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A great site for plants but the maple tree will not cooperate.

Seems as though every lawn and every garden has that spot where nothing will grow. We use every trick with the same dismal results. At Paths of Hope a row of azaleas that once blossomed each spring has degraded till the site is an embarrassment. Of course the spot is located to the left side of the front entry.

The culprit is a mature maple with its non-stoppable root mass. Removing the tree is not an option as it contributes much to the curb appeal of the home. On rare occasions I have managed to dig a small hole through the web of roots. I added compost, inserted a plant and watered to keep it alive. Mr. Maple sensed the nutrients and slithered over to girdle the root ball of the newcomer. The plant may hold on for a season or two out of sheer determination but the word thrive never applies.

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I just removed the last two azaleas which have fought for survival in that arena. After I unwound the maple roots I noted that the root balls are nearly the same size as they were at their planting several years ago. No wonder we see less blooms each season and rarely see any form of growth.

We needed a fresh approach for this prime garden site.

Ideas for our garden come from many sources. Sometimes it may be a picture from a magazine or book, an image from a web site, or something we see in someone else’s garden. Often several inputs combine to give birth to our idea. The standard solution to our issue would be a raised bed using a planter or a large stone pot with appropriate drain holes, but experience has shown that the maple tree can find its way upwards through the tiniest of drain holes to engulf a container plant.

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A mock-up of my idea.

I like the look of a raised bed, especially when cedar planks cover the exterior. The local home center offers six foot cedar fence pickets, and though the wood is rough cut (read as splinters in my fingers) with variations in thickness it looks great. Bluebird houses, each built from a single picket, provide nesting space in a couple of spots in the garden. So cedar will be the look. Now what about the growing space?

Shawn loves to mix and match colors and textures in the garden. She experiments each year, sometimes returning to proven favorites and other times testing new entries. Some plants do not last the entire season and swapping one of those for a prettier choice mid-season is a must. What? How can I support that effort with a raised bed? Time to think outside the box…or is it bed.

What if I divide the growing space into ten smaller segments that can be removed, carried to the potting area for maintenance, and planted or replanted anytime during the season? I sketched a quick drawing and Shawn loved the idea. Now I get to build it!

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For the frame, sized to fit our space and the dimensions of the pots we chose, I worked with 2×2 pressure treated lumber. The actual dimensions are 1.25”x1.25”, and I had to sort through quite a few at the home center before I found enough straight ones. Another option is to buy 2×4’s and rip them on a table saw for an even stronger frame.

The frame was assembled as a series of rectangles using the Kreg Jig pocket system which I highly recommend. This allowed the use of simple butt joints rather than miters at the corners. No one will see them anyway. I then used 2” deck screws to connect the four sides into a box.

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The cedar fence pickets are 5 ½” wide and the first two courses required only a chop saw to cut the length. The last course required less than a full width and required a chop followed by a rip using the table saw. The height of the box shell was determined from the height of the pots we chose for the planting space. My pots were 12” tall and I wanted the box to rise at least 1” above that.

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I will skip a lot of the carpentry details as this is a gardening site. The top of the box is rimmed with cedar ripped to 3” width, and I covered the corners with pieces of the same width to dress up the finished product. Again I used simple butt joints rather than complex miters at the corners. The cedar was attached using brad nailer.

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As I have stated the size of the pot dictated the other dimensions. I searched the web looking for square pots to maximize the growing space. They needed to be at least a foot square and of a heavy enough material that we can use them for several seasons. In the end I chose a product from Growco Indoor Garden Supply, item #giantSqPotB07, Giant Square Pot – 12 x 12 x 12 (#B07). I am happy with the choice. The ten pots create a flexible garden space where nothing would grow before. (And the entire bed is easily relocated should such a desire arise.)

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To slow maple root invasion I set the pots on 12”x12” stone pavers. Leveling these was a challenge given the roots below but in the end they are close enough. Besides the beautiful plants will quickly disguise any mismatches.

Lastly I filled the pots with a mixture of potting soil, compost, and leaf mulch. The perlite in the mix should help with water retention, and the organic material should afford plenty of space for the plants to frolic.

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Shawn loved the finished product. And that makes the effort worthwhile.

The no dig garden is easily-adaptable to fit your patio or deck.

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