A Succulent Centerpiece

Oh my goodness.

Y’all have no idea how long this post has been in the works. This project has been nothing but a big, giant headache and I am oh so glad it’s over.

But it was kind of totally worth it.


But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up to the very beginning, shall we?

Corey and I decided that we needed some plants in our home, and we quickly agreed that succulents were the way to go. We’re maybe just a little bit obsessed with them, and we thought they would be a great way to bring some much-needed color into the dining room.

So, succulents were decided upon – now we just needed to figure out how to display them. We went through a bunch of different ideas, from several small planters across the table, to several small planters on a large silver platter, to one giant planter that would cover the length of the table. Finally, we landed on the one-giant-planter idea, simply because it was almost impossible to find a platter that was both narrow enough and long enough to fit what we wanted. We didn’t like the idea of several smaller vessels for the succulents, because we want to be able to easily move the centerpiece when we have guests over and are serving dinner.

Once we decided on the idea of a long, narrow planter, all that was left was to build it, right? Sounds simple. Except not so much. We went out one day a few weeks ago and excitedly bought all of the materials, thinking we could knock out this project that weekend and share it on Monday. Famous last words, right?

We chose MDF because it’s cheap and relatively easy to work with, and we brought it home to get to work. We had measured out about how long we wanted it just based on how much of the table we wanted to fill. So, once Corey made the first cut, he brought it inside so we could make sure we were happy with how it sat on the table.

We liked the length and the height, so Corey finished up the planter, and soon we had a giant planter ready to be painted.

Because we were working with MDF, which is even less water friendly than most wood, we knew we would have to do something to seal the planter from the dirt and water that we’d be filling it with. After a quick trip to Lowes, we chose a pruning seal spray that promised a waterproof barrier.

A couple of quick coats later and about a week of drying time (seriously, this stuff takes FOREVER to dry), and we were good to go – or so we thought.

Corey wanted to paint the planter yellow, and even though I wasn’t sure I loved the idea of a bright color that would potentially compete with the gorgeous succulents inside of it, I consented and let him have what he wanted (I win most of these debates so I figured it was high time I let him have his way).

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the planter in all its yellow glory, because that night is when we hit the first (and largest) roadblock of this project.

You see, we wanted to make sure that the sealer was totally waterproof. It’s going to be sitting on our very nice dining room table that we love dearly, and so we needed to be sure it wouldn’t damage it. We figured the best way to test it out was by filling the planter with an inch or two of water and letting it sit for about an hour to make sure none leaked through.

Yeah…about that.

When we came back outside an hour or so later and found a wet spot on the floor, I knew we were in trouble. Not only had it not sealed well in one spot (though, I have to admit, it’s impressive that it was only one spot!) but the water had soaked through the MDF and created a huge, swollen water mark on the side.

I might have cried. Just a little bit.

We chose to step away from the project for a few days because it was making both of us pretty frustrated at this point (which would be why I don’t have any photos of the defective planter), so we left the whole thing alone for a week or so. When we were ready to talk about it again to figure out a solution, we realized that we still had enough wood to build a second planter, it would just have to be an inch narrower than the first one was – which was actually perfect, since we both thought the first one was a bit too wide.

So, Corey got to work building a second planter.

The biggest difference between the two (apart from the width) is the fact that the bottom was inset on the first one (meaning not as many raw MDF edges) and on this one we weren’t able to do that.

We painted it yellow and thought we’d be able to plant our succulents and be finished the next day (if you’re keeping track, this is approximately two weeks after we actually started the project).

And then we brought it inside.

Raw MDF edges soak up paint like nothing else, and that became really obvious once we got it in the room. The bottom edge was a wildly different color from the rest of the planter, and the bright color highlighted every single imperfection in the planter, making it look cheap and homemade.

We weren’t pleased, to say the least.

We talked it over a bit more and I suggested scrapping the idea of yellow and going with white instead. It wasn’t a bright pop of color like Corey had wanted, but I knew that white would do a much better job of hiding the imperfections in the planter, and would have the added benefit of helping the planter blend in a bit better and letting the eye be drawn to the succulents inside of it instead. He wasn’t thrilled but he agreed with my points, so it was settled and we decided to repaint it (again).

This time, I also took an extra step that I can’t believe I didn’t take the first time – primer. MDF doesn’t accept paint very well, so primer is absolutely vital when you’re working with it. For some reason it totally slipped my mind the first time around, and I honestly think it would have helped our raw edge problem (but not the problem of highlighting the imperfections).

We also took an extra step this time and lined the planter with a drop cloth (the plastic type used for painting) in addition to the pruning seal.

All Corey did was staple in two (yes, two – we aren’t taking any chances this time!) layers of the liner into the planter, taking care to make sure it wouldn’t be too visible once we added in the plants.

And finally (finally!) we were ready to plant.

We ordered a set of 36 succulents off Amazon, and they had been sitting around waiting to be planted for entirely too long (seriously, they’re looking pretty sad), and we also grabbed a cactus from Lowes to bring in something with a little more height.

To make sure we planted them in a configuration we liked, we started by setting them all into the planter, arranging them so that there weren’t too many large ones grouped together, and that there was a nice variation of types throughout the planter.

Once we were happy with the arrangement, it was time to plant!

And then after almost a month (seriously) of waiting, planning, working, and more waiting, it was time to put my centerpiece into its new home.


LOVE. Love, love, love.

I’m so incredibly happy with how it turned out, and now we’re just crossing our fingers hoping that some of our dying little succulents will make a valiant recovery.

And I’m pretty sure we’re never going to try to build a planter again.

Have you ever tried to build something, only to have it fail miserably?



18 thoughts on “A Succulent Centerpiece

  1. hahaha I’ve been wondering about this project since you told me you bought so many succulents SO long ago! I see now why it didn’t go up sooner 😉 I think the end result looks fantastic though! I really love the white, and it looks wonderful on the table!

    We built the three huge planter boxes in our backyard, which ended up being 8’x2′. It was SUCH a pain and we also thought that it’d be a weekend project. Fat chance. It took us nearly a month to do, and we were lucky enough to have Dad’s help with some of it!


  2. Love it! I can’t keep plants in my house because I tend to kill anything that doesn’t whine to get fed, but I like them in other peoples’ homes! Also, if you wanted to add back a bit of color you could always do a design on the planter, like chevron or some kind of stencil. :)


  3. I love the idea of a Chevron pattern! And if the imperfections start to bug you, you can always cover it in fabric or paper with mod podge. I saw a great tutorial on Joyfolie about using glue and butcher paper as a floor treatment, but I think it would work great on your planter too!

    I also had a disappointing project, and strangely enough it also involves MDF. Last year, I built Ana White’s apothecary media console. The building part was fine, but the MDF was a freebie lot a friend gave me, and it was absolute crap. Once the console was done, it almost immediately started falling apart. I hated it. The shelves stuck, hinges kept coming loose, blech. I hated it. Finally I gave in and sold it on Craigslist for 40 bucks. It still makes me cringe to look at pictures of it!


  4. Awesome job you guys! Nice work all around! It looks fantastic on your table! If I didn’t think my kitty would get in that and try to eat everything all up (oh yes – cactus included) I would try to make one of my own!


  5. What a beautiful project! I’ve been replanting my succulents as they get little babies for the last year. I have lots of pots outside, but I love it for the dining room. Might just steal this idea…


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