants
- Plan on using ground covers to fill in larger areas and put succulent plants in between to fill in the gaps.
- Mix and match 3-4 flats of different texture and color ground covers to create a variegated effect.
- Use dried grape vines of various thicknesses to add visual direction and interest to your design.
- Have a large number of different varieties of succulents from which to choose.That said, be sure that the water and sun requirements are similar for each. Most succulents are within the same zone, but pay attention to the ground covers in particular as they vary quite a bit.
- Plant your stems in groups of at least 3 to create little islands of similar plants. One or two in an area will be lost.
- My suggestion is not to place your wall in direct, strong sun light. Too much sun and the wall will dry out quickly, most likely killing some ground covers while causing succulents to grow too quickly. Both situations mean lots of maintenance which is no bueno in my book of Absent-Minded Gardening.
There are two basic planting techniques that you will use as you fill out your wall, one for larger plantings and one for smaller plantings.
MBM Tip: Start at the top of the wall and work your way down. If you start at the bottom, you may lose too much of dirt out the holes requiring you to try to refill through your cutouts. In my experience this is tough to do.
For larger plantings:
- Create “pockets” for chunks of ground cover and larger plants by first cutting through the chicken wire using your tin snips. Only cut across the top and down the sides – leave the bottom intact for now. Bend the flap down and out of the way.
MBM Tip: Don’t cut too large an area out or you will compromise the integrity of the wall. For the same reason, don’t cut through the support wires that run the length of the chicken wire.
- Starting at the top of the opening , cut an opening across weedblock fabric. Next cut the sides down about halfway and then cut back across to remove the piece.
- Carefully scoop out some of the dirt to make room for your planting. If you have packed your dirt well enough you should not have too many cave-ins.
- For ground cover, cut out a piece slightly larger than the pocket you have created. Compress the dirt and roots slightly so the dirt doesn’t drop off. Carefully place the bottom edge of the planting into the opening, then press in the top. Tuck in the sides.
- Bend the wire back up to hold the plant in place. Trim off half of the excess wire leaving small “legs” intact to hold the plant in place.
Succulents are great to work with for this project. For medium stems, you can simply insert them into the dirt and they will root very quickly provided they have enough moisture.
- Clip a small hole in the weedblock fabric between the chicken wire.
- Insert a weed removal hand tool (pictured below) to make a hole in the dirt, then insert the stem.
- Alternately, use the hand tool to make a stem hole anywhere along the side of one of your ground cover plantings and insert there.
There is one other technique that I did on my wall that you might want to incorporate. You can create a 3D effect for your wall by adding a separate planter ball.
To make this feature:
- Form a ball out of chicken wire
- Line the ball with fabric.
- Fill the ball with whatever medium is right for your plant.
- Attach the ball to the wall with wire.
Use all these techniques to fill the wall, top to bottom, until you are done. This process can take some time, but that’s the fun of this project.
Be creative, mix and match, try different combinations until you get the look you are after!
Here is what my progress looked like over time:
By the way: My wall had a place picked out that happened to have a flat counter top area beneath it. This area gave me the idea to extend the plantings down onto the flat surface to create one continuous garden landscape in miniature. This is an unusual space, but you can recreate this look with potted plants just as easily.
Don’t get too hung up on 100% covering your chicken wire. Plant growth will cover small gaps, and you can use dried moss to cover others. Also keep in mind that the ground cover cloth is black and your eye tends to ignore the dark places and seek out the plants effectively hiding small, unplanted areas. This may bug some people, but I am okay with it.
As I said above, this is not a hard project but it does take a while to complete. I planted a lot of plants, but if you look again at the wall that got me started on this you can see that large areas are filled in with dried moss and coconut husks. I suspect that as some things die I will be more liberal with these materials as well, if only for practicality.
I hope you enjoyed reading about this as much as I enjoyed doing it!
Have you done a similar project? Do you have questions? Leave me a note down below – and don’t forget to Follow me for more MakerBakerMan!