Gutter Gardening on the Deck

I had been dreaming for years about some kind of box or container that could be attached to the inside and outside of my deck rails so I could garden waist-high without having to worry about slugs.  Windowsill-type boxes seemed too heavy, bulky and expensive to fit the bill.  I wanted to grow shallow-rooted, tender vegetables like lettuce and spinach so they would be out of reach of those nasty slugs.  I also wanted to try to grow peas and cucumbers and let them spill over the sides of the gutters.  If needed, I could attach chicken wire to the vertical balusters under the rails to give the plants support.

About six months ago I saw this picture on Pintrest, and I knew I’d finally found what I had been searching and praying for.  It was a picture of three gutters on the side of a house.  It was perfect, lightweight and inexpensive!

I showed the picture to my husband, and he said it wouldn’t be too difficult to install.  We had a couple of leftover gutters from a section of the house that we had removed, but they were missing the end caps.  He made a quick measurement and checked at the local hardware stores, but they were no longer being made in this size.  So he just made one!  He placed the gutter on its end, traced the pattern onto a scrap 2×4 and cut it out.  He continues to amaze me!

I think it looks pretty awesome, don’t you?  He made four of them, one for each end.  Then he attached each gutter outside of the rail underneath the rail cap with No. 8 x 1-1/4 inch screws. Now I had two gutter gardens.

Then he bought two more gutters and attached them on the inside of the rail underneath the cap, and now I had four gutter gardens.  I was so excited!  These were just perfect for gardening right outside my kitchen door!

Before adding dirt, I needed to drill some holes for drainage.  My husband came to the rescue again and drilled fingertip-sized holes every 6 to 8 inches at the lowest part of the gutter.

I planted the outside of the gutter garden first with mesclun lettuce, spinach and cucumbers.  In Back-to-Eden style, I added about 2 inches of moss that my chickens had scratched out of my lawn to the top of the dirt.  It worked fairly well to keep the soil moist, but I had to pull lots of grass from between the plants.  🙁

Last week I planted the inside gutters.  This time I took pictures so I could show you how I did it.  First, I hoisted the potting soil into my wheelbarrow so it would be waist-high and cut open the top.  Then I filled the gutters with soil.  You can use a trowel for this job, but my trowel was downstairs, so I chose to use a small plastic pot.

I filled it all the way to the top because it will settle after watering.  Then I watered it well with my garden hose nozzle on the “shower” setting until the water was coming out the drainage holes.

Next it was planting time.  Using the flat side of a pen, I poked several 1/4 inch deep holes in the soil for the spinach, planted a few seeds per hole and covered them up.  Then I planted the mesclun lettuce by lightly scattering the seeds over the soil, then crumbling a fine covering of soil through my fingers to lightly cover the seeds.  In order not to disturb the seeds, I lightly watered them with the “mist” setting on my garden nozzle.

Lettuce Sprouts

Spinach Sprouts

Just a few days later, the lettuce germinated and a couple days after that the spinach shoots were visible.  I love summer gardening in the Pacific Northwest!  You can see in the above picture how much the soil has settled.  It will settle even more after rain and/or watering.

Other shallow-rooted plants that could be planted in a gutter garden include strawberries and radishes.  I’m definitely going to try the strawberries due to the slug issue, but will have to find a way to keep the birds from eating the fruit.  Some kind of row cover will probably be the best bet.

I hope this post has helped encourage you to think outside the box and consider where you could put a gutter garden on your deck, side of your house or on your back fence.  God bless and happy gardening!

Do you have a container garden on your deck?  Do you want one?  Are you a beginner gardener or an experienced gardener?  Are you looking for some gardening help?  I’d love to hear from you!

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  • Elizabeth

    I love this idea!

    • TheUrbanHearth

      Thank you, Elizabeth! I love it, too!

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  • Joan

    what a great idea! does a lot of water run out of the holes when it rains? what is growing underneath the outside gutters-grass or a flower bed?

    • TheUrbanHearth

      Hi Joan! I have not monitored whether a lot of water pours out of the holes when it rains, but that is exactly what you want. When we first installed these, we made the holes too small and the soil was soggy. They need good drainage which is why we made the holes larger. There is very little growing underneath the outside gutters because one side is shaded by the deck and the other side is a steep slope. Thanks for your questions!

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  • Derek Dieterich

    I have several pots on my deck and deck rail, but I’ve been thinking about doing the gutter thing for some time. This year might finally be the year. Thanks for posting.

    • TheUrbanHearth

      You’re welcome, Derek! My pleasure.

  • Gwen

    Mine got way to dry and the strawberries didn’t get any berries on them at all. You have to water lots and lots and lots.

    • TheUrbanHearth

      I guess it depends on where you live. Living the the Pacific Northwest, we get lots of rain and need the drainage. Maybe you need smaller drainage holes?

  • I had done something similar to this, except I used the gutters inside my apt. in a window…
    I built a stand that is 3 inches tall & made so that the gutter sits securely on the sand. next I drilled a hole at each end, & attached a hose so that when it(the gutter) drains, the water will flow through the hose & into a small bucket.
    to keep the dirt from washing out through the holes, I had some landscape fabric, so I cut that to fit inside the gutter.
    Now I have spinach, lettuce, and some other veggies on a daily basis. 🙂

    • TheUrbanHearth

      That’s awesome, James!

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  • Jessie

    This is perfect for our deck! Thank you for all the details, we are so doing this!

  • Alicia

    How deep do the gutters need to be?

    • TheUrbanHearth

      It depends on what you grow in them. For example, you can’t grow onions because they need more soil depth. But you can grow green onions since they don’t need as much. As you can see from the pictures, I grew a lettuce mix. I also grew spinach and cucumbers for pickles.