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Plant Shelf Makeover using Citristrip

I found an amazing plant shelf on Craigslist and it’s the perfect addition to our small back patio. However, take a lesson from me. If it’s going outdoors in the blazing sun and the elements, do not paint it with interior paint –  no matter how many coats of polyurethane you add –  It will not last. And then you will have a messy, peeling, unprotected shelf on your hands. Check out the before and after on this plant shelf makeover.

When I saw this wood shelf, I knew it would be fabulous in a fun springy color on the back patio filled with plants. So I painted it with some leftover paint and couldn’t wait to start adding plants. Big mistake. I thought polyurethane would protect it enough. Not so much. Wait till you see what a mess it turned into! 

Plant Shelf Makeover

Here’s a pic of my fab find last year after a few coats of paint and pretty much a quart of polyurethane.

A teal-painted planter shelf with various potted flower arrangements outside.
Isn’t it pretty??

And here ladies and gents is what you end up with after it gets painted with interior paint:

An old discolored and stained teal-colored plant shelf sits on the outside wall of a home next to a wall-mounted water hose.
Gorgeous huh?
Flaking paint on the shelf of a plant stand.

I mean, who wouldn’t want that train wreck sitting on their patio, right??? Gross. Clearly, this guy needed a complete overhaul. Painting over it wasn’t going to do the trick without getting all the peeling paint off first.

What I used for this plant shelf makeover to fix my mess:

Citristrip to the rescue. If you’ve never used this stuff before, I highly recommend it. I’ve used it several times and it works like a champ. It’s safe for indoor use although I wouldn’t advise that because of the mess that happens when you start chipping away all the peeling paint. Another plus is it doesn’t have an awful chemical smell like other harsh strippers (smells like oranges).

Get to Stripping!

Put plastic underneath your project because it’s about to get messy. Get a paint pail of some kind and liners – This one is my favorite. Make sure to get the liners too so you can just discard that part and your paint pail will be good for years of use. I use a cheapo brush because I don’t want paint stripper residue on my good ones.

Also worth noting – if you’re doing a stripping project, you can’t use foam brushes. The stripper will eat away your foam. Not that I tried that once or anything. Or maybe I did. Oops. Anyway – Citristrip is a thin gel consistency and goes on like paint. Paint a good coat all over your furniture piece and wait. And wait. And wait some more. I gave this plant shelf at least three hours before I started chipping away, but it could’ve used longer.

Here’s what it looks like in action:

Paint stripper bubbling and cracking paint on the surface of a plant shelf.
The effects of paint stripper applied to the frame of a plant shelf with bubbling and cracking paint.
Wood stripper applied to teal paint on a planter shelf.

Start Scraping!

You’re going to need some plastic putty knives like these. I wouldn’t use metal because you don’t want to gouge your wood. You can test a small area to see if the paint is ready to come off.

Scraping paint off a wooden planter shelf.

One word of advice – if you want every single drop of paint to come off, leave the stripper on longer. Or you can apply a second coat of stripper. For this plant shelf, I wasn’t concerned with every bit of it being stripped. This is an outdoor piece that is bound to get some dings and dirt on it. I just needed a semi-smooth surface to repaint. I scraped away at it for a while.

When I had most of the peeling paint off, I let it sit for a day to make sure everything was dry. Then I used the electric sander and went over all the areas I could. If you don’t have an electric sander, do yourself a favor and get one ASAP. It’s a total game changer when it comes to refinishing furniture. Here’s a similar one to the one I use.

I chipped away a little more after sanding and that was it. I found it helpful to work on this in stages – if not, your shoulders and forearms will hate you for all the scraping and sanding! It definitely wasn’t perfect after the stripping and sanding, but for an outdoor piece, it was just fine.

Start Painting!

