Cinderblock Succulent Planter!

by Jenny Peterson on January 12, 2011

in Projects

Last year, there was a project on Apartment Therapy’s site that made the rounds online–a super cool, industrial-looking planter made out of cinderblocks. From the moment I saw it, I knew I would do this project myself, but there were parts of the directions I didn’t like (cutting cinderblocks? No thanks!). So, I roped in my Hunky Foreman and our crew, and everybody had input into how this thing got put together. Let’s start at the end and move backwards, shall we? Here’s what we came up with:



  1. Cinderblocks
  2. Chicken Wire
  3. Wire cutters & gloves
  4. Weed block fabric
  5. Succulent soil
  6. Variety of 4″ potted succulents
  7. Variety of topdressings: decorative rock, gravel, tumbled glass

We used old and new cinderblocks, and most of them were full-sized, but we did get some that were half-sized to fill in odd spaces. We put this planter wall together at the Hunky Foreman’s house in his backyard–he had some really unsightly above-ground electrical outlets by his hot tub that we wanted to shield from view:

We began by laying the foundation along the concrete patio:

And we started building the wall. Every so often, being almost as random as possible, turn a cinderblock out to create the “drawer” into which plants will go. Be sure to stagger the seams of the cinderblocks (like with brick-laying) to ensure stability of the wall.

Carlos and Alfonso were really helpful in figuring the layout, but it was the Hunky Foreman who came up with the Amazing Shortcut. The original project suggested cutting pieces of cinderblock and using Liquid Nails to glue them into the bottom of the openings to create the little cubbies for planting. But 1) Jenny doesn’t cut cinderblock, 2) drainage holes would still need to be drilled through the cinderblock you just cut and glued, and 3) that seemed a bit too fussy for me. So the Amazing Shortcut is this: cut pieces of chicken wire several inches larger than the bottom opening of the cinderblock and carefully (don’t be like Alfonso–wear your gloves, for pete’s sake!) stuff it down into the bottom of the opening.

Then cut a square of landscape or weedblock fabric, also slightly larger than the opening, and lay that over the chicken wire. Now you have a finished cubby for planting that provides great drainage for the succulents.

All that’s left to do is fill the cubbies with succulent soil, place the plants and top off each mini planting with a topdressing of gravel or decorative rock.



We left some cinderblock unplanted in order to insert candles–if you do this, prepare the cubby just as you would for planting (chicken wire, fabric, soil); just omit the plant. The add tealight candles in small clear glass jars and set atop the soil. The glass jars will keep the flame from blowing out if there’s a breeze at night. This was such a fun project, and once we got going, really only took us two afternoons. I’d love to recreate this for a client (ya hear me out there?)–it’s a perfect project for a small space since the foot print only takes up about 1 1/2′ D x however long you want your wall to be. Since it’s modular, it can be any height or length.

Wouldn’t  this be cool if the cinderblocks were painted a funky color (lavender, sky blue, orange) for an artsy look? If you use all new cinderblocks, the effect will be more sleekly contemporary, whereas mixing up old and new like we did will give you more of a shabby chic kind of look. I do hope you try this project for yourself–it’s easy, it’s inexpensive and fun!

*Construction Disclaimer: This wall was constructed for personal use, not at a client’s, and although we simply stacked the cinderblocks in our construction, you will probably want to consider reinforcing this wall with rebar and mortar. This would be particularly important if you have children that would be playing around this wall and might want to climb on it. Although the cinderblocks are heavy and are not likely to tip over without some effort, safety concerns should always come before aesthetics.

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Marc O. January 13, 2011 at 10:42 am

That’s AWESOME! I’m ready to tear down my decrepit wooden deck now and get started on one as a privacy shield!

Question… is this dry-stacked? Or are the blocks attached somehow? How would this fare with a 1- or 2-year-old boy trying to climb it?

Another thought… concrete stain, a couple different shades… you could probably roll each block beforehand or better yet, find a way to dip them. The natural variations in blocks would probably create some cool variations in the stain.

Annie Haven/Authentic Haven Brand January 13, 2011 at 10:48 am

That really turned out beautiful thank you for the share Talent I say : ) Annie

David C January 13, 2011 at 11:07 am

Thanks for the process, as I always like learning new ideas and methods. And painted CMU blocks RULE!! Esp purple… (in the right context)

Josh January 13, 2011 at 11:29 am

Who knew a cinder block wall could look so neat?! Now…where could I put one of these…

Pam/Digging January 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Great job, Jenny! As you know I’m building one too, and I appreciate your tip on the chicken wire and landscape cloth because I am not into cutting concrete block either.

