Shrubs surrounding patio furniture on a deck.

If you’ve ever wandered through a museum on your own the items around you can be interesting, even pretty. But, if you walk with a docent or have an audio tour, the museum comes alive with all of the explanations, contexts, processes, materials, etc. The same concept applies when looking at quality craft work, specifically our outdoor custom containers. Consider this your docent tour of what it takes to make great work in your landscape.

The first concept to understand is that all outdoor built items will “move”. As the weather changes and materials age, there is a constant contraction and expansion. A great example of this is if you have hardwood floors. In the summer the boards swell/expand and in the winter they shrink/contract sometimes to the point that you can see small spaces between the boards. (And this is inside with a very controlled environment.) Outdoor quality is thus found in the steps taken to mitigate the effects of this movement.

Here‘s what Topiarius does to make sure our outdoor containers are built well.

1st Notable: The top cap (A) of our containers have mitered corners that are glued AND biscuit jointed

These two images show the angled cut of the boards as they come together, as well as, what the biscuit looks like in between them. The biscuit helps align the boards for a perfect fit and provides additional support to keep the joint tight over time. Within the first year, if your container does not have properly secured corners, there will be unattractive spaces between the boards.

2nd Notable: What’s on the inside of the container holding it all together? We all know if a foundation isn’t solid, everything built on it will fall apart.

The interior framework should be screwed together, NOT nailed. Screws by their very nature are stronger and can withstand the outdoor movement that’s been explained.

The lumber that is used to make the frame is also outdoor rated for direct contact with the ground. (Yes, there are different categories for lumber. Lumber that can survive “living” outdoors and lumber that can only survive indoors.)

3rd Notable: In addition to the framing, the materials used to clad the framing are just as important.

This image shows 3 examples of materials. The top board is MDO (medium density overlay), the middle is PVC sheet stock (like Azek), and the bottom is pressure treated plywood. The top two are excellent options for building the containers because they have a smooth surface that can be painted easily. The pressure treated plywood works well if the container is clad with other materials, like cedar boards, that cover and hide it.

The style of container that you choose for your project will determine what cladding material will work best. But, the cladding materials will be the largest visual part of your container, so choosing wisely will ensure a successful installation.

4th Notable: How are the corners of the container installed?

Because all materials used outside will move with temperature and moisture fluctuations, planning for this at the corners of the container is important. BUT, this is contingent on the style of container that is chosen. Each style uses different methods to minimize the movement and each will vary in how long it will take before change is seen.

One of the methods we use is to use corner boards to hide the ends (as is the picture of the green container at the top). If the end of the boards are going to show, we use construction adhesive, pin nailing and screwing in boards from inside the container.

5th Notable: How does the drainage on your container work?

Every annual, perennial, tree, and shrub must have drainage, especially when planted in containers. Plants’ roots need to have both water and oxygen and if they are drowning in water, like humans, they don’t fare well.

At minimum a constructed container must have holes. At best, the holes are connected to a pipe that drains most of the excess water BELOW your deck boards or pedestal pavers. This method keeps unsightly water stains to a minimum.

The next time you look at outdoor built containers, see if you can spot the quality, or lack there of, now that you know what 5 notables. When you’re ready for a great design and installation, let Topiarius get to work for you.


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