DIY Plastic Plant Tray Holder – Gardening Hack

We like to reuse plant ‘flats’ that you get from garden centers. You know, the black plastic trays that plants come in? I find them very convenient to moving seedlings out to the garden, or around my yard. But, they tend to crack and break – so I came up with an inexpensive solution! Also – this could make a great gift for any gardener!

I designed an inexpensive, light-weight plastic plant tray holder out of wood using simple hand tools. It holds a standard 1020 tray that all the little seedlings come in from the garden centers and greenhouses. You can make your own holder too by following my instructions.

There are two things that cause these plastic trays to break – UV radiation and physical strain. Every time you pick it up and twist it a bit, you are increasing the likelihood of a crack starting. This simple plant tray holder will eliminate the tray from bending or twisting.

The features of this little DIY project are:

  • It is light weight
  • The hand grooves make it very easy to pick up
  • It looks nice, making a flat of seedlings nicer to look at!
  • It is low cost, as the materials (without finish) cost less than $6
  • It will allow you to reuse plastic plant trays for longer, as it eliminates almost all physical strain to the tray!


For this project you will need the following pieces of wood;

  • 1×4 – 8′ (1) – NOTE- if you have a compact car, know that most big box stores will cut your boards in half to make transport easier.
  • 1/2″ dowel 48″ long (13 mm)
  • 3/8″ dowel 48″ long (10 mm)
  • Optional – some kind of finish. I used some old boiled linseed oil. It gives a very nice finish that still feels like wood.


The material costs for this project are really low! I’ve broken them down into a table below. Under the cost column is a link to Lowe’s, who I bench-marked for pricing this project.

Piece for the Tray HolderQuantityCost
1″x4″x8′ White Furring Strip1$2.78
1/2″ x 48″ Dowel1$1.78
3/8″ x 48″ Dowel1$1.08


The following tools are used in making the tray holder

  • Cross Cut Saw
  • Coping Saw
  • Drill
  • Mallet or hammer
  • File, Rasp, or Sandpaper (optional)
  • Tape Measure or Ruler
  • Vise or clamps.
  • Speed Square, or Combination Square (optional)

You can find most of these tools we used at our Recommended Products Page.


I’ve uploaded my plans as a pdf below. Just open the image in a new window and download the file. You can print it out, cut out the template, and tape it directly to your boards. It will make cutting or tracing the outlines very easy!

Click on the image below to download the pdf!

Due to the size of the template, I had to draw it in two halves. But don’t worry! They are mirror images.

Step by Step guide to making a plant tray holder

Note – there is a short video at the end that may show some of these steps more clearly. Hope you enjoy it!

1 – Cut the side boards. Cut two 1′ sections of 1×4 board.

2 – Lay out the side cuts and holes. Print out the template / plans. Cut out the template and tape it to your board. Use a knife or pen to trace the template onto each board.

3 – Cut out the finger grip areas. Use a cross cut saw to make the diagonal cuts. Then, use the coping saw (or a jig saw if you have one) to cut the horizontal portion. Repeat on the bottom, then on the next board.

4 – Drill holes. Drill a 1/2″ diameter hole in the marked locations shown on the template. Then, drill the 3/8″ hole as noted on the template.

5 – (Optional) Use sand paper or a rasp or file to smooth out the sides, remove splinters, sharp edges and round the corners. Since you will be picking this up frequently with your hands, you don’t want to get errant splinters.

6 – Cut the dowels. Cut two 24″ lengths of both the 1/2″ dowel and the 3/8″ dowel.

7 – Assemble the tray holder. Place one side on the ground. Then insert the 1/2″ dowels in the 1/2″ holes. Twisting the dowel rods can help with installation. Another tip can be to chamfer, or shave away the outer edge to help get it started.

Then, repeat this step for the 3/8″ rods.

Next, lay the side piece on the ground. Carefully start each dowel into the other side board holes. Using a hammer gently tap each side of the board, alternating. This will slowly attach the other side.

*Note – You could add some wood glue if you wish. However, I have found that the fit between the dowels and holes is tight enough to where no glue is required.

8 – (Optional) Apply a finish to the pieces. Stain the wood to whatever shade you desire, or just apply some kind of protective finish like deck sealer or linseed oil. Linseed oil, danish oil, and the like are absorbed by the wood. So, you can apply it to the individual pieces to provide maximum protection from water and sunlight.

If you wish to paint the holder, then assemble it before painting. This is because the paint will make assembly more difficult.

Video of the build

How to Use

I use my tray holder to move plants around my property before I plant them. It works great for vegetables, flowers – just about anything. It doesn’t weigh anything at all, and is strong enough even for a tray filled with larger sized pots (6″ square).

When not in use, I just hang it off a nail in the garage. It works great and is a nice little gardening ‘hack’!

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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