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How to Build Stone Veneer Raised Planter Beds

A step-by-step pictorial of the process we used to build decorative, raised, stone veneer planter beds in our front yard.
Bean-Shaped Planter Side 8-2007 Our front yard looked really ugly when we first bought our house. Actually, come to think of it, it still is really ugly. To improve the situation though, we decided to do some zero-scaping: two raised planter beds made out of concrete, mortar, and stone veneer. The following how-to goes through the construction process step-by-step.

 

1) Mark the Ground

ToolsOkay, first step: figure out where you are going to put the planter and mark the shape out on the ground. It doesn't matter how you do it. We used gold spray paint to mark the hole, because that's what was available and the local gay flag-twirling corps suggested it.

 

2) Dig a Hole

Bean-Shaped Start"Make a hole. Make it wiiiiiiiiide." -from the band Mudhoney's song, "Make It Now". We have sugar sand, and lots of dead/dormant grass roots, so I ran the sand through a sieve to remove the organic material. There were lots of grubs in the sand about 6 inches down, so I threw those into the street. They started walking back to the sidewalk, so I used a samurai-like motion to chop them in half with my trusty garden weasel "Dameon". Then the birds arrived and ate the resulting pavement scorched road pizza.

 

3) Make a Trough to Hold the Poured Concrete

Framing TriangleWe used 21" stakes and the thinner masonite of the two available. Shorter ones won't hold up to concrete. Wood screws were drilled to fasten the stakes to the masonite (3 per stake). Don't worry about the screws sticking into the concrete side: they'll come out easily. Overlapping the seams made the trough stronger also. If I could go back, I'd use the thicker of the two masonite sizes available and put the stakes (even a larger thickness) closer together. When the concrete is poured in, it really puts a lot of stress on even a well-built trough, so it's hard to over-engineer the trough. Ours bowed out when the concrete was poured in. We had good luck with preassembling the walls on flat ground, then pounding the stakes, masonite, et al into the ground together.
 

4) Put in Rewire

Rewire Close-upIt comes in a big fat roll with way more than you'll need. Rebar is overkill, because people won't be walking on your planter. If they do, use your leftover rusty rewire and flog them in a gratuitous manner. Get the underlying sand soaking wet so it compacts. I don't know what the hell you do if you don't have sand; probably put down gravel first, dunno. You'll need wire cutters to cut long strips which you'll push into the ground with an epileptic rocking motion. Then you'll snip off parts going above where the concrete will be, and you'll take tie wire and wire the ends together, so they stay put when the concrete is poured.
 

5) Pour the ConcreteFreshly Poured Bean-Shape

Mixing Concrete
Here we are at work making concrete. Notice how my gloves match my socks. Yes, I'm that good. The big black thing is just a garbage can.

Follow the concrete instructions. Here we are at work making concrete. Notice how my gloves match my socks. Yes, I'm that good. The big black thing is just a garbage can. Our neighbor Sean helped us with the concrete. He owns the electric motorized mixer, which saved some expense and effort. **Important**: When you pour the concrete, use a shovel to shove into the concrete to remove air pockets. Also, use a plywood backsplash to keep the concrete from pouring outside the trough. After a day of hardening, lightly hose down the wall after removing the masonite, to give the concrete some more moisture.

 

6) Apply the Stone Veneer

Making Mortar This is the tricky part. Buy some mason mix. All you have to do is add water, some cement adhesive (latex based?), and optionally, cement dye (read the instructions for all these). The mason mix should have the consistency of peanut butter, because it is the suction between the natural stone, mason mix, and cement that makes it hold initially. Also, clean the dried cement and brush with adhesive before applying the stones.To apply the stones on a vertical surface, butter the back of a stone with the prepared, wet mason mix and push it into the wall.Applying Stone Veneer

Update: It's also a good idea to put a dab of foaming Gorilla Glue (TM) or the like. With a strong glue like that of the Gorilla, there is no chance the rocks will pop out, even when walked on. We also have been using this glue to fix any stones that pop off, in situations where we didn't glue them down to begin with.

Repeat 6 stone application process million times until you have a veneer. The tricky part is aligning the stone, unless you precut the stone (we didn't do that, because we wanted a natural look).

Supervising Dog
Melvin watching us work. It helps move things along if you have a dog supervising the entire construction process.

We used two types of stone: Black Diver's Rock on the top and Great Lake Flats on the sides. The thinner, the better. 1/2" is too thick on the sides, as it will be too heavy for the mason suction. On the top, you can lay down some mason mix first and press in the stones after, but make sure to get mason mix on the rock sides, not just below, or the rocks won't be held in firmly.

 

 

Diver's Rock Bean-ShapeGreat Lakes Flat Bean-ShapeGreat Lakes Flat Bean-Shape

 

 

Finished. Now I'm off to get some plants. I'll update this story as they grow. Here are the first two plants:

Triangle Shaped Planter FinishedTriangle Shaped Planter FinishedBoth Planters Finished

 


Updated Pics - 10 Months Later


Updated Whole Yard From Street LeftUpdated Triangle From Sidewalk 

 

Updated Pics - 1 year, 4 months later


Bean-Shaped Planter Side 8-2007
Triangle Shaped Planter Front 08-2007


Tree Planter Concrete Form
The concrete has just been poured into the form. It has two rings of pencil rebar wire hung at 8 in. and 3 in. height for strength. The cut wooden stake hangers have already been removed from the top.
The End.