Marc O, my wall is much shorter than Jenny’s, but I did use Liquid Nails (or the concrete-block equivalent) to hold them together, with mixed success. Most of the blocks seem well attached, but one already came loose. I would not feel safe about having my wall if I had a climbing toddler in my garden. Better to mortar it, I’d think.

Kelly/Floradora January 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Hey Jenny, It looks really great! I bet a concrete stain would look good too, for some earthy color. I’m curious if you used any reinforcing rebar or if you felt like it was stable enough once it was stacked? I can just see my 4 year old considering that his personal jungle gym!

pam January 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Saw this on AT and loved it but I love your version more!

Katie January 13, 2011 at 1:54 pm

VERY cool, Jenny. Thank you for sharing your photos!

Loree / danger garden January 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Wonderful! I’m heading outside right now to see where I can build one for myself…

Jenny Peterson January 13, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Wow, thanks everyone! I was so excited to share this project here. I didn’t reinforce the cinderblocks at all–the weight of them is fairly hefty and won’t easily push over. I wouldn’t recommend a child climbing on it if it’s not mortared, though, and it wouldn’t take all that long to mortar it. Kelly, rebar would probably work, too–I hadn’t thought of that!

I’d love to do this on a client’s urban balcony–make it smaller to fit a wall, and paint or stain it. You guys let me know if you do this project–there are so many variations; I would love to see what my creative readers come up with!

Jenny January 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

I think this is an amazing project and one a homeowner can do him/herself. I saw Pam’s posting and wondered what she had used in the bottom of the open, suspended blocks. I would certainly use some adhesive. Having built some cinder block walls myself, using mortar, I can tell you it is not easy and you need to be an expert. If children were around I would definitely reinforce with rebar into the ground and fill the cells with fill rubble and cement before using the adhesive. I am thinking I may have a spot for this project if I can rope D in!

Jayme January 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm

This is absolutely fantastic Jenny!

Kat January 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I love the mix of the old and new blocks. It really softens the wall. The open spaces make it that much cooler. You are such a talent Jenny.

Jenny Peterson January 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Thanks, Jayme & Kat! I’ll get a pic sometime of the open spaces w/ the lit candles at night–it looks really cool.

Germi January 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I’m gonna COPY you I’m gonna COPY you!!!
This is GREAT, and I am a tough customer about these things! SUPER cool and modern – it looks like something you’d see in a mid-century garden here in LA! LOVE!!!!

Jenny Peterson January 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Hey Ivette–Feel free to copy my copy of someone else’s creative design! haha. This is what I love about design–take an already awesome idea and change it just a bit to better fit your site and needs.

Jan @TWOwomenANDaHOE January 17, 2011 at 6:49 am

Fantastic! What a great idea with limited expense! I have to try this out on somebody! Thank you!

Kylee from Our Little Acre January 17, 2011 at 8:15 am

Love this, Jenny! I actually have a much smaller place where this will work! Thanks!

Jenny Peterson January 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I hope you all DO try it out! And FYI, although I had my crew helping me, this is absolutely a project you can do on your own. If you can pick up a cinderblock and cut metal lathe, you can do this. If you do it on your balcony, though, make sure you know your balcony’s weight capacity.

Diane Mumm January 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Jenny, this is really cool, gives me some great ideas, creativity at it’s best.. and I am a sucker for succulents!

Mike Lieberman January 21, 2011 at 10:25 am

That’s pretty dope. Looking good.

Julie Gomoll January 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm

This is really cool! I’m thinking about places it would work in my yard…

You know what would be awesome? A small storage shed with walls of cinderblock planters. You could have indoor and outdoor plantings!

Or a fence — how much nicer would this be than ugly gray cedar planks?

Kylee from Our Little Acre January 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I thought of you on Sunday night, because EMHE did this on the show!

ruhi mehta January 26, 2011 at 10:42 am

This is beautiful Jenny! And so easy to do – :) Thank you for sharing! I am twittering and facebooking this! People are so gonna love this!

Debra Lee Baldwin January 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Hi, Jen — It’s funny, when I first saw this on Apartment Therapy, I felt a frisson of regret that it wasn’t in my book (Succulent Container Gardens). I love the idea—and the look—THAT much. Your version is fabulous. Hope you get to do it for clients!

Jenny Peterson January 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Thanks, Ruhi and Debra! There’s something about the contrast of rough, industrial cinderblock and the textural succulents that is just so YUMMY I can’t stand it! I’m so glad you liked this project as much as I did.

Andy April 4, 2011 at 12:03 am

This looks lovely, great idea and well executed.