For this project, I used off the shelf Olympic Exterior paint in satin finish from Lowes. One of my favorite blues is Lyndhurst Duchess Blue – sounds fancy, huh? It’s the same color I used in the plant shelf interior paint mishap of 2016. Teal/turquoise-ish. Not a word, I know, but it works. I don’t know why, but I’ve painted a ton of things over the years, and blue is by far my favorite. Doesn’t matter what it’s going on or what brand, but blue paint goes on like butter. If anyone knows the why of this, please share it with me!

I did two coats on this plant shelf including underneath each shelf. I waited four hours between coats for adequate drying time. And I even had a little helper for this one! Don’t mind the colorful hair – it was wacky hair day at school this day.

A child uses a paint brush to paint a wooden planter shelf with teal paint.
You can see it wasn’t completely free of paint, but good enough.

Wait for it to dry completely – we actually brought it inside at night because the sprinklers were running that night and the recommendation on the paint can is to not paint in the evenings when it may be dewy. Dried overnight and then back outside.

Add the fun stuff!

Now, you can add some pretties and done! I added some DIY planters – you can see my farmhouse style planter I made here. Most everything on the shelf is thrifted or repurposed. There’s a brick from my husband’s grandpa’s chimney that sits front and center and an old railroad spike. A rusty watering can even become a planter and I plan to add a few things here and there to add to the rustic charm. The hanging planters on the side are clearance finds from last year at Michaels and my ferns are coming back?? I didn’t know they would do this!

Let’s just hope I can keep the plants alive!

After picture of a plant shelf makeover painted teal with various potted plants and flowers on the shelves.
A bright blue plant shelf filled with potted plants on a porch outdoors.
Potted plants on the teal shelves of a freshly painted plant shelf.

I’d say that’s a huge improvement from the peeling gross mess I started with!

Total Cost Breakdown

  • Plant shelf – Already had, but I paid $50 on Craigslist last year. If you’re handy, you can build a basic shelf like this for around $75 bucks.
  • Citristrip – $12
  • Putty Knives – $5
  • Paint pail and liners – I already had these but about $15 will get you started
  • Paint – $11
  • Plastic Drop Cloths – Already had on hand, but you can use trash bags if you need to!
  • Plants/containers – this will vary depending on what you have on hand. I spent about $10 on plants/soil.

Definitely not a cost-free update, but hopefully it will last longer than 6 months like the last time!

Gardening Supplies

Here are my top recommended and favorite planting and gardening supplies to help you create a gorgeous landscape, flower or vegetable garden.

And for planting ideas, check out these flower suggestions:

Plants that Love Shade

Gorgeous Perennial Plants

Long Blooming Flowers

Container Plants that Love Full Sun

Happy painting and don’t forget to Pin It!
Pinterest graphic with text that reads \"Plant Shelf Makeover\" and a teal plant shelf with potted plants in the background.


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Wednesday 1st of May 2019

It looks super good now Melissa! (and what a cute helper you have!) I really need to do something like that! I have 2 shelves similar to that... ;)

create and find

Wednesday 1st of May 2019

Thanks Natalie! You should certainly do it - I'm assuming you guys aren't buried in snow year round??


Sunday 23rd of July 2017

Great find, it turned out really nice too! Pinning. Thanks for sharing at To Grandmas House We Go Link Party.


Sunday 23rd of July 2017

Thank you Stephanie - it's amazing what paint can do! And thanks so much for sharing my project!

Nicole (@momfindsout)

Tuesday 20th of June 2017

I had no idea that using interior paint on something outdoors would get so ruined! Yikes. Thanks for sharing that lesson with us at the #HomeMattersParty along with your plant shelf makeover. It turned out great and I love that paint color.


Wednesday 21st of June 2017

Thank you Nicole! I honestly didn't think it would get that gross in less than a year but lesson learned!


Friday 16th of June 2017

Love the color! I just stripped doors. I had planned on trying citristrip but hubs was too quick for me and bought something else before I got to the store. Good to know it works so well. #HomeMattersParty


Sunday 18th of June 2017

Thanks Emily! I've used it many times and I've been pleased with the results.

Home Matters Linky Party #140 - Mom Always Finds Out

Friday 16th of June 2017

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