I have to admit that the lack of structural reinforcement beyond a bit of liquid nail gives me pause. No, this isn’t likely to blow over in a storm, but there are a number of other issues that cause concern. The first time a kid of any age tries to climb or walk on this, or a drunk adult gets rowdy and bumps into it, or someone dizzy from too long in the hot tub leans on it for support, there is the chance of a structural failure that could cause significant injuries. The project shown in Apartment Therapy was only 4 courses of brick, and was backed up against a reinforced retaining wall on one side – your project is 8 courses of free-standing block. I’d really encourage revisiting this one to thread some rebar through (ideally, anchored into the patio below – next time you could drill before starting the project) and filling those cells with some concrete or using some other method of structural reinforcement.

Jenny Peterson April 4, 2011 at 8:47 am

Thanks, Andy! Yes, in the above comments we do discuss how to reinforce this with rebar. In this case, there aren’t any small children around, and to my knowledge the rowdy drunks live on the next block. ;-) When there is a significant gathering at this house, the crowd is up by the house and removed from this area.

Garden tips July 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Great idea!

Annette Gutierrez July 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Wow, this is so amazing. I am the original Apartment Therapy poster and it has been fabulous seeing all the versions cropping up. I just did a repost on my blog showing a few including Pam Pennick’s and she showed me yours…which I love! We literally made this up as we went along, so seeing all the modifications is so gratifying and useful. Thanks!

Jenny Peterson July 17, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Thanks, Annette! That was an awesome project that you created–you inspired a lot of people to make some really cool things in their backyards!

Michelle Derviss July 19, 2011 at 10:54 am

I love the aesthetics of the design but am horrified by the structural integrity of the wall. It’s a safety issue and would land you a fine in any area that has even the basic of safety code compliances.
If someone gets hurt, using these instructions , without the proper disclaimer can be held liable.
Yeah, call me a joy kill, I know. my apologies , but I deal with structural details , the planning and building department almost every day in my landscape design practice and this is one mighty big building faux pas. Again, I love the aesthetics, the whimsy, the fun of the project but it is a legal and safety liability in the making.

Jenny Peterson July 19, 2011 at 11:04 am

Nope, not a joy kill–we did this on our own property where there are no children or other real safety issues, but would construct it differently for clients. We had discussion earlier in the comments above about using rebar and mortaring the cinderblocks in place. Thanks for your comments, Michelle!

Cheryl August 4, 2011 at 6:59 am

I love the idea, we have a bunch a cinder blocks lingering about the yard, and I would love to try it! What are some of the plants you used? I am more of the herb/vegetable/butterfly garden type of gardener and haven’t done much with succulents. Thanks.

Dan September 2, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Wow! Love the idea. I’ll definitely have to give this a shot. Thanks for sharing!

holzgrill September 21, 2011 at 12:42 am

fantastic idea. And so simple

Kristin April 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I love what you have done & I am all for not cutting cinder block… Question is, how do you get the chicken wire to stay? Mine keeps falling out! I’m using mine as a base to an outdoor console/bar with old wood planks as the top… If I can get it planted!

Jenny Peterson April 18, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Hi Kristin! We actually used a metal lathe and not chicken wire–it’s more rigid and will stay in place when you bend it into the base of your opening. Then place a square of weedbarrier fabric over the lathe so your potting soil doesn’t fall through the lathe holes. Good luck!

Crystal July 4, 2012 at 9:09 am

Hi! Awesome idea! I wonder if anyone has used it for an herb garden? And instead of the fabric, has anyone used the moss mats? I have a great ‘yard’ but being a renter, I hesitate to do something permanent. This seems perfect! And if I move, I can just disassemble and take with me! :)

gil@ March 5, 2013 at 12:26 am

This is amazing . I love the design. What actually inspired you to carry out these designs?

Lisa Shirley April 25, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Absolutely love this idea. We are going to do this to the cinder block wall around our carport. I’ve been looking for a way to jazz it up and this is perfect! Thanks for posting!

Lisa June 3, 2013 at 12:00 am

I want to thank you for the inspiration Jenny! I culled ideas from all over to figure out how everyone did their project – be it planter or wall! I finished mine and I’m quite proud of it…I can’t post pictures here but anyone interested can go here> to see them and get tips from my experience. Let me know what you think!

Dandelion September 21, 2013 at 9:17 am

“Stumbled” on this site today. I’m wondering about putting something other than succulents in it. Trailing vines, lettuces, colorful chard. It may not look so crisp as yours. Is “metal lathe” also called “expanded steel”? And, you said that your company would be up by the house and not near this project- that may be so, only until they see what you’ve done! Then they’ll all want to see it up close! Very cool!

Leslie Hoag April 8, 2014 at 5:46 pm

How do you water this–by hand?